Tread carefully.


Somewhere in between my crazy past life & the present- still crazy, but a different-kind-of-crazy life, I went through sort of a "hermit" phase.  I didn't want to be tied to anything... to the computer, to my phone, to staying on top of trends... movies... pta calendars...  I rarely (pretty much never) checked email, barely answered my own phone- and texting??  Forget about it.  Just wanted to watch my few favorite shows, immerse myself in the kitchen, & spend time with the ones I love.  Didn't have a need to get the latest n' greatest device... social networking was far from the scope of my daily to-do lists.  I mean really far.

Well, I'll be honest.  I kinda liked it.  Just me & my little family... my dinosaur computer... & my hot pink RAZR.  

But it wasn't until I started blogging (or actually- reading other blogs) that I fully grasped just how BEHIND I had gotten since I'd parted ways with my 'work laptop'... my treo... my real-life-social-network.  As I've shared here- in a way- I'm not in any hurry, and have no plan to be ahead of each & every [or any] curve.  Yet, at the same time, we've been playing the game of catch-up {pretty heavily}.

Catching up on movies, music, books, people, phones, gadgets, beauty products, you-name-it.  This weekend, our [Ryan's] mission was rewiring- reconfiguring- streaming... I won't bore you with details, but I will say- IT'S A MADDENING PROCESS.  Will I be ever-so-happy to fiiiiiiiiinally watch Downton Abbey- OH, I mean to STREAM Downtown Abbey from our television... to access our music on one central nework???  Of course I will.  But part of me really, really misses those dinosaur-computer-pink-razr-days... the days in which I believed a "BLOGGER" was some scary movie character (not really, but you get the point)...

Maybe it's the fact that I decided to watch a couple of thought-provoking, intense, George Clooney films- two nights in a row... maybe it's the re-wiring hell... the impending mammogram... the billion things on our calendar in the approaching month... the new workout time of 5:30AM... but things are feelin' a little "heavy" around here at the moment.  Maybe I'll stick with wine coolers Family Ties for the next couple a' nights.  Just to stay balanced.   

{oh, but in all seriousness- those movies were excellent.}

Life upgrade.

So I saw this tweet from Pippa @sousstyle a couple of days ago, mentioning a new series on her fabulous site {for the "new generation of homemakers"}, titled- Organize the Chaos.  Always up for a little organization advice- I clicked on the link, read the article, tracked down the "acrylic shoe bins" mentioned within, and excitedly sent her this reply...

She ever-so-sweetly replied back- totally *getting* my shoe bin fervor.  It got me thinking about products that I either have- or intend to get- that will inspire me to stay on top of organization & cleaning.  Okay.  Maybe I was a bit far-reaching with my proclamation that these shoe bins will be #lifechanging, but she was spot-on in her response... It's a life upgrade!  Then I guess, in a small way, they would in fact be life changing.
Here's a few items that have or will (sure of it) improve [upgrade] the quality of my life in the realm of cleanliness...
Have I mentioned our [southern california] limitation of square footage?? ...aka- SPACE?? Nuff said.              
I'm very sensitive to harsh, abrasive cleaning products (both my skin, & nose!).  I love Bon Ami cleanser, & when I saw this new packaging- plus the scented dish soap I had to buy it.  (anything to make dish-washing a little more "fun")           

...a "life changing bucket" according to this article (a trip to the container store is clearly in order)
I must say- if you're into baths, this is the perfect 'bath-time' candle... small, not wobbly, & can be closed up & stored right in the cabinet for the next rare occasion that you actually get to enjoy a candlelit bath.  But, as for cleaning...
Mrs. Meyer's say it best:
Sometimes it feels good just to have a nice candle giving off some extra fragrance while you're busy with your chores... It's in a cute jelly jar that you can reuse as a juice glass or hold your marble collection.

       [wow. so many uses for one candle?!... purchased mine @ target]  

...a great audiobook (such as this one) keep your mind from thinking angry thoughts amidst scrubbing the toilets
...or on a slightly more positive note (because it is Friday after all)- to keep you inspired in the midst of chaos :).
{any "life-changing" tips/products you've discovered? let us know below...}

Gameday prep.

