Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Wild and Wonderful

Alternate title considered but quickly dismissed: Yes, We Actually Went to West Virginia on Purpose

If you aren't local, then you may be fortunate (ah-hem) enough to not recognize "Wild and Wonderful"... buuuut, for the rest of you, just know I'm right there with you.

Then, why the post? The not-so-subtle title? The quaint and historic Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, was the destination for Chris and my recent rendez-vous. Note: the term "rendez-vous" was used purely for dramatic effect; we arrived together at a locale that we'd never been to so...

I'm kinda (read: completely) obsessed with getting out and seeing it all - and somehow Harper's Ferry had always been on that list so there we were. And... if you're noticing a trend of not-too(or at all)-glamorous but still getting away from it all destinations for celebrating our wedding anniversary, you'd be right-on.

You read that right... we urbanites left all that the greater-DC area offers (a great deal still undiscovered by us) and headed to none other than West Virginia for a memorable day, full of history and reminiscing about our day.

In the end, comical as it was that I dragged us out to West Virginia when there are more than enough ways to commemorate special events just minutes down the road, the outing couldn't have been more us than if I'd planned it that way on purpose. A destination yet unexplored, quite inexpensive (you know that had me sold from the start), close enough for a relaxing day trip with no need for an overnight (note the prior comment about it being inexpensive), beautiful, lightly covered in left-over snow (great for my continued mascarade as a photographer), an occasion to force ourselves outdoors (fortuitously, it ended up being one of the warmer days of our late, over-extended winter), and what capped it all off... Annabelle was invited, and even welcomed!

Alas, as this is a blog occasionally dabbling in food-related posts, I feel obligated to tell you that you might not visit Harper's Ferry in search of a foodie paradise. Still go... but rather for the defining history (best told by this guide who we spent over three hours with, learning about each nook and cranny of the once bustling and important Civil War town), beautiful vistas, and (many) moments of mountain-fresh air.

Now that you've heard all its accolades, can you really blame me for our trip? Chris and I had absolutely no complaints ('course I did feed him homemade pizza and now two year old frozen cookies the next night, as tradition dictates, on our real anniversary). And with that, I must add that I do believe probably now more than ever before, that there truly is someone designed to complement each of us... as I couldn't have asked for a better spouse over these past two years... who else'd follow me down all of the crazy roads I've dragged Chris and do so with a smile (and a coupon!).

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Seasonal Send-Off

With the 70+ degree weather we've been enjoying (or chasing?), you're more likely to be outside, standing grill-side, preparing to drink a cold one rather than reading about baking with said beer - yet here I am (when will I ever get this right?!).

Although this time I think I have a better chance that some of you are still firing up the ole' oven, having not yet relegated her to (seasonal) retirement, even if anything she produces is quickly transferred to the great outdoors. Regardless, aside from the fact that I'm not altogether convinced that spring has truly sprung, with recipes like this Beer Bread that are both made with a certain refreshing beverage and also taste good accompanied by one, you'll feel the pull of the stove, if for the last time this season (unless I can tempt you otherwise, which remains to be seen).

But bread, Kara? I thought you were one of those yeast-phobes?

These days it seems I'm a lot friendlier with yeast than I used to be but seeing a recipe for delicious, crusty bread made without the rising and kneading, and frankly, praying? My only explanation is that it's magic... what the elixir beer does amidst the sparse ingredients in this bread.

If you're wondering, Chris did give me a bit of a raised-eyebrow glance as I borrowed a beer for this recipe; but I heard not so much as a peep once the bread emerged from the oven, receiving its slather of butter (speaking of which, have you tried this stuff - it's the best thing since, oh boy, sliced bread).

So whether or not if you've put your stove down for a long summer's nap, at the very least, promise me you'll throw this bread together at the first signs of fall, a season I know I'll be anticipating as soon as the humid DC summer hits.

Beer Bread
generously adapted from Dogfish Head Ale House recipe (you've been there before!)

3 c self-rising flour
2 TB sugar
12 oz beer, at room temperature
3 TB butter, melted
1/2 TB kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine all the ingredients and mix energetically by hand until the flour is moistened completely and you have a uniform mixture. Spoon into a greased 9x5 in loaf pan, filling it 1/2 -2/3 full. Pour the melted butter evenly over the top of the (unbaked) batter and sprinkle with kosher salt. Bake for an hour.

