Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Food Files: Reluctant Summer Pasta

Let's talk cooking. Feeding oneself is a basic adult task.

My mother is a great cook and I've been spoiled by her homegrown, home-raised meals for years. Me? I'd rather not be in the kitchen.

It's not that I exactly hate to cook; I just don't want to do it everyday. I have this beautiful image in my head of happy homemaking-cooking lovely, fresh, local, seasonal meals that cover all my food groups. But...this makes a lot of dishes to wash and it feels like it takes so long and there are other things I would rather be doing and [insert many more excuses here].

Unfortunately, this reluctance to make myself some darn food left me toting a cruddy can of soup to work. Not fulfilling. So, I buckled down and threw together this summer pasta.


1 yellow bell pepper (from my mom's garden)
1 red bell pepper (from the grocery store-whoa, these are expensive!)
1 bunch of asparagus minus 1/2 (I waited too long to use it and some of the stalks were a bit funky)
2 boxes of cherry tomatoes (they were buy 1, get 1)
Log o' goat cheese minus some I smeared on a Wasa cracker for breakfast
1 handful of fresh basil (mom's garden again)
Balsamic vinegar
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper to taste

I had to sort through these for good ones.

1. Sort through your asparagus, pick the non-funky ones, snap off the ends, and break the remainder into 2 inch or so pieces. If you are more on top of your fridge, congratulations! You don't have to throw away your food!

2. Then, spread out your asparagus on a baking sheet covered in aluminum foil, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle liberally with salt. Roast the asparagus in an oven set at about 350 degrees F for about 10-15 minutes or until the fronds are slightly brown around the edges. Let cool.

I wish I could give more detailed instructions about the roasting, but my oven is wonky. It shoots to about 450 degrees when you have it set to only 200. I have to just check on things frequently and play it by ear. You can probably figure out how to roast some asparagus. If I can do it in an oven determined to turn itself into a flaming pit, you can manage in a better behaved appliance.

This knife definitely needs to be sharpened. I more squished than chopped. 

2. Cut up your peppers. Don't worry if they aren't uniform pieces. I personally ignore such culinary shortcomings.

This homegrown pepper tasted awesome. Thanks, mom!

3. Slice some cherry tomatoes. I made them relatively small. I also forgot that I am slightly allergic to tomatoes and have had a raw mouth for a couple days.

Hello, lycopene. 

4. Throw in some basil. Due to the sorry state of my "knife," I decided to rip rather than chop.

This looks like Christmas. But don't even think of eating it at Christmas. It would be totally out of season. 

5. Make some pasta! I choose these little spirals because (1) I love this kind and (2) the box was on sale. It was the protein added variety, which is good as the protein count on this dish is a bit low and I plan on eating it as a meal.

This pasta is For-Ti-Fied.

6. Hold on to your hats. We are about to get all fancy. I made a balsamic reduction to drizzle on the pasta. It was simple, I put about a 1/2 c. of balsamic vinegar (you don't have to use expensive stuff here), added about 1 Tbs. of sugar and let it cook down until it was a nice syrupy consistency. Be careful not to burn your pot doing this. I had a handy nonstick little pot. I will probably be poisoned by the Teflon, but at least I don't have to scrub, right?

This little pot is ah. dorable.

7. Now for the fun part! Throw everything together in a big bowl. Drizzle with more olive oil, pour in the balsamic, sprinkle with extra salt and pepper to your taste. Mix well. Now is also the time to add cheese, if you wish. I put in goat cheese because it tastes fresh and, well, I had it in the fridge. Parmesan or feta would also be lovely.

It is a very pretty pasta salad.

This is a fresh summer dish. You can eat it slightly warm (as I prefer) or cool. If I did it again, I would have made more balsamic dressing. It was a good dinner and lunch and dinner and lunch. It kept well (I added a little extra oil to freshen it up).

So I ditched the canned fodder (for now). I like having something good in my fridge that I know is yummy and healthy. I have one other meal planned for this week. Let's see if it comes to fruition, or if I will be salvaging another vegetable for not old sections. Here's hoping.