After leaving the corporate world, I shared with my cousin that my primary goal was to move beyond CLUELESS in the kitchen learn how to cook... not just the basics- the "whole enchillada" (as my grandpa used to say).

She suggested that I immediately set my dvr to record 2 shows.  Giada's & Tyler's.  Why not Ina as well, some may wonder?  Who knows.  I sure didn't.  I don't believe I had ever seen a food network program, and surely didn't know any of its featured chefs.  It actually worked perfect.  Although I loved them both, Ryan (who often watched too) resonated more with Tyler's style of cooking, and I, with Giada.  But really, who am I kidding?  He enjoyed watching Giada just as much as I did.  I'm sure of it.  ...Then again, what guy wouldn't??  Anyways, I'm digressing.

She also gifted me with a subscription to Fine Cooking.  She mentioned that this was her absolute favorite food magazine... the only one that she keeps in it's entirety (each and every issue)- in tact for future reference.  And I couldn't agree more.  The recipes are written with incredible detail (but not so much that you feel like you're reading a camera instruction manual).  The focus is always on technique, rather than style.  Tips, substitutions, and strategies are always included.  The recipes range from simple ways to use a specific ingredient to- open, adaptable, complex, and sophisticated. {Case in point- I'll forever rely on my 2007 Thanksgiving issue to get me through the day.}

Unfortunately, I no longer receive the magazine.  I refuse to allow myself to sign up for any new subscriptions- until I can unbury myself and/or work my way through the existing PILES.  {& this is not a magazine to offer discounted-i-beg-you-to-renew rates... otherwise, I'd have been sucked in to renewal long ago}  

That said, this week's new recipe is a prime example of the necessity of our 2012 resolution.  And besides that...  Superbowl is quickly approaching, my friends.  And we all know that it's really all about the food.  Right?  Right.

{we usually 'fancy it up' a bit- one year, a greek-themed menu, last year, grilled pizza galore... this year- we're goin' old-school.  hot dogs n' beans (& all of the usual suspects- chips, dips, carb-fest-salads...).  so of course, I had to test the beans out, and they were in fact "the best" baked beans I've ever had.}

{"best-ever"} boston baked beans

yields about 7 cups 

1 lb navy beans, yellow-eye beans, or other dried white beans (I used navy)
1/4 lb salt pork, rind removed in one piece and reserved meat cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 medium onion (5-6 oz), cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 tsp finely chopped garlic
2 tbs dark molasses (not blackstrap) (I used grandma's original, as dark version was not a/v)
2 tbs pure maple syrup
3 tbs heinz chile sauce or tomato ketchup (I used chile sauce)
2 tbs dijon mustard
1 tbs worcestershire sauce
freshly ground pepper
1 tbs apple cider vinegar

Sort through the beans to make sure there are no little stones and then put them in a large bowl or pot.  Add enough cold water to cover the beans by 2 inches and let soak overnight.  (Alternatively, put the beans in a 4-qt saucepan.  Add enough cold water to cover by 2 inches and bring just to a boil.  Remove from the heat and soak for 2 hrs.)

Drain the beans well, tilting the colander instead of shaking it to gently extract the water and protect the beans' skins.

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350.  Heat a large dutch oven or other heavy 5 qt. pot over medium heat.  Add the diced salt pork and cook to a crisp, golden color, letting most of the fat render, about 10 minutes.  Add the onion and garlic and cook until it begins to soften, about 5 minutes.

Add 4 cups water, the molasses, maple syrup, chile sauce or ketchup, mustard, worcestershire sauce, and pepper to taste.  Stire well to combine.  Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil.  Add the drained beans and the reserved pork rind and wait for the boil to return.  Cover the pot and transfer to the oven.

