Tuesday, November 30, 2010

When you look at your life, the greatest happinesses are family happinesses.
Joyce Brothers

Nick and I had a whirlwind tour of Iowa and Nebraska this Thanksgiving weekend. Nick joked that it was like a baseball team trip, hoping from one city to another. It was a "productive" trip seeing lots of friends, family and even my first Nebraska Huskers game in Lincoln!

Here are some photos from our fun long weekend...

The Gray Sweater Mafia (friends from high school)

Let's play, how do we fit six people plus luggage in the car for the road trip

Pat and Joe (best in laws ever) at Thanksgiving dinner in Des Moines

A little living room football with the cousins

Sisters (in law)

In Lincoln on Friday from the Nebraska Huskers game

One reason I love the Huskers, their colors fit so nicely in my wardrobe

Go Big Red!

With my favorite Husker fan

Nick manning the basement bar at his grandma's house in Carroll

With his grandma and family

Last night of vacation

His old friend and best man at our wedding, Chad

Last road trip stop, lunch with his college
friend Aaron, his wife Crystal and son Andrew

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving is America’s national chow-down feast, the one occasion
each year when gluttony becomes a patriotic duty.

Michael Dresser

Here are some great dinner prep tips that I found - many I follow (I totally do the Post-It notes on serving dishes!) and others I thought were new and helpful. I don't have to cook Thanksgiving this year but many of the ideas are great for entertaining or hosting at any time of the year.

Have a happy Thanksgiving and especially enjoy the long weekend!

Thanksgiving Kitchen Tip Sheet
from Better Homes & Gardens

Well in advance, write down your entire menu and post it somewhere in your kitchen so you don't remember midway through dinner that the mashed potatoes are still in the refrigerator.

Prepare a cooking schedule and timetable based on your recipes and write it down. Post it in a visible place in your kitchen.

Clean out your refrigerator a few days before you begin cooking to make room for make-ahead dishes.

Set your Thanksgiving table the night before - or earlier, if you don't use your dining room every night.

Assemble and organize your serving dishes and utensils a few days before. Pair them up and put a sticky note on each serving dish that tells you what's going in it so that in the last-minute frenzy of getting dinner on the table, you don't forget.

Turkey Tips

Defrosting a turkey: Defrosting time for your turkey depends on how big your bird is. Use these figures as a guide -- and always defrost a frozen turkey in its original wrapping in a pan in the refrigerator (don't count the day of roasting):

10- to 12-pound bird: 2 days 12- to 14-pound bird: 3 days 14- to 18-pound bird: 4 days 18-pound-plus bird: 5 days

Consider grilling your bird: Free up oven space for side dishes by cooking your turkey (unstuffed!) in a covered grill. (Although this can be done with a charcoal grill, a gas or propane model will be much less work.) An 8- to 12-pound turkey will take between 2 1/2 and 3 1/2 hours to grill over medium coals. Be sure to grill indirectly (with the heat source coming from under each side of the bird rather than directly under it). You can bake your stuffing in the oven with the rest of the sides.

Turkey for a smaller crowd: Unless you really relish lots of leftovers, consider roasting a turkey breast rather than a whole bird if you're having six or fewer guests.

Herbs for stuffing: The best herbs for your stuffing are the ones you enjoy the most, though you may want to consider some of the sturdier, highly aromatic ones such as sage, thyme, lemon thyme, rosemary, and flat-leaf Italian parsley.

For the shortest cooking time: Keep the oven door shut as much as possible. Slow, steady heat coaxes maximum flavor from the bird and produces a golden, crackly skin. Basting is not necessary, and may lengthen the cooking time.

How to tell if your turkey is done: A meat thermometer inserted into the thigh (but not touching bone) should read 180 degrees F and the stuffing should be 165 degrees F. The drumsticks should move very easily in their sockets and juices from the thigh will run clear when the thigh is pierced with a long-tined fork.

