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Happy New Year!

It’s that time of year. When we think about the past year and how we want to improve or what we want to accomplish in the coming year. I’m a big goal person. I usually have goals for the year and goals for seasons. I’m a big dork like that. But I enjoy accomplishing things, challenging myself, and seeing what I’ve done in retrospect.
This year instead of having New Year’s goals I decided to align them with my birthday. I turned 28 a few weeks ago and these are my goals for the year:
- Drink more champagne. This may sound a little silly and frivolous and it is, truthfully. The past year has been heavy and difficult. This year I want to have more fun and stop taking things so seriously. Drinking champagne is just fun, its frivolous  and you can’t be too serious. So far I’m doing marvelously. I’ve decided that I’m going to try all the champagne that my local liquor store carries. I’m starting on the bottom shelf and working my way up. I gotta say that I’m really loving the $4.99 spumante.
- Host 12 gatherings. When Bryan and I first bought our house we had people over every few weeks. This helped us keep the house relatively clean at all times. In the last couple of years we haven’t done as well. This year I want to stretch myself to host at least 12 gatherings. And family doesn’t count. So far I’ve had my old co-workers over for champagne and snacks. I also hosted a birthday party for Bryan when he turned 30. Two down in less than one month!
- Wear Sequins. See: drink more champagne. It’s fun and silly.
- Visit 5 breweries or distilleries. One of my life goals is to visit 50 breweries or distilleries. This year I’d like to visit at least five. We are planning a trip to bourbon country this spring so I have no doubt that I can accomplish this one.
- Read 15 books (3 of which must be non-fiction). So far I’ve read one fiction and have started a non-fiction.
For the last two years I’ve done a photo-a-day or Project365. I always miss a couple days a year, but the point was to capture the little things of each day. I made a book for 2011 and will have one made for 2012 as well. I love being able to look back and remember those little moments. The first Korean meal I’ve had or the time Bryan did something stupid or just snuggling with the dog in bed.
With two years under my belt I feel a little more comfortable to stretch myself this year. The vast majority of photos from the past two years were taken with my smartphone. 2013 I plan on using my DSLR. I inherited one from my father a year and a half ago. I have enjoyed trying to learn to use it, but I rarely cart it with me unless I’m out of town. And if I do I’m pretty shy about taking it out and using it. I’m camera shy behind the camera if that makes any sense. I’m also by no means a good photographer. I have a ton to learn about using that big camera. The purpose of doing this, though, is to 1) take my camera with me, 2) stop being camera shy, and 3) improve my photography skills. I’m pretty excited about it, but also a little nervous.
Do you make goals for the new year or for your birthday? What are you doing to stretch yourself?

Indian Christmas 2012

elf-will-ferrell-ss

This year, for the Christmas meal that we get to host with my family, Josh and I decided to go off from the usual traditions and do an Indian themed meal. Between Josh’s dairy allergy and a vegetarian in our midst, we thought this would be a great way to get a variety of dishes to please everyone.

Bonus for me: most of these will only be better by cooking them the day before. Can’t argue with that.

Our drink of choice for the evening isn’t Indian at all, but it is festive. That’s totally fine, right?

Indian Christmas Menu:

Anyone else breaking from tradition this year? Anyone have any traditions that they would never ever break?

Merry Christmas!

Sandy Hook

candle

I stayed glued to my computer screen on Friday, as so many did, trying to find updates on the shooting and hoping beyond hope that it wasn’t as bad as everyone feared. It was.

I received a phone call early Sunday morning from my mom with the news that my 17 year old cousin was in a serious car crash and is now in a coma.

Josh turned to me as I cried and said “If we have kids, they will not drive. We will keep them locked in the basement and home school them.”

While this is obviously not what we’d do, it’s what part of me will want to do. We live in a big scary world. A beautiful world, but a scary one.

When Josh took me to China to meet his dad before we got engaged, I knew several people who warned me to be careful because it’s so “dangerous” in China.

I tell Josh to be careful every day because it’s dangerous here.

We can’t live in fear, no matter how much of a struggle it is to choose to hope. I know that the only thing that I can do is try to be better and love more.