After the beans have been in the oven for 10 minutes, turn the heat down to 300.  After 1 hour, check and add water to keep the beans barely covered.  Check again every hour.  You may need to add up to 1 cup water for navy beans and 1 1/2 cups water for yellow-eye beans, but be wary of making them too watery, especially near the end of cooking.  The beans are ready when they're very soft and tender yet still retain their shape, 2-2 1/2 hrs. for navy beans; 3 1/3 hrs. for yellow-eye beans.

Remove the beans from the oven and discard the pork rind.  Add the vinegar and season the beans with more pepper, if desired.  Stir the beans gently; as you stir, the starches will be released and the baked beans will become lightly thickened.  Don't overmix when they're this hot.  Let them sit for at least 20 minutes before serving.  They can also be cooled completely, refrigerated, and then gently reheated.

*the only adaption that I made is that I did not add any salt to the beans (the pork salt provided enough salt), therefore I omitted the option/addition of salt from the above recipe.


Head over to see Stephanie's scrumptious recipe... from the one & only Ina Garten~ butternut squash salad with warm cider vinaigrette... definitely a step up from the mayonnaise-based salads I'll be devouring in a couple a' weeks :).         

Switching gears.

The weekend was a mixture of magic & misery.  A Friday afternoon sushi bar date with Jacob... a Saturday afternoon of homework (Ryan), fighting (kids), & laundry (yours truly)... 

Sunday?  Well, the "plan" was to drop the kids off at my grandma's, & enjoy a little lunch/movie date with my over-worked-worn-out husband.  But seeing as though Saturday wasn't exactly a family-fun day, I knew we needed to switch gears a bit.  So, we woke up, had our favorite 'in-a-hurry' breakfast, drove to a far-away movie theater (with the intention of going here afterwards- an incredibly magical place that justifies an entirely separate post) to see a movie we could all enjoy... one that was sure to help us get our weekend back on track.  It worked

Yet unfortunately, others (possibly the entire city of Brea) had the same idea of visiting the new ice cream parlor, so we switched gears once again.  But now we're on a mission to go back- sans the "around-the-block" line...  And I'm also still on a mission to see "my" movie.  From your comments, maybe it's one that should be viewed solo... maybe this afternoon? (laundry can always wait.) 

Speaking of magical movies, & nostalgic ice cream parlors, do you remember Colorforms???  I'm on a total old-school kick lately (another future post) when it comes to toys- and in result, my kids are re-experiencing my childhood in ways far beyond ice-cream... whether they like it or not. (at least it's a 'modernized' version :))

In full disclosure, we ended the night with a few episodes of Family Ties (yet another "future post").  It's official.  I'm forever trapped in the 1980's. (and I'm holding my family hostage)

Weekend advice {from me to me}...

"Pour yourself a drink,

put on some lipstick,

and pull yourself together."
-Elizabeth Taylor      

 ... and then go see this movie.
   Got a feeling it'll be good for the slump soul in a refreshingly raw, raunchy sorta way.

{But first, I get to pick Jacob up early for 'minimum day.'  Time to just hang out- solo- (with either kid) is a rarity these days, but increasing necessary... and also "good for the soul" :).}

Images via (top to bottom)  1, 2, 3

The collective mood.

It's so interesting, this social media world.  Blogger... Twitter... Facebook... I've been connected to all three for over a year now, and one of things that I find most interesting is the 'collective mood' that is so transparent on any given day, week, month, season... even time of day.

I guarantee.  Monday's vibe is a mixture energy and lethargy.  Some folks rearing to go- refreshed and ready to take on the week.  Some lamenting the fact that Sunday is long gone... and Friday will not arrive for another 5 WHOLE DAYS.  Now, Friday on the other hand brings a slew of exclamation points, happy faces & "Likes"... a communal sigh of relief- far less bitterness, cynicism, and sarcasm.  And Saturday?  An all-around happy vibe.  People looooove their Saturdays.

...a general sense of peppiness in the mornin'... sluggishness in the midday... and by evening- an overall state of repose.  Fascinating how we all lead very different lives, but at the same time- we're all 'walking the same walk.'  