Vegetable Math for Cooking

ASPARAGUS Purchased Amount: 1 pound Yield: 2 cups pieces

BEANS (green, Italian green, purple, and yellow wax) Purchased Amount: 3/4 pound Yield: 2-1/4 cups pieces

BEETS Purchased Amount: 1 pound Yield: 2-3/4 cups cubes

BROCCOLI Purchased Amount: 3/4 pound Yield: 3 cups florets

BRUSSELS SPROUTS Purchased Amount: 3/4 pound Yield: 3 cups

CABBAGE Purchased Amount: Half of a 1- to 1-1/4-pound head Yield: 4 cups pieces

CARROTS Purchased Amount: 1 pound Yield: 3 cups slices

CARROTS, TINY WHOLE Purchased Amount: 1 pound Yield: 3 1/2 cups

CAULIFLOWER Purchased Amount: 3/4 pound head Yield: 3 cups florets

CELERY Purchased Amount: 5 stalks Yield: 2-1/2 cups slices

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Silent gratitude isn't much use to anyone.
G.B. Stern

Sunday gratitude:
  • Christmas is creeping in and I can't wait!
  • thanks to training, Winnie can actually "leave it." Hallelujah.
  • minivan Tri Delta road trips with Twizzlers.
  • the upcoming three day work week.
  • cold enough weather that I can wear and enjoy all of my scarves.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end.
Seneca the Younger

Two years ago tomorrow, I drove into St. Louis with my mom and a tranquilized cat in the backseat of my packed Volkswagen.

Sometimes it seems like yesterday and other times I feel like we've been here forever. I have learned so much from this first move away from home. About myself, my husband, my family and, really, how much I am capable of on my own. To be honest, I'm really proud of us. This could have been a complete disaster but it has been simply the opposite. I'm so happy to call St. Louis home and although I miss so much about Florida I really love our life here.

I can't wait to see what the years to come have in store for us!

On the 17 hour drive

Getting closer!

Almost there!

Hello St. Louis!

Being carried over the threshold of our first home together.
Please excuse the awful angle of this photo, it's the only one I have!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Food is the most primitive form of comfort.
Sheila Graham

With the recent time change and the feeling that the world is ending at about 4:45 p.m. every evening when the sun goes down I was craving a really cozy dinner on Sunday night. I usually do a bigger-than-usual sit down dinner on Sundays and since we'd been out of town and traveling the last few weeks I was excited to get something together.

Since I saw it posted on another blog, all I could think about was Chicken Spaghetti. It's not healthy but, oh man, it just sounded so good. I knew it would be the perfect warm comfort food dinner for Sunday night.

It's very easy and so far has made awesome lunch leftovers this week. I actually think it tastes better as the flavors meld together. I served it with steamed mixed veggies and it passed the husband clean-plate-club-taste-test as well.

Chicken Spaghetti
4 boneless chicken breast
8oz Velveeta (cubed)
1 can Rotel
1 can Cream of Mushroom (I used Cream of Chicken & Mushroom to limit the mushroom-y taste but you can use what you want)
1 package spaghetti noodles (I used whole wheat)
Salt and pepper to taste

Boil or bake chicken (I cooked mine for a few hours in the slow cooker with 1/4 cup of water)

Boil spaghetti noodles according to package directions (I cooked mine in water and 2 cups chicken broth)

Cut chicken into bite-size cubes.

In pan combine can of soup, can of Rotel, cubed Velveeta in pan and heat over low to medium heat until Velveeta melts

Once heated through, combine with noodles and chicken

Mix together, season to taste and serve (I had to keep it warm for a while so I put it in a casserole dish and baked it)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A little smile, a word of cheer, a bit of love from someone near, a little gift from one held dear, best wishes for the coming year… these make a Merry Christmas!
John Greenleaf Whittier

I start thinking about it in September. It is the best time of year.

But it's not the tree, the stockings and the cookies I think about. It's the Christmas card.

I love, love, love sending and receiving Christmas cards. For me, it's a throw back and homage to real, honest to goodness mail. Hand-addressed envelopes, pictures of babies in stockings and Labradors in the snow. I love hearing about how everyone is doing and seeing photos of their families.

Considering I do all of the addressing and stamping of the envelopes, I get the final say in the design. Of course Nick throws in his silly and random ideas. "Oh, let's Photoshop our heads on racehorses crossing the finish line into the new year!"

Uh, no.

Since photo cards of my favorite to receive, last year we did this:

This year, I've been browsing the options and here are my favorite Christmas cards from Shutterfly. These meet my multiple photo and actually say "Merry Christmas" guidelines. (Obviously, they will be photos of us and now pretty stock photo families).

The site also has really cute custom Christmas tags and holiday party invitations. And because I love a good deal, I'll share that bloggers can get 50 free holiday cards from Shutterfly too!