This prayer of St. Francis is one to live by, especially in times like this:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Our hearts and prayers are with all the lives touched by the tragedy at Sandy Hook, and with my cousin and his family.

Things We Love: Christmas in a Small Town

tree

Baby tree at one of our favorite breakfast spots

One of my favorite things about the little town where we live is how over the top they go on Christmas decorations. Every store, every restaurant, all down Main street, is full to the brim of Christmas spirit. There’s a huge tree in the middle of the town square, and lights everywhere. They never fail to make me happy, even on the gloomiest of days.

Foodie Friday: Warm Sweet Potato, Mushroom, and Spinach Salad

Photo Courtesy Deliciously Ella

Photo Courtesy Deliciously Ella

In an effort to eat more seasonally, we’ve been eating a lot of heavier soups and stews and things. All of the delicious winter squashes and sweet potatoes are fantastic and so good for us, but sometimes I just really crave a great salad.

When I saw this salad on Deliciously Ella, I thought it might fit the bill. The very fact that I can consider making something full of mushrooms like this goes to show how amazing and adventurous Josh is. After a lifetime of hating mushrooms, he’s slowly started trying them more and more over the last few months. Now he’ll happily eat a soup full of mushrooms or a portabella mushroom sandwich. SO awesome.

This salad is one of those dishes that winds up being far more delicious than you could possibly believe it could be. I took my first bite and I’m sure my eyes got huge. It was just so good, full of textures and flavor. I inhaled my portion and licked the plate. No lie.

We liked it so much that it’s also going on our meal plan for this week as well. When a dish makes the cut two weeks in a row, you know it’s good. The fact that it’s also great for us is an added bonus. Remember, especially when you’re using such simple ingredients in such a simple way, quality will make all the difference in the world.

Warm Sweet Potato, Mushroom, and Spinach Salad (recipe copied from here)

  • 1 large sweet potato
  •  a dozen mushrooms (we used shiitake)
  •  2 bowls of spinach (we actually used tatsoi, an asian green, from a local farm, but spinach would be great)
  •  2 jalapeno peppers, deseeded and diced
  •  a dozen cherry tomatoes
  •  4 Tbsp apple cider vinegar (we love Bragg’s raw unfiltered)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  •  1 tsp smoked paprika
  •  salt
  •  olive oil

Cut the sweet potatoes into small cubes and place them on a baking tray. Toss with olive oil, salt, paprika and cinnamon.  Bake for 15-20 minutes at 375, until soft.

While these cook slice the mushrooms into pieces and gently stir fry them with olive oil, salt, apple cider vinegar and the chopped jalapeño pepper. This should take about 7 minutes. Add your spinach and toss around for 2-3 minutes until wilted.

Quarter the cherry tomatoes

I simply assembled ours in layers, and dug in.

Wasted Wednesday: Spiced Apple Cider Sangria

I love making special cocktails for events. They bring people together, and it’s always best if they can be made ahead of time so that no one is stuck on bar tending duty. This will be going on our Thanksgiving table this year and I can’t wait to drink it. I’ll make the spiced cider today and then assemble it all tomorrow.

Spiced Apple Cider Sangria (copied from here)

For the Spiced Apple Cider:

  • 2 cups apple cider (the real stuff – opaque in color & found in the refrigerator section)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon orange zest
  • 2 orange slices (rounds)

For the Spiced Apple Cider Sangria:

  • 1 bottle inexpensive Spanish red wine
  • 2 cups spiced apple cider (recipe above)
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 cup brandy

directions:

For the Spiced Apple Cider: 
Mix together all ingredients in a medium sized saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat and then remove from heat and allow to cool completely. Strain before using.

For the Spiced Apple Cider Sangria:
Mix ingredients together in a large pitcher and garnish with orange wheels and cinnamon sticks. To serve, pour over ice.

Cheers, and happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving 2012

It’s Thanksgiving week here in the USA, so naturally our thoughts go to food (even more than they normally do). This marks the first year that I haven’t spent Thanksgiving with extended family, but poor Josh has to work at midnight on Thanksgiving so we’re staying in town. Ah, the joys of retail and Black Friday.