What do you cook when you don't feel like cooking? Is anyone into crock-pot meals or freezing? Share your hints!

(My excitement over having cooked myself an actual meal is kind of telling of my level in this whole "growing up" progress, isn't it? I clearly have not been independent for very long.)

Monday, August 27, 2012

I feel...

I thought that I had responded to most of your comments supporting the start of this blog. But then I realized that my Blogger iPhone app didn't post them! Thank you for all your feedback. It means so much to me.

And to Mr. Bingley, the goldendoodle pictured above.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Bridal Shower

It was a sweet day.

Last weekend, I threw a small bridal shower for my dear friend at my parents' house. As the bride loves the restaurant Alice's Tea Cup in NYC, I decided to go with a tea party theme. Here is the run down of the party:

-fresh picked flowers
-vanilla votive candles
-a table runner with a bunny print (like the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland)
-pictures of the bride and groom scattered on the table (I printed them from Instagram so they would have that Polaroid feel)
-school pictures of the bride (not shown here as she would probably kill me)
-an adorable little porcelain bunny found at a thrift store

Table Setting:
A year or so ago, I bought a service for 16 at a thrift store for $25. The dishes are from Macy's and are dishwasher safe. I don't know what possessed me to buy SO MANY dishes. I really liked the pattern, a feminine floral. However, being able to serve 16 people isn't really a common concern for me. It turned out that these dishes came to good use at the party. They were perfectly suited for an afternoon tea. Although, I am not sure where I will store them or when I will possibly need that large a service again!

I made the labels for the food with index cards and colored pencils. 

The fruit salad was brought by another friend of the bride.

Desserts galore!

My sister's fiance frosted the red velvet cupcakes (his dog ate my first batch, so he made a whole new one at midnight the night before the shower). They were a little smudged, but totally delicious.

Molasses Crinkles and Double Chocolate Mocha Cookies. 

-fruit salad
-green bean and basil salad with Romano cheese (a big hit! made by my sister, adapted from an recipe [we omitted the shallots])
-chicken salad tea sandwiches (I used grapes and celery in the chicken salad)
-cucumber dill tea sandwiches
-red velevet cupcakes with buttercream frosting
-chocolate mocha cookies (these were amazing)
-molasses crinkle cookies
-lemon bars
-shortbread wedges
-assorted British tea cookies (purchased)
-dark chocolate Hershey Kisses

Line of teas (and coffee).

-sparkling mint lemonade (just club soda, frozen lemonade mix, and muddled mint from the garden)
-Moscato punch (Barefoot Moscato, frozen Bacardi Strawberry Daiquiri Mix [non-alcoholic], and frozen pink lemonade mix)
-green tea
-Earl Grey tea
-Peach Ceylon tea

The gift opening area I set up right beside the dining area.

Gift table

The beautiful bride opening her cards and gifts.

Party Plan:
-punch and beverages
-light lunch fare
-desserts and tea
-one game (bridal mad libs) with prizes (the bride isn't much one for games and there was no way I was putting her in a toilet paper dress)
-gift opening

Little Extras:
-I wrapped nail polishes in a little piece of tissue paper and drew an "A" on them for favors (the bride's name starts with A). I put them beside each place setting.
-I also put an envelope beside each place setting so each guest could write down their current home address for thank you notes. I gave the envelopes and thank you cards to the bride after the party.
-Under each place setting, I put a little slip for a mad lib submission so that we could transition into the game could run smoothly.
-I handed out little gifts from The Body Shop for the three people who submitted the funniest mad lib words (my mom took the cake with this one).

Wish I Knew:
-Tea sandwiches or any sandwiches with thin bread aren't a great idea when you are trying to prep beforehand. The bread got a little dried out.
-Take more pictures.
-Don't get so stressed out. It isn't going to be perfect, but that's okay. It's a party-have fun!