Now that's a reason to celebrate.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The trip across Arizona is just one oasis after another. You can just throw anything out and it will grow there, I like Arizona.
Will Rogers

Nick and are not what you'd call "repeat travelers." We like to pick a new place we haven't been and enjoy all it has to offer with the thought that we'll probably never be there again. Arizona was high on our list of "never been there" places (although Nick did play some college golf in Scottsdale about 10 years ago). November is the perfect time for us to take our big yearly trip because it's the end of golf season here in St. Louis and allows us to celebrate our wedding anniversary.

We left Saturday morning and returned late Thursday night - the time in between was both fun, relaxing and downright educational.

Did you know that the largest Ponderosa Pine Forest on the continent is in the area around the Grand Canyon? Me either! The landscape was so much different than I pictured in Northern Arizona. I was thinking cactus and desert like Phoenix but in fact it was full of beautiful trees, snow capped mountains and cold weather.

Here's a photo run down of our fun 2nd anniversary trip:

Our first stop when we landed in Phoenix, In-N-Out Burger!


We then drove north from Phoenix to Sedona (about 2 hours). This was one of our first views entering the area.

In front of our "condo" home for three days at the Hyatt Pinon Pointe.

Sunset and appetizers on the balcony before dinner.

Sunrise on Sunday morning in Sedona. Up early for our Pink Jeep Tour to the Grand Canyon.

Hooray for Pink Jeep!

Our stylin' ride two hours north to the Canyon.

After a drive through Flagstaff, we arrived at the Grand Canyon.

Our first beautiful view of the Canyon.

Relaxing on the front porch of the Grand Canyon lodge, El Tovar, where we had lunch.

At El Tovar.

Nick has the historic Hopi House.

Second view of the Canyon toward the east.

Last stop, at the Desert View Watchtower.

Inside the Watchtower, full of neat paintings.

View from the top of the Watchtower.

Beautiful views, so long Grand Canyon!

After the Grand Canyon, we headed east to the Navajo Indian Reservation and their trading post.

On Monday morning we went to a few of the lookout points in Sedona on our way out of town. That's Nick with "me" since there was no one else there to take our picture.

Beautiful rocks near Chapel of the Holy Cross.

Chapel of the Holy Cross built right into the rocks.

That day we drove back south to Scottsdale. View from our hotel room at Millennium McCormick Ranch.

Nick played golf at The Arizona Country Club...

...while I explored 5th Avenue and the Fashion Square Mall in Scottsdale.

For our anniversary dinner we at at The Greene House in Kierland Commons.

On Tuesday morning, Nick played golf at our resort and I went for a tour at the amazing Frank Lloyd Wright home, Taliesin West.

View of the front of the house.

Views out to Scottsdale.

That evening we went to meet for coffee with my favorite summer intern from St. Louis, Elaine. She goes to school in Flagstaff and we driving through so I got to see her and catch up!

On Wednesday morning, while Nick laid around in his bathrobe at the hotel, I stood in line at Kierland Commons like a crazy woman to meet and have my book signed by the Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten.

With Ina! She was so gracious and nice, just as you'd imagine.

Then I took myself down to Old Town Scottsdale to look around.

Lots of stores and I finally found a pair of turquoise and silver earrings that I loved (and that weren't $300!).

I had lunch at the Sugar Bowl which is famously known in Family Circus comics.

For dinner we headed to the mountains to meet up at the beautiful home of Nick's parent's good friends, Tim and Genny.

We ate at their beautiful country club, Troon. It was the perfect last dinner in Scottsdale!

On our last day, Thursday, we drove west to Glendale and took a tour of the Arizona Cardinals' stadium. It was pretty amazing!

On the "field" except it hadn't been rolled in yet for the game.

For my future reference and for anyone who would like details of where we visited, stayed and ate here are the links:

Hyatt Pinon Pointe in Sedona
Millennium McCormick Ranch in Scottsdale

Pink Jeep Tour to the Grand Canyon
Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona
Kierland Commons in Scottsdale
5th Avenue in Scottsdale
Taliesin West (the Frank Lloyd Wright home)
Old Town Scottsdale
The Arizona Country Club in Phoenix
McCormick Ranch Golf Club in Scottsdale
Scottsdale Fashion Square
University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale

In-N-Out Burger in Phoenix
Ken's Creekside in Sedona
El Tovar in Grand Canyon Village
Late for the Train Coffee in Flagstaff
Cowboy Club in Sedona
The Breakfast Club in Scottsdale
The Greene House in Scottsdale
RA Sushi in Scottsdale
Lux Coffee Bar in Phoenix
Yard House in Scottsdale
Sugar Bowl in Scottsdale
Troon Country Club in Scottsdale
Gordon Biersch in Glendale
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