We’ll be celebrating instead with two other orphaned families, so we have a list of things to contribute. I asked our lovely hostess what I could bring, and this is what we’re making:

  1. Mashed potatoes- just your basic mashed potatoes. To me, Thanksgiving is not the time for fancy flavored mashed potatoes, since they simply serve as a vehicle to get gravy into your mouth. This article from the Kitchn does a great job of breaking the process down for perfect potatoes.
  2. Dressing/Stuffing- This is the one that freaked me out a little. I’ve never made dressing, nor am I a huge fan of it. It’s typically bland and either weirdly dry or overly mushy. Josh and I decided to break free of tradition and make this Poblano Cornbread Stuffing. Now I’m actually looking forward to the dish, which I didn’t think was possible.
  3. Vegetable- Easy. Sassy green beans. Like there was ever any doubt.
  4. Wine- Okay, so I actually offered to bring this. You can never have too much booze at the holidays, right?! Instead of just grabbing a few bottles of wine though, I thought I’d make this spiced apple cider sangria. Doesn’t get more autumnal than that.

Anyone else mixing it up a little this year? Or have any traditional dishes that are a non negotiable?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Foodie Friday: Gluten Free Cornbread

In our group of friends here we have a lot of people with food allergies. Gluten, dairy, nuts… the list goes on and on.

We had a chili cook off recently and one of the gluten free girls mentioned how much she missed cornbread. I knew that there had to be a quick and easy (and cheap) way to make it for her, so I told her I’d take care of it.

I spent a good bit of time online looking at various recipes. Some called for up to 4 or 5 specialty flours that there was no way I was going to buy for one dish. Seriously. Cornbread should be cheap. I was raised on Jiffy cornbread in the blue box, which is a staple for most poor large families.

I finally found a few recipes that were simple enough, and after combining and tweaking them, came up with this one. Luckily, since I was making it for a crowd without tasting it first, it turned out great.

Gluten Free Cornbread

  • 1 cup milk of choice (I used rice milk.)
  • 1 tbsp vinegar
  • 2 cups fine or medium cornmeal
  • 2 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 tbsp molasses (or you can just do 2 tbsp extra honey)
  • 11-oz can corn, drained
  • 2 tbsp coconut or canola/veg oil
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
Preheat your oven to 420.
Combine the vinegar with the milk, and set aside. Combine dry ingredients and mix well. In a separate bowl, mix together the oil, applesauce, corn (you can smash it a little if you want), and milk-vinegar. Then pour the wet into dry and mix until just mixed. It will look really weird and foamy and you’ll probably think you did something wrong. Pour into a greased 8×8 dish and cook for about 25 minutes. Let cool.

Restaurant Review Nashville: Biscuit Love at Cooking with Yazoo Beer

We’ve talked before about our love for local food truck Biscuit Love, and when Rachel and Bryan came to visit we went and toured Yazoo Brewing Co, so when we got a chance to combine the two for a special night you know we jumped at the offer. I mean, come on, beer and great food cooked with beer? No brainer!

Yazoo has been hosting local chefs for the night about once a month and this was our first time to go. For $20 we got a three course meal and unlimited beer, plus a really fun time. Karl, the genius behind Biscuit Love, and his wife Sarah have become friends of ours, so we also loved the chance to go support them as well.

Karl named his meal “Scenes From a Redneck Childhood,” and with a name like that, you know it’s going to be a great night.