Allow to cool for 15 minutes and then release the bread from the pan.

Monday, March 22, 2010

With Open Arms

I greeted this (glorious!!!) spring that we are enjoying (oh, are we enjoying it) rather hesitantly. I was so sure the first day or so of sunshine and warmth were just a tease, and I was right. But sooner than I foresaw (or so it seems), the real spring popped back up - and this second time, I was sure to welcome it with open arms.

After testing the too-good-to-be-true weather for a few days last week, I deemed spring officially in season and decided to make it feel right at home in our home and yard this weekend.

At risk of sounding like a whiner, I must warn you (in case your weather hasn't yet begun to mirror ours) that it can be quite discouraging to survey your yard after a winter of neglect (and of three record-breaking snowstorms) and discern how to begin.

We set about to tackle one of the obvious (and honestly, the most clearly lacking) spots... our front door and stairs. The solution was obvious... we needed a long-lasting, compact shrub with some height and a few touches of color. Oh, and a planter... with enough substance to sit alone on our front porch but not too big to obstruct the front door.

The answer(s) revealed itself in a Sky Pencil Japanese Holly surrounded by a lush patch of thyme (yes, the herb) and some pansies. The latter will be switched out or added to throughout the summer as more colorful options are available and the former will find its way into the kitchen from time to time (horrible pun embarrassingly sorta intended).

An unexpected gem that we came across to brighten up our spring weekend (which will hopefully last well into the summer) was a lush, dark green-leaved strawberry plant! Last summer we regretted not having (attempted) growing our own berries so I jumped at the chance to make one of these beauties our very own.

We were also treated to a little gift that I can not explain (but won't fight either)... so I choose instead to chalk it up to an ushering in spring surprise. Our once all perfectly light-pink camellia has taken on a new hue... but only in a distinct section of the shrub! A few fuchsia blooms poked through this weekend, which made it all that much happier for this girl.

This next move might, admittedly, have been a bit pre-mature, but honestly, with the 75+ degree weather beating down on my back, I couldn't not buy a couple of pots of herbs. Now it's up to me to endure some constant prayer for continued pleasantly warm temperatures, similar to what we experienced this weekend, so these fragrant guys stick with us through the summer.

No pictures document this next important part of our early spring weekend, but there's no denying that a variety of green leaf lettuce, spinach, and romaine seeds were planted. One of the things that I look forward to most each summer is our vegetable garden, full of tomatoes, peppers, beans... and the annual planting of our lettuce seeds has always marked the start to another (hopefully fruitful) season.

Quite possibly as a result of figuring out what causes hundreds of little seedlings... er, weeds, to rear their ugly heads (though I will only claim a partial-victory because I still remain completely bewildered as to how to prevent more of them from dropping), on this first weekend of spring, I actually enjoyed weeding and tidying our flower beds. Sure our lavender plant was as unruly as it gets, but a haircut later, things were looking up. And amidst straw-like (past-their-time) stalks of last year's peonies, new peonies greeted us, pushing up through the now cleared flower bed.

Oh! The yellow flowers popping off those woody stems? I cut a couple sprigs of our forsythia (trying to capture flowers in all stages of their life - buds, barely opened, and wide opened) and with some help, artfully displayed them for some bits of cheerfulness around the house. It's spring, by golly... make sure to enjoy it both inside and out!

I am pretty confident this goes without saying but if this past weekend was any indication of what Spring 2010 holds in store for us, well, I am happy to do my part ushering it in... even allowing it to take up permanent residence here with us.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Making Choices

Life is full of 'em. Choices that is.

For instance, tonight I had to decide between making a cake for some notoriously dessert-hungry visitors we're having this weekend (I've been on a bundt cake roll ever since my dear friend Allison bestowed this beautiful cake pan to me!) and writing this post. You can see who won out but don't be fooled into thinking this decision came easily. After all, I know more people appreciate my food over my words - but yet the latter came through victorious.

There are other decisions, too... like which bar cookie recipe I both already have the ingredients for and that preferably requires no mixer (read: very quick and easy). And triple points if the recipe can be prepped simultaneously with said bundt cake (see above reference to impending, famously sweet-toothed visitors - and I don't like to disappoint but then we've talked about my stocking the fridge and cookie jar issue). I think I have a winner but I don't like to put the horse before the cart.