January is an interesting month.  Starts off with so much potential.  So many people to see.  Places to go.  Things to DO.  Posts & tweets galore of all of the above.  Yet, in a matter of weeks, the vibe changes.  Not for everyone.  Some are still in their euphoric New Year state of mind.  But for others {including myself, as well as many of my daily reads, twitter friends, FB pals...}, a bit of restlessness has set in.  Maybe it's just the winter blues- or a desire to make Big Changes (with not a clue as to where to start, or simply a lack of time & resources).  Lots of thinking, a little bit of wallowing (I'll admit), and unfortunately not enough doing.

Yep.  That's where I'm at this week.  As I work myself out of my pajamas the slump, and start tapping into all of that "early January potential"... I've armed myself with lots of cleaning supplies, a handful of books to read/films to view, and most importantly- a stack of really simple recipes.  And the one I'm about to share is actually on the cover of the current issue of REAL SIMPLE (a great one btw, & still in stores!) so it's simplicity goes without saying.  But better yet- it's hearty, delicious, and kid-friendly.  And who doesn't love a chicken pot pie... especially one that can be literally "thrown together" in a matter of minutes??  Without further ado~ this week's tried & true recipe... 

{slow cooker} creamy chicken and mushroom pot pie

serves 4

8 oz cremini mushrooms, stems trimmed and halved if large
4 carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 8)
1 sheet puff pastry (half a 17.3 ounce package), thawed
1 cup frozen green beans
1/3 cup heavy cream
In a 4-6 quart slow cooker, mix together the mushrooms, carrots, onion, flour, thyme, bay leaf, and 1/2 cup water.  Pleace the chicken on top; season with 1 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper.
Cover and cook until the chicken and vegetables are tender, on low for 7-8 hours or on high for 4-5 hours.
Thirty minutes before serving, heat oven to 425.  Using a 4 1/2 inch cutter or other circular object, cut the pastry into 4 circles [no need to roll it out beforehand].  Place on a baking sheet and bake until golden, 8-10 minutes.
Ten minutes before serving, add the peas, green beans, cream, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to the chicken mixture and stir to combine.  Cover and cook on high or low until heated through, 5-10 minutes more.  To serve, place the chicken mixture in bowls and top with the pastry rounds.

  • I used only 3- which was plenty- bone-in chicken thighs, discarded the skin before I placed the chicken in, shredded the chicken after adding the green beans, and returned to pot as I added the peas.
  • I used fresh green beans and added them in about 45 minutes before serving (as opposed to 10).
  • I used milk instead of cream, since I had it on-hand.  Worked fine, but not as "creamy".  Imagine that.  :).
  • DO AHEAD: Pastry rounds can be made up to 1 day ahead.  Wrap airtight and store at room temperature.

Once again, Stephanie & I are on the same wavelength... in terms of "not wanting to get dressed" AND this week's recipe (mushroom cream sauce with garlic chicken cutlets~ with the cream sauce being the *star* of the show).  Thankfully I have chicken in the freezer... & this time, I most definitely will not omit the cream :).

Bold moves.

maybe it's just because those pre-show interviews exude such a tense, forced, uncomfortable vibe, but it wasn't the bold yellow dress, or the stunning red lips that really caught my eye.

it was the gals that were a little less elegant... a bit more casual.  beachy waves, or even a pony tail in lieu of long perfected locks.  yes... it is a BLACK TIE event.  i get it.  but sometimes a little rule-breaking/bending is required.  

toning it down a notch (or 10) could be just as bold as a striking red or mustard yellow. 
which is why she was my favorite red carpet pick.  flawless.  but in a 'less-is-more' kinda way.
image via
did you watch?  thoughts?

A crush.

Watching Beautiful Girls for the first time [thanks to Amy] last weekend reminded me that I've yet to tell you about my total infatuation (that developed early on, but has yet to fade) of this boy.  Dangerously close to "perfection."

{...and since it's remained undocumented for so long, I felt the time was right to share.  Happy Friday =)}

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Lovely lemon cupcakes.

