girls weekends

February 4, 2013 § 3 Comments

cheers

Today I’m feeling tired but refreshed, having just come back from a fun girls weekend with two of my besties from college. I flew from Seattle and Jean from D.C. to help our friend Jen celebrate her birthday in Chicago. This is the year that we – girlfriends since 18 – each turn 40, and it seemed the perfect reason to spend some time together catching up. In our 20s, we made more of a habit of these little getaways, staying connected by flying to each other’s cities for weekend trips. But life gets in the way, and it had been more than 7 years since all three of us were together. The day-to-day grind of family and work and responsibilities can make it hard to take time for ourselves. For me, just the prep that goes into making arrangements to leave my world for a bit can leave me frazzled before I even go. It wasn’t easy, but I’m thrilled we finally made it happen again.ice skating

It was a perfect weekend! We shopped, saw a movie, ate yummy food, toasted with some fun drinks, went ice skating downtown, and partied with Jen’s local friends. We discussed our careers, our families, our love lives. We spent a slightly embarrassing amount of time chatting about the minutiae that is Facebook and Instagram and Pinterest and my new obsession: Picfx (thanks girls). We took lots of pictures (including a few of Jean’s favorite feet pix) and had fun editing and sharing them. We giggled our way through the weekend.

skater girls

The thing is, life-long friends are few and far between – making the time to stay connected to these women, who I love so much and who have known me so long is important. These friends love me for me and, no matter where I am, their friendship is a given. When life gets crazy, friends keep you sane. I’m a lucky girl to have these friends in my corner rooting for me, and I’m so grateful to have had this time away with them to remember it.

valentine tags

January 23, 2013 § Leave a comment

valentine tags

As soon as the Valentine’s Day crafting supplies make their appearance in the stores, I can feel my excitement level rise. I love Valentine’s Day, probably not shocking considering this is a holiday where crafting takes center stage. This week I was so anxious to break into my valentine supplies that I didn’t even wait to clean up the craft room from Bella’s birthday party – I just set up camp on the floor and started in.

I have a big box of shipping tags that I got at an office supply store (I like incorporating industrial elements into my projects) and decided to use them to make pretty Valentine tags using some of my stash of supplies: a mat stack of papers from Crate Paper, felt hearts, some awesome washi tape, cupcake liners, ribbons and a repurposed used book. I’m not even sure who I’m making these tags for, but I smile thinking of how lovely they’ll look tied to a gift for someone special in my world. Cheers to the beginning of the Valentine’s Day crafting season!

If you need some Valentine’s Day project inspiration, be sure to check out a couple of my favorites from last year: crafty owls and valentine bookmarks.

a crafting party

January 19, 2013 § 8 Comments

scenes from a craft party

After a week’s delay for my Bella to get over being sick, she was finally able to have her super-fun crafting sleepover party with a few friends. Bella loves to craft almost as much as I do (and that’s saying something), and so planning this party together was a lot of fun. She chose the cool color combo – aqua and lime green – something I wouldn’t have thought of, and I loved it! We worked together on the decorations; Bella was so proud of her washi tape flags for the cupcakes. I love the sleeping masks I made for the girls to decorate by sewing on buttons and felt embellishments. And my hubby got a laugh watching me sew (yes, sew) the wax paper favor bags closed!

We made button necklaces from an idea I found on Pinterest, and Bella came up with her own game: a duct tape version of charades. During the night, I printed out some cute pictures of the girls that I took on Instagram, and they were able to add them to their SMASH Books (a cool new scrapbooking line). But the best part was how proud and excited Bella was to share these fun ideas and projects with her friends. Here are some scenes from our craft night – with Valentine’s Day just around the corner, it’s time to get your crafting skills ready.

chicken chili

January 15, 2013 § 1 Comment

chicken chili

A friend of mine is thinking about making chicken chili for a party she’s throwing, and I told her that I had the perfect one. It’s important to have a few well-worn, loved and trusted recipes in your kitchen. For me, the more used the cookbook or the more destroyed the printed recipe, the better! One of my best – and definitely most worn – recipes is the Soup Nazi’s Chicken Chili from the Top Secret Recipes online site. (You know the Soup Nazi, made famous in one of the best Seinfeld episodes where George doesn’t follow the strict ordering procedure and gets a sharp “No soup for you!” from the crabby but genius soup stand chef.) This recipe came to me from my friend Stacy’s mom, and they’d both already made a few modifications before it sending it my way. I’ve tweaked it a bit more, and the result is the most delicious chicken chili I’ve ever eaten. This is a crowd pleaser – give it a try!

The Soup Nazi’s Mexican Chicken Chili

2 pounds of chicken breasts
1 tablespoon olive oil
10 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup tomato sauce
2 potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 small onion
2 cups frozen corn
2 carrots, sliced
3-4 celery stalks, diced
3 cans diced tomatoes
2 cans red kidney beans, no liquid
1 jalapeno, diced
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
1 clove garlic, minced
2 – 2 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
dash of cayenne pepper
dash of basil
dash of oregano
salt to taste

Saute the chicken breasts in the olive oil in a large pot over medium/high heat. Cook the chicken on both sides until done – about 7-10 minutes per side. Cool the chicken until it can be handled. Do not rinse the pot. Shred the chicken by hand into bite-sized pieces and place the pieces back into the pot. Add the remaining ingredients to the pot and turn heat to high. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 4-5 hours. Stir mixture often so that many of the chicken pieces shred into much smaller bits. Chili should reduce substantially to thicken and darken (less orange, more brown) when done. Combine some chopped Italian parsley with sour cream and serve it on the side for topping the chili, if desired.