All in all, a success!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Slouchy Polish

Yes, I am quite short. And these pants were already hemmed once! 
For the past three days, I have been at a training conference. Today, finally, was my first day in the office. I got my cubicle, started using Microsoft Calender like a real cool cat, and got terribly overwhelmed by the many new systems I have to learn in the next week.

My outfit, however, was not a concern today. It was comfortable and I felt polished. Don't you hate it when you work about the fit, style, or appropriateness of your outfit all day? These bad clothing days make me feel antsy and dumpy. This was not one of those days.

The outfit is nothing fancy, but I felt pretty in my tiered silky shirt, wide leg trousers, and pointy toed flats. I kept everything simple, but the fit felt good. I also united the outfit with accents of gold. There are gold details on my shoes, a gold belt, a gold necklace, and a gold bangle.

While my new desk chair may not be too comfy, at least my clothes were. Success!
These pictures were taken at the end of my day. Yay for hairspray. 

My tuckered out feet just couldn't handle heels again today.
A gift from my friend in celebration of my new job.
Outfit Details: Shirt-Ann Taylor via Gabriel Brothers, Cardigan-Target (Merona), Pants-Kohl's, Shoes-Nine West via Marshalls, Belt-Banana Republic Outlet, Necklace-Kate Spade (gift), Bangle-Kate Spade (gift)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Big Girl Outfit

I'm at the hotel, motel, um...conference center.
I am most comfortable in leggings, ballet flats, a long t-shirt, a denim jacket or cardigan, and my favorite pink scarf. Obviously, this uniform is not appropriate for work wear (for me, anyway). I have to class it up a bit.

I am still working on finding a professional look. Cardigans are my best friend as they are a quick cheat for a more colorful and interesting outfit. I've had this one since undergrad. It has served me well but is showing a bit of wear. I need to find some high-quality, yet affordable new cardi options for fall that can jazz up my work outfits.

Also, upon examination of this photo, I may need to buy my skirts in petite. I am 5'4" with short legs. I usually am just too tall for petite pants. However, I know skirts are more flattering on me when they fall just above the knee.

The challenge for me is to look professional, but not boring. I need more color and accessories I think to make this happen. Nothing crazy, just a little more fun.

Until I can wear leggings to work (which will be never), I want to slowly make some adjustments to my professional wardrobe that help me to feel fresh and confident.

Where do you like to shop for work wear?

Pretty OPI gel manicure. For the life of me, I can't remember the polish name.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Brief Note

I made up my couch (a very comfortable one, I might add) for a chatty sleepover with the bride.
Tomorrow at a very, very early hour I am traveling to start the training process for my new job. I am very excited. I am very nervous.

I am thankful that I had such a wonderful weekend to catch up with old friends before I start this new step.

The bridal shower went well and I will do a post on the details next. The best part was being able to catch up with the bride. I love those kinds of friendships in which you can be separated for years by thousands of miles but still have so, so much to talk about.

Friendships change as you get older and your interests and life situations evolve. Friendships also take more effort. Instead of just always having people around to go eat dinner, study, or hang like in college, now you have to make a call, send an email, and make hard and fast plans to have lunch, go for a walk, or peruse TJ Maxx. It isn't as easy to have a huge group of casual friends.

However, I like this much better. When this time and effort is made, the quality of your relationships also increases. You know that those relationships you maintain are solid and nurturing.

As we get older, we have more control over our friendships. We get to pick those people for our inner circle of friends who help us to grow, share our interests, and make us laugh.

And now I stayed up way beyond my self imposed bedtime. Morning comes soon and with that new day, a huge new part of my life starts. Wish me luck and thank you all so much for your support with my new little blog project.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Party Prep

I had a little help with the baking. Shhh...
I am the maid of honor in an upcoming wedding this October. Therefore, I am in charge of throwing a bridal shower. This Saturday is the date of the anticipated event. I am excited, but nervous as this is my first time planning such an affair. It will be an intimate, cozy party (her mother will be throwing a separate one for the majority of her extended family). I decided to go for an afternoon tea theme. The bride lives in NYC and loves the restaurant Alice's Tea Cup (there are 3 locations). It is a fantastic place for brunch or afternoon snacks. The bride and I have enjoyed several extended gab sessions over pots of lavender earl grey and I thought it would be nice to bring these fond memories to theme the bridal shower.