First course: Country Store Pickle Plate

  • pickled sausage poached in Dos Perros and served over fried cornbread (my favorite)
  • pickled Hefeweizen egg salad served on an angel biscuit
  • Tobasco and Hefewizen pickled Gulf Shrimp served over a Weisenberger Mills cheese grit cake

Second course: The Virginia Creeper Picnic

  • drunken Cruze Dairy buttermilk fried chicken brined in Gerst
  • Delta Sun Farms collard greens braised in Broadbent bacon, onions, and Hap & Harry’s Tennessee Lager
  • 4 cheese Kenny’s Farmhouse macaroni (complete with Cheeze-its crumbled on top)

Third Course: The Family Get Together

  • a buttermilk pie named Sue, which was Karl’s Aunt Edna’s recipe with a little bit of a Beer Named Sue (this was the lightest and best buttermilk pie I’ve ever had)

As you can imagine, poor Josh pushed his dairy allergy to the limits, but it was worth every bite and possible nasal issues later. Every course was perfect, but the second course in particular really spoke to me in the way that only true Southern comfort food can do. While the fried chicken and mac and cheese were insanely good, the collard greens, which reminded me so much of my late grandmother that I got a little choked up, were what brought waves of childhood nostalgia crashing over me.  Even if you didn’t grow up on these foods (like Josh), it’s still just the kind of meal that makes you feel happy and cozy.

We will definitely be keeping on eye out for Yazoo’s next chef’s night, and will continue to stalk Biscuit Love. If you’re in the area, you should check both of them out!

Restaurant Review Memphis: Felicia Suzanne Chef’s Table

Last night we had a magical, magical dinner. It was so magical you can only double it . Magical magical. That’s how awesome it was.
A friend of my husbands invited one of us to dinner with his step dad and a few other friends. They had won a dinner for 6 at a great local restaurant at an auction and there was only one seat open. Bryan talked to the host and to the restaurant and they agreed to allow me and we’d pay my own way.  I figured it’d be a multi-course meal, but didn’t really have many preconceived notions. Mainly I was trying not to think of it at all because I was worried that since we would be eating with strangers it might be really awkward and I tend to play these things up in my head which in the end forces it to be awkward because I’m awkward in response to foreseeing it being awkward. Self-fulfilling prophesy if there ever was one.
Anyways, back to the story. Bryan and I arrived a few minutes early and grabbed drinks at the bar. We’ve been to this restaurant several times without reservations and can never get a table so we’re always forced to sit at the bar and look longingly at the people who were smart enough to plan their dinners in advance. We also have a friend that works the bar, so there’s that too. And given our recent visits we’ve made friends with the main bartender as well. I don’t like to brag, but he makes some fantastic drinks. One time he made me this drink with gin and a real fig in it. It was amazing.  I digress again.
Bryan’s running buddy shows up first and we chat with him as the other members of our dining party arrive. Once everyone is there we are taken to our table. We pass all the other tables and they take us through the double doors. The double doors to the kitchen, ya’ll!!!! THE KITCHEN!
Being a foodie I’ve known this is a thing. For chef’s to have special seatings in the kitchen. But never ever did I think I’d be such a lucky girl to be able to do that. I think my jaw dropped and I just froze. Mainly to prevent myself from jumping up and down and squealing like a little girl…. and also I didn’t want to spill my cocktail. That would be wasteful. After a mintue and the shock wore off I sat down where I could see what was happening in the kitchen.
Felicia, the owner and chef, greeted us and asked if we had an allergies or food preferences. There was one vegan at the table, so he got his own special thing. If I had felt more comfortable with the dinner party I would have piped up and asked her to get really creative or something. But I didn’t. I just smiled and knew that I was in for a treat regardless.
After seven courses I can’t tell you specifics of what all we ate. There was a little tart, a squash and apple soup with crab meat, a salad, a duck and mushroom crepe with some tasty tomato jam, a fish course served over hoppin john (she mixed black eyed peas and lady peas and I might have wanted to ask for seconds), a beef course with a really tasty sauce, and then for dessert she brought us three different things to try and share. Sigh… incredible food.
But the thing that struck me as special was the guests. We only knew the one friend going in to the meal. I was super nervous that it was going to be awkward not knowing everyone. It wasn’t. We both really enjoyed talking and getting to know everyone.  I had one of those epiphanies that this was what grown up life was supposed to be like. This is how we were supposed to live. Sharing meals with people and getting to know each other.
One of my goals for next year is to host more gatherings. When we first bought our house four years ago we were great about having people over pretty regularly, but we’ve slacked off in the last year or so. Last night spurred me on to make it more of a priority to bring people together and share food and drink.

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