goal setting

January 10, 2013 § 2 Comments

i think i can

Another new year, time for some new goals – or in my case, re-addressing some of my old goals in new ways. In January, lots of people like to evaluate their choices from the previous year and perhaps tweak a few things. My New Year’s resolutions always seem to be the same: to not worry so much, to enjoy my life more, to spend more time on my writing and other personal projects, and to get in shape. On the subject of that last one, I’m kick-starting my new healthier self with a cleanse that I saw in the January’s Redbook magazine: no processed foods, no caffeine, no alcohol, no dairy, no breads, no sugar. If my celebrity muse Gwyneth Paltrow can do it for three weeks, then surely I can do it for five days. I’m not making her exact recipes and probably eating more than I should, but hey at least I’m trying.

My motivation with these kinds of things usually comes from the challenge. I ran my first half marathon in 2009 mostly because I didn’t think I could. My friend Stacy wanted to run one, and honestly I didn’t think there was any way I would be able to run that far. I’d never been much of a runner and hadn’t even run 5 miles at one time before. But being able to cross something off the bucket list seemed as good a reason as any to try. It makes me happy to be out of my usual routine and to work a little harder to see just what I’m made of. Of course, exactly 0 miles into my new running challenge, completing a FULL marathon in June, I’m feeling a little skeptical of whether the surprising-even-myself philosophy will be enough. I just have to stay positive: I think I can, I think I can, I think I can …

I’m on day four of this cleanse and have been dealing with massive headaches. But focusing on the good – of how proud of myself I’ll be and how nice it will feel to know I’m working hard to stay healthy – may just get me through. That and the fact that Friday evening is Bella’s birthday party, and I for one am planning to have an extra big helping of my homemade mac and cheese and a glass of wine to celebrate. Yes, cross another challenge off the list!

letting it happen

January 3, 2013 § 3 Comments

all you need

It’s funny how things work out sometimes – so different from how you planned, yet sometimes so much better. The annual Christmas card is always such a big deal to me. Sending them out and receiving them from family and friends is one of my highlights of the season. I love to really think about our card. I’m a planner, and I look through old photos or set-up little photo shoots to get the perfect image for the card each year. This time around, I found a really cool card on Tiny Prints with a Beatles quote (one of my faves) and knew I wanted to use it. We needed to get one great shot of the girls set to the side so that the wording would show. So we headed down to Volunteer Park in Seattle where there’s an awesome brick wall, the perfect place for my perfect Christmas card photo. But life – and our little sister – had something different planned.

The posed shots from that day were just OK, not many real smiles and a little stiff, but when Sophie decided to bust out her rock star moves (so Sophie), it cracked us up and ended up being more than perfect – it’s one of my favorite pictures ever of my girls! And all the other candid photos from that day were wonderful, too. Sometimes it’s those unplanned moments – the pictures between the pictures – that really captures life. Sometimes just letting it happen lets the real us shine through.

bolognese

December 31, 2012 § 2 Comments

bolognese

It’s a quiet New Year’s Eve for us this year, and I’m chilling at home making a favorite. This is one of my most cherished recipes – tried and true, a crumpled and well-worn page torn from a Cooking Light magazine. This recipe for Bolognese sauce is the best I’ve found. Unlike a lot of the tomato-heavy spaghetti sauces we’re used to seeing in America, this sauce is a beautiful orange color filled with carrots, celery and onion, and flavored with nutmeg and bay leaf, chicken broth and milk. Eating it reminds me of the first bowl of spaghetti I ate in Venice on my honeymoon. Ooh, I though, this is what all the fuss is about. I couldn’t get that sauce out of my mind and spent a number of years trying to replicate it. This wonderful recipe comes pretty close. I always make at least a double batch and love it over egg fettuccine with lots of Parmesan; and I’ve also recently started using it as the sauce for my lasagna – delizioso! Happy New Year!

Ragu Alla Bolognese

From Cooking Light magazine – This recipe is adapted from the classic ragus of Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 cup finely chopped carrot
5 ounces ground veal (I usually sub turkey)
5 ounces ground pork
5 ounces ground round
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 bay leaf
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can chicken broth
1 (10 3/4-ounce) can tomato puree
1 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion, celery and carrot; cover and cook 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove onion mixture from pan. Add meat to pan; cook over medium heat until browned, stirring to crumble. Add wine, salt, pepper, nutmeg and bay leaf; bring to a boil. Cook 5 minutes. Add the onion mixture, broth and tomato puree; bring to a simmer. Cook 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Stir in milk and minced parsley; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 40 minutes. Discard bay leaf. Yield: 8 (1 1/2 cup) servings.

Lasagna with Bolognese

1 batch Bolognese sauce
lasagna noodles, cooked
2 eggs
24 ounces ricotta cheese
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
16 ounces sliced mozzarella cheese

Combine eggs, ricotta, pepper and Parmesan, stirring well. Spread about 1 cup Bolognese sauce in bottom of 13×9 baking dish. Layer half each of noodles, ricotta cheese mixture, mozzarella cheese and Bolognese sauce. Repeat layers. Top with additional grated Parmesan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes; let stand 10 minutes before serving.