{our lil' meyer lemon tree}
As I confessed here, I've got a "slight" cookbook obsession.  As if I didn't have enough, I accumulated even more over the holidays.  Suuuuuure, I have enough books to cover all bases- from feeding picky eaters- to becoming a domestic goddess, but then a new one comes along... with new promises, new chefs, new recipes, new strategies...  Oh, and don't even get me started on my magazine problem.  And the pile just keeps getting bigger... and BIGGER.
 The thing is- I love 'em.  All of them.  Love reading the accompanying stories, tips, variations, menus, approaches... Love the pictures... the styling... not to mention- the actual recipes, and of course- the end result (... the food!!).

So, in order to justify my growing library of cookbooks, I'm making a commitment to pull them off of the shelf (as well as- off of the pinterest board or the magazine pile or the bookmarked list)- and cook up a storm :).

  ...most likely more than weekly, but I'll share at least one a week... and guess what?  Stephanie's doing the same.  And this week- she made cupcakes as well... specifically- "a ridiculously sinful oreo cupcake" recipe (that my husband will die for).  Do you want to join us?  Nothin' too formal.  In fact, we may post on different days... at different times of the week...  But I started this blog as a place to share (literally), so the more sharing- the merrier.  Not only will we pass along great recipes, but we'll discover some amazing cookbooks in the process.  Just what I need, right?

First up-

Meyer lemon cupcakes.

...& they were GOOD.  Too good.

lovely lemon cupcakes 
*adapted from organic and chic (one of my new favorite baking books, discovered here)

makes 26-28 cupcakes

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
grated zest of 4 Meyer lemons (heaping tbsp)
3 large eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup Meyer lemon juice
simple lemon glaze (recipe below)

Preheat oven to 350 (mine is a convection so I heated it to 325).  Line muffin tins with liners.

Cream the butter, sugar, and lemon zest on medium-high speed for 3 minutes.  Scrape the sides of the bowl.

Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring until mixed.  Then add the vanilla extract.

In a medium bowl, sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together.  Set aside.

Mix the buttermilk and lemon juice together in a small bowl.  Set aside.

With the mixer on low speed, alternate adding the dry and wet ingredients in three separate additions, beating until combined.

Pour the batter into the cupcake liners (3/4 full).  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.

Remove from the tins and let cool completely on a wire rack.

Once they are fully cooled, top with the lemon glaze...

simple lemon glaze
{you may need to 1 1/2 this, depending on how much glaze you prefer}
 2 cups powdered sugar
3 tbsp lemon juice (I used Meyer)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Whisk all the ingredients together in a bowl.

Once the cake has cooled, spoon the mixture on top of each cupcake, using the back of a spoon to drip down the sides in the direction you desire.

*disclaimer: the whole premise of this book is to utilize organic ingredients, hence the name "organic and chic"... I did not, so I left the 'organic' part out of the recipe.

[Oregon] state of mind.

Hi there.  

Been a while, hasn't it?  We got back from Oregon late Wednesday night, but the mellow, laid back vibe that this state- our trip- embodied is still lingering.  Not good, seeing that real life resumes bright & early this very mornin'.

Finally unpacked Saturday night, preceding a bottle of wine & not 1, but 2 movies.  Back to back.  That never happens.

Kinda daunting, getting back into it after all this r&r, but pretty exhilarating at the same time.  A new year awaits.  

An open road.  

Work to be done.  Pleasure to be pursued.  

I'm ready.

But first- I thought I'd share a few pics...  An entire week with Ryan's grandparents, an abundance of trees, and simple, natural beauty in every direction... just what we needed.

{one big trip with lots of little trips in between.} overnight stay with family.

...a rainy drive to the coast.

...for clam chowder, fish n' chips, & grandpa's favorite- oyster stew.

...a trip to the museum.
                            the produce market.
...and of course...
                             wine country.
{rain or shine}
...tasting into the wee hours of the night.

(well, until sundown anyhow)
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