Then more important (heck even monumental) things like the fact that I'm considering a bit of a blog re-design. It should be said that the sole reason I'm sharing this now is that if say, two months down the road this old house still looks the same, you can pester me and say "hey, ding bat, what about the re-design?" But along those same lines, do you know how many choices there are in the world of the interwebs and (shudder) blog templates? I'm obviously not paying someone to do this so unfortunately no fancy graphic design is headed our way (sigh) but I am promising at least a recipe index. Imagine that!

**speaking of choices, if you had a say in the matter, what would you like to see here?

Making this snack mix, though? This is a gimme. Honestly... it's hands-off (since it's made in the slow cooker!) and can be customized using any cereals or crackers you have laying around... and tastes good to boot? I know you're staring at the page in disbelief - even hurriedly scrolling to the recipe to see if I'm serious. As weird as it might seem to dump your Cheez-Its and Chex into the basin of your slow cooker, do it - stir those morsels of tasty goodness around and off you go. You'll never look back. It'll be the best choice you make all day.

Best-Ever Snack Mix
(in the slow cooker!)
Adapted from The $7 a Meal Slow Cooker Cookbook

2 c Corn Chex (or other square corn cereal)
2 c Cheez-Its
1 c lightly salted peanuts
1 c walnuts, roughly chopped
1/3 c butter, melted
2 TBSP Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 c grated Parmesan cheese

Pour Corn Chex, Cheez-Its, peanuts and walnuts into the bowl of your slow cooker. Toss to mix.

In a separate small bowl, combine the garlic, salt, butter, and Worcestershire sauce; stir to combine. Pour over the dry ingredients in the slow cooker and mix to evenly coat.

Cover and cook on low for 2 hours. At this point, uncover your slow cooker and cook on high for 1 hour. Then sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese; leave the cover off and cook for another 15-20 minutes on high.

Pour mixture onto a rimmed cookie sheet and allow to cool. Store in an airtight container up to a week.

**if I were a betting lady, I'd say this can be adapted to your oven (though I have not tried it) - try baking at 200 degrees for two hours or so, carefully monitoring every few minutes to make sure it doesn't burn; add your Parmesan cheese and turn the oven up to 300 degrees, baking for another 30 minutes

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Right on the Season

As you've come to expect, I'm here with a right-on-the-money seasonally appropriate recipe for you to enjoy.

Wait, let me try that again... more like... I'm here with a "in case you froze some blueberries last summer and decided it was high-time they saw their day in the sun" recipe. Either way (see, I do have your best interest in mind), if you do have access to some fresh (or frozen-fresh) blueberries, I'll let you go grab them now so they can start defrosting while you read the rest of my rambling - we're all about efficiency here.

The funny thing is that I set out to make these (okay, full-disclosure... I made these a while back - but not to worry, it was still well out-of-season) because we had company coming to town and it's my tendency (read: the only way I know how to handle guests) to stock the fridge and freezer with meals and their subsequent desserts.

Then I learned that one of our friends was allergic to blueberries; after shedding a few tears, I trudged on knowing that's exactly what my friend would want me to do. Thus, I resigned myself to baking these knowing I'd need to eat them all myself (rather than risk an allergic reaction - see how concerned I was?!)... or, just about all, give or take five which I divvied out to Chris and the scavengers at work.

And I owe it all to our allergic-to-blueberries friend when I say (don't mistake this for an exaggeration) that I truly believe that I could have sold each of these little fruit-studded squares to my coworkers in a name-your-own-price type scenario. If that's too metaphorical for you, what I'm saying is that never, ever, has a baked good I've shared elicited the reaction that these treats stuffed with frozen fruit received.

With that I must say, maybe out of season isn't so bad after all. I will attribute a little of Deb's Blueberry Crumble Bars' fame to a craving for fresh (ah-hem) fruit in the middle of winter... but really, there's no explanation needed. These things just sell themselves.

**Turns out I'm not the only one who is seasonally-challenged (although I prefer to call it "fresh fruit freezing savvy")! Abby made some amazing looking muffins with her frozen blueberries just recently too!!

