Happy Easter!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Today was a busy but somehow relaxing day for us. Similar to Christmas, Easter is one of those holidays where we do a lot of running around to make sure we squeeze in visits to both of our families. We started the day at church with my parents and then headed out to the cemetery. We went to visit my Aunt Laura and my grandmother's grave to give them some beautiful Easter flowers. My Aunt Laura is the one I am named after. I am actually the third Laura in the family since she was named after my great grandmother Laura.

When we got back to the house to relax, Mike wasn't feeling great to so he took a nap to relieve his headache and I helped mom out in the kitchen. We made ham, potato casserole, green bean casserole, rolls, and a fancy dessert. My mom's sisters stopped by to join us and my Aunt Jeanie brought a delicious strawberry pie.

My mom had Easter baskets for both Mike and I which I thought was very sweet. We didn't do baskets at our house because we simply didn't have time to prepare them. Honestly, I didn't really plan on doing baskets until we have kids but maybe next year we will do something cool with them.

Throughout the day, we watched a couple of old home movies on VHS that my dad was playing. It was neat to watch some of the ones I haven't seen before. It really made me miss my childhood. My dad has been working to transfer all of the old tapes to digital files since they are starting to break. There are so many memories on them, he didn't want to lose anything. I think it's great too because now he can burn a few DVDs and we can have copies of everything. I am hoping that maybe he can help us out with some of the old tapes of Mike too.

My baby Lucy

And crazy Lucky

Sleepy Brandi

After hanging out and then eating at mom and dad's, I prepared some glazed carrots to take down to the Whittaker's where we would share another meal with Mike's family.

We packed up all of our stuff and drove down to Annapolis. We helped set the table and I helped Kathy prepare a nice spring centerpiece. They had a few jonquils and camelias popping up so I clipped a few and we arranged them in a pretty little dish. I have always been in love with camelias ever since I saw them near Grammy's entry way. I told her about how I wanted to plant them in the yard in our new house but learned that they are apparently pretty tough to grow this far north. I will have to search for a perfect spot and see if I can get them to grow. Challenge accepted!

We enjoyed relaxing with everyone and downing our second delicious Easter meal of the day. I also ate anchovies for the first time. Of course, I didn't know it at first but found out that they were hidden in the salad dressing. Surprisingly, I didn't mind them at all. I made Mike try some too since Katherine (the one who made the salad) told me that they are actually really good for you and I decided I might want to try hiding them in our own meals!

It was a very busy day but overall we enjoyed spending the time with our families. As fast as these days are flying by, I am learning how important it is to spend as much time with loved ones as possible. Happy Easter!

Book Review - Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Friday, March 29, 2013

I want to apologize in advance. This has now become one of my favorite books so this will be a long post.

Book #3 - Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
[image source: Goodreads]

Summary (source)
Bestselling author Barbara Kingsolver returns with her first nonfiction narrative that will open your eyes in a hundred new ways to an old truth: You are what you eat.

"As the U.S. population made an unprecedented mad dash for the Sun Belt, one carload of us paddled against the tide, heading for the Promised Land where water falls from the sky and green stuff grows all around. We were about to begin the adventure of realigning our lives with our food chain.

"Naturally, our first stop was to buy junk food and fossil fuel. . . ."

Hang on for the ride: With characteristic poetry and pluck, Barbara Kingsolver and her family sweep readers along on their journey away from the industrial-food pipeline to a rural life in which they vow to buy only food raised in their own neighborhood, grow it themselves, or learn to live without it. Their good-humored search yields surprising discoveries about turkey sex life and overly zealous zucchini plants, en route to a food culture that's better for the neighborhood and also better on the table. Part memoir, part journalistic investigation, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle makes a passionate case for putting the kitchen back at the center of family life and diversified farms at the center of the American diet.

"This is the story of a year in which we made every attempt to feed ourselves animals and vegetables whose provenance we really knew . . . and of how our family was changed by our first year of deliberately eating food produced from the same place where we worked, went to school, loved our neighbors, drank the water, and breathed the air."

My Review
What I Loved
1. The writing is incredibly engaging. Kingsolver could make me fall in love with toilet paper if she described it as poetically as she does food. Below I listed some of my favorite quotes. Yes, I know there are a bunch but I seriously could have just listed the whole book as my favorite quote. If you are curious, read them all. If you are inspired, read the book. I loved everything about it. I love the message that it sends, how well it's written, and the priceless information it contains. It pretty much changed how I see food and life in general. That's saying a lot about a book but for me, it's the truth.
  • "Eternal is the right frame of mind for making food for a family: cooking down the tomatoes into a red-gold oregano-scented sauce for pasta. Before that, harvesting sun-ripened fruits, pinching oregano leaves from their stems, growing these things from seed - yes. A lifetime is what I'm after. Cooking is definitely one of the things we do for fun around here. When I'm in a blue mood I head for the kitchen. I turn the pages of my favorite cookbooks, summoning the prospective joyful noise of a shared meal. I stand over a bubbling soup, close my eyes, and inhale. From the ground up, everything about nourishment steadies my soul."
  • “Households that have lost the soul of cooking from their routines may not know what they are missing: the song of a stir-fry sizzle, the small talk of clinking measuring spoons, the yeasty scent of rising dough, the painting of flavors onto a pizza before it slides into the oven.”
  • “Wake up now, look alive, for here is a day off work just to praise Creation: the turkey, the squash, and the corn, these things that ate and drank sunshine, grass, mud, and rain, and then in the shortening days laid down their lives for our welfare and onward resolve. There's the miracle for you, the absolute sacrifice that still holds back seed: a germ of promise to do the whole thing again, another time. . . Thanksgiving is Creation's birthday party. Praise harvest, a pause and sigh on the breath of immortality.”
  • "Obesity is generally viewed as a failure of personal resolve, with no acknowledgement of the genuine conspiracy in this historical scheme. People actually did sit in strategy meetings discussing ways to get all those surplus calories into people who neither needed nor wished to consume them. Children have been targeted especially; food companies spend over $10 billion a year selling food brands to kids, and it isn't broccoli they're pushing. Overweight children are a demographic in many ways similar to minors addicted to cigarettes, with one notable exception: their parents are usually their suppliers. We all subsidize the cheap calories with our tax dollars, the strategists make fortunes, and the overweight consumers get blamed for the violation. The perfect crime.”
  • "In October, the sober forests around us suddenly revealed their proclivity for cross-dressing. Trees in Tucson didn't just throw on scarlet and orange like this."
  • “When we traded homemaking for careers, we were implicitly promised economic independence and worldly influence. But a devil of a bargain it has turned out to be in terms of daily life. We gave up the aroma of warm bread rising, the measured pace of nurturing routines, the creative task of molding our families' tastes and zest