Party planning takes a lot of work, but it is also very fun and allows for a great amount of creativity (something I love). In order for the day of the party to run smoothly, I want to get as much done beforehand as possible. I will be serving a variety of treats, and I wanted to make as many as I could in advance. I checked all the recipes and made sure that each would keep well for the big day.
Lots of work being done here, people!
Today, I chose to make lemon bars, shortbread wedges, and double chocolate mocha cookies. The lemon bars are from Gourmet magazine via I love epicurious and this recipe was very easy. The shortbread wedges, too, were incredibly simple to make. I found the recipe on

As you can tell by my focus on the ease of recipes, I am not too confident in my baking skills. I want everything to taste great, so I didn't want  fussy recipes that allowed too much space for disaster. Thus, my secret shame: Duncan Hines. Hey, I heard Jackie O used the box mix on occasion as well. I used the recipe for Chocolate Espresso Cookies on the back of the box (I used instant regular coffee instead of instant espresso). They are AH-MAZING. My faith in the box is solid. Just don't tell Martha.

Post Note: Here is the recipe for the  Duncan Heins Dark Chocolate Espresso Cookies. In mine, I used instant Folger's regular coffee because that was what we had in the house. I also skipped the Hershey's Kiss and put in small semi-sweet chocolate chips (about a bag). They were so good! Everyone loved them! I am going to make the same with gluten-free brownie mix for my mom.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Kitschy Chic Living Room

The inspiration for my living room came from Wes Anderson films (I love those overhead shots), Swedish/Danish design (a la Ikea), and vintage-centric blogs like A Beautiful Mess and Oh So Lovely Vintage. The ceilings for this room are low so I wanted to make things feel cozy. The walls are white, as is my Poang chair from Ikea.

This chair is a hand-me-down from an aunt's friend's fiance's roommate.
My sister painted the ugly black wood white and we bought a new cushion. 
Beside my trusty Poang chair is an old side table that belonged to my grandmother. I also have some little plates I found at thrift stores, an impulse buy rabbit (I have a weakness for rabbits-I even had one living in my dorm in college), and some pretty books. The lamp actually has a pink shade, it just looks orange here.

Flattering light
With all the white, I wanted to add more color and I made the bold decision to buy the Lusy Blom rug from Ikea (yes, I have spent a lot of time in Ikea-their meatballs are excellent). I loved the way the rug looks in the space. There is low pile green carpeting throughout the apartment, but this is softer and delineates the space of my living room. In the words of The Dude, it really pulls the room together.

I have been told that this looks like a playroom rug. I disagree!
My Karlstad sofa from Ikea was originally white, and stayed pristine until used by my sister. She had horrible, messy roommates. Thus, a cover was required. She chose a dark nubby fabric (I think it was going out of stock so she got a deal). My sister claims the couch cover is black. I really think it is dark blue. Regardless, it looks fresh with some new throw pillows.

The blanket on the ottoman in the bottom left corner I found at a thrift store.
It is really soft and has so many colors. I love that someone took the time to crochet this. 
My TV and DVD player are on an old school desk that has been around my house since I was a child. I love this here!

Check out ma pedi!
This is a little ottoman I found for $4 at a thrift store. I put a tray on it and it currently serves as a movable, makeshift coffee table. I have one I plan on rehabbing at home, although I am totally in love with this new one from Ikea.

The tray is from HomeGoods and the DVD box is from the Target Missoni line.
The box is a temporary hiding place for my wireless router. I put in an old record and music book for a bit of visual interest. I eventually plan on framing around 5 records for wall art. I have been looking for inexpensive record frames, but the best I have found are $10 ones at Target.

I need a prettier box here.
I need to figure out how to hide all these unsightly cords from my TV, DVD player, router, and lamp. Any ideas?