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Reasons to Love It

I'm sure you've noticed (riiiight, Kara)... my track record here as far as compliments go for this old house that we are happy to call home is less than uh... complimentary. Since it usually goes something like "yes, I love our house but...", I figured I should show you what it is that I actually do love about our house... lest you think I'm a fibber.

And we're off with a four-in-one doozie. Notwithstanding the (a lot) less-than-award-winning pictures (even after studying these great tips!), this little vignette we've got here is without a doubt one of my favorite spots in our house.

This is our dining room who you've met before... or you've at least met her stripes before. Speaking of that hard-earned wall-decoration, they are certainly one of the major factors leading to me being willing to take up residence in this room.

While the walls are the foundation for what I love about this room, our lively and unexpected paintings just elevate my feelings. Do you have things in your life that are not only beautiful but were also created with care by a great friend? These paintings, given to us as a wedding gift by my talented friend Carolyn, immediately found their home here above our china cabinet... and I haven't stopped smiling at them since.

Lurking just below those canvases of color is what my mom once called my first heirloom. Obviously not referring to the bowl of oranges, she was describing our tea service which was handed-down from Chris' family. It has a long and storied history (that I desperately need to get my in-laws to transcribe) which makes it all that much more special. And to think growing up, I never really understood why my mom loved antiques... and old houses? Don't even get me started. Now back to our 1940s house...

Something old, something new, right? The last part of this little corner of our world that I love so dearly is our china. I recognize that registering for china when you're married has become a little old-fashioned but I'm okay with that distinction. And while Chris might not have the same affinity for those plates, I have never regretted picking out this china. We've used it hosting family for memorable meals and no matter what the evening's menu, I make sure we eat off of it each year on our anniversary.

Now you know where to find me when I just can't get past the stark white walls of our hopeless guest room... it's rooms like this that keep me sane when the rest of the house seems to frustrate me more than anything else. But let's end on a positive note, shall we? What's your favorite part of wherever you are lucky enough to call home? I'm nothing if not house and decorating-obsessed.

*hey, that was kinda fun! I'll be featuring some more similarly-little parts of our house that make me smile so stay tuned...

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

A Not-too-Sweet Lesson

You won't believe this but I'm going to say it anyway... as of late, I've been enjoying baked goods (duh), yes - tasty sweets, with less uh... sweet (read: sugar). Don't get me wrong... I haven't written off sugar completely (or even slightly) and these lovely little squares still have a healthy dose of the sweet-stuff, but they aren't my usual chocolate chip studded bar or cookie, or a multi-layered delight so the chances of anyone turning these away because they are too sweet are slim. *actually, the chance of anyone turning these away at all is all but unimaginable

I'm sure this phase will pass... so no need to rally the troops, but while I'm here, I thought I'd share how I've managed my way through (and honestly, it hasn't been all that bad). While I can't really fathom it, I figured there's chance that one or two of you actually don't lunge for the desserts that everyone else says "it's too rich" (meanwhile, there's the Kara-of-old who knows that those words signal the dessert of my preference).

But as it turns out, I'm completely equal opportunity in all things dessert. You call it a sweet... or dessert, and I'll eat it - and now even bake it (as was the case here).

So I'm done gloating about how I now eat super sweet and not-as-sweet things with equal amounts of delight. Buuuut, did you happen to notice that I kind of glazed over the part about the actual ingredients? As in not talked about them at all even while referring to the fact that these weren't overly sweet? Sure there's about 1.5 cups of sugar total in these heavenly bars (how's that for details for ya?)... but the big deal here is that there are 1.5 cups of butter too. It's true... go on and check out IvoryHut's recipe (but puh-lease come back).

Why this is important is that it turns out while I was learning to appreciate the less sweeter-things-in-life, I lost my ability to read recipes and translate them into buttery goodness (peppered with nuts and chopped bits of dates). What this means for you is that even though our Food for the Gods bars were made with half the amount of butter, they were still devoured and I was the only one who had a clue. So just imagine the scrumptiousness that will be yours assuming you bake these according to the recipe?!

What are you waiting for... stop imagining it and grab your cup and a half of butter (that's three sticks), and get to it! Endless not-to-sweet sweets await!

IvoryHut's Food for the Gods

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