The bookshelf was given to me by my aunt. I can never have too many bookcases. I currently have little piles of books scattered around the apartment and two under-the-bed boxes full of them. Oh, English majors who grew up without cable!

Books! Books! Books!
I like to keep my bookshelves visually interesting by having both horizontal and vertical piles, organizing sometimes by size or color, and including extras like blue mason jars.

I like to keep my reading list eclectic. 

I love, love Jane Austen (with the exception of Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey). 
The display on top of the bookshelf is a work in progress. I will be fiddling with it over the next few weeks. The large piece is a collage I made from instagram pictures. The piece in the back left is from a very close friend. She bought it for my down in New Orleans. I also have some family photos, cute little Ikea tins, and a tiny clock.

The thermostat really pulls the whole look together, dontcha think?
I'm excited about how things came together. It is a really nice little living room with cheerful colors and lovely things. I can't wait to continue to add and rearrange over time.

**Post Note: There seem to be a lot of feet in this post. This was not an intentional lure to certain types of followers of the Quentin Tarantino variety.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Sleep On It

There are several difficulties I faced with the bedroom in my new apartment:

1. It is tiny-approximately 11 ft. x 9 ft.

2. The walls are painted a yellow gold color that I very much dislike. I prefer cool colors in bedrooms. The yellow would look fine in a kitchen or dining room, but it is a poor choice in a bedroom.

3. There are three (!) windows with insufficient mini-blinds. I know that "too much light" seems to be a ridiculous complaint, but I don't want my bedroom to be so bright.

4. Although I live in a small town, it is a surprisingly busy area. Right outside my bedroom window is a gas station, a busy traffic intersection, a pizza parlor, and a little shopping complex. The noise level is more than someone who is used to country life is accustomed to.

I don't care how old I get, teddy is staying.
In order to solve the paint, noise, and light problems, I decided to install floor to ceiling curtains along two walls. I bought the KVARTAL track system at Ikea, which includes the track rails, wall-fasteners, little hook curtain things, and a corner piece (all of these must be purchased separately).

Unfortunately, I can't hide the drop-ceiling.
I also bought the curtains at Ikea. At just $14.99 for two panels, these curtains were a way better price than anything I would find elsewhere, even at Target. With the track system and four sets of curtains, the whole project set me back less than $100, which is pretty good when you consider how expensive window treatments can be.

Installing the system wasn't a horribly difficult undertaking either. I had some a lot of help from my dear dad and the whole process took about two hours. You definitely need two sets of hands for this project and the pieces can be a little fussy. All in all, however, I am pleased with the quality of the system and the ease of installation.

Though I was originally going to go with white curtains, I am so happy that I chose the gray. The gray goes surprisingly well with the yellow walls and cools the whole room, giving it a more tranquil, spa-like quality. Additionally, the curtains make the room look larger and taller. I stole a decorating tip from a House Beautiful magazine and installed the curtains as high as I could to make the ceilings look taller. Finally, the curtains, as well as a fan, have made the room quieter and I am sleeping quite well.

Lamp from Ikea, plate from Kate Spade (from HomeGoods)
For accent colors, I went with black, white, and a limited amount of turquoise and pink.
I picked this up at HomeGoods several years ago and
have been surprised at how versatile it has been.

A peek of turquoise. The top pillow has light pink polka-dots.
Many homes featured in design magazines seem to be studies in beige. Ugh-all over beige rooms with "accents" of acid yellow, tangerine tango orange, or some other trendy color are just the worst. Maybe this room isn't that great by interior decorator standards (no beige!), but I love how it turned out.

My next move for the room will be to hang my pictures and find a narrow piece of furniture for the wall opposite the bed. I would love to find a padded bench and will be stalking HomeGoods.
Need to hang these and find some others.
Also, the DIY projects did not happen this weekend. I ended up spending more time with family and watching movies than anticipated. Ah, well. This week, hopefully!

Friday, August 10, 2012


Almost all moved in to my new apartment! Talk about a long, difficult process. Despite the sore back from hauling boxes and furniture and the general mess that I still need to organize, it is so exciting to be finally, officially moved in.

This weekend will be spent organizing and setting everything up. The new space is such a great opportunity to a fresh start. Decorating my apartment gives me an opportunity to try out new, more grown-up styles. Goodbye college wall tapestries! Hello to a more edited, deliberate look.

I have several DIY projects I will be tackling next week, including painting a thrift store coffee table and an Ikea side table. Additionally, I will be (hopefully, if I have time) making some wall art. I love finding quotes in cool typography on Pinterest and I plan on doing my own versions to hang on my walls. I am currently scouring thrift stores for good frames (there is some terrifying wall art out there I am finding). Here is one that I am definitely going to use for inspiration:

Something of this nature (I will not be copying, but making it my own) would look really cute in a small frame on my bedside table. I am very excited for these fun, easy projects and will definitely be sharing them with you.

I know I promised apartment photos (I am sure you have all, and by all I mean the one person who reads this blog [thanks, mom]) been waiting with bated breath. However, things are still so messy that I cannot bear to publish it on the internet. Until then, I have another recent major change:

Please, disregard my shark eyes.
 I promise that I am not this frightening in real life. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Dragging my feet

Since this weekend, I have been moving into and organizing my new apartment. It has been messy. How have I accumulated this much stuff? I have been accused of being a pack rat by my dad, but I disagree. I donate extra clothes and such frequently! I swear!

Unfortunately, I also seem to replenish my stock just as often. I never realize how much stuff I have until I have to move it. Hauling box after box of shoes certainly puts my pile into perspective.

It's a big ol' mess up in here.
The horrible mess of the apartment has precluded me from taking pictures of my new space. I don't want to frighten you away before we even get to know each other. I promise that I will share pictures, just as soon as things look less ransacked. 

It turns out that moving is less fun than I thought. The physical labor of heaving box after box of things up and down steps, packing seemingly endless, disorganized piles (why do I have so many dishes and where are my red clogs?), and trying to make everything work in my new space has been pretty tiring. My sister told me to "enjoy the process." I am finding, however, that I am spending more energy cussing at crates that fall on my toes and staring with confusion at Ikea directions.

Maybe some of my frustration stems from my ambivalence about moving out. For so long, I have been looking forward to the time when I could have my own place. These past few years since graduating college, I have been living at home while working on my master's. I am very lucky to have supportive parents that allowed me to come back, eat their food, and monopolize their laundry room. However, I definitely wanted my own space. I craved the independence. Now that the time has come,  I'm nervous. I can't imagine what it will be like to not see my goldendoodles every morning, not eat dinner with my family every night. I am used to people always being around. What if the solitude of my apartment isn't calming, but lonely?

My mother read a child development book when I was young. The author of the guide stated that, before a child makes the jump to the next stage in development, they first experience a kind of regression. The ready to mature child may throw fits or return to below age level behavior. Then, after all the fuss, the child will make the step in maturity and all will be well again. 

I love, love The Flyers (the ride, that is).
I think that I might be resisting that next step. As much as I have been craving this new stage, the reality is a little scary. I will never come back to this place in my life again. Yeah, it hasn't been so great, but at least it is familiar. The great unknown of adulthood is before me and I have been dragging my heels. 

Today, I took a little break from impending adulthood and did some full on regression by visiting my favorite local amusement park. I loved this place as a kid and freaked out every time my family went for our annual summer trip (I gotta ride the swings and the flower thing and the pirate ship and I'm not going in the haunted house and I want some cotton candy!). I had a fantastic time. I hope that this bit of regression was enough to help push me to the next stage. Tomorrow, I am moving in my mattress and hanging my bedroom curtains. It's about to go down up in my apartment. Things are gettin' serious! And I'm going to have to suck it up, move out, and move on to the Great Unknown (cue dramatic orchestra swell). 

If you pet one, you have to pet both. 
Tonight, I'm contemplating courage (not big courage, just the little kind you need to do the things you have to do) and giving some lovin' to Mr. Bingley (my goldendoodle, not the sweet Austen character) and Quincy (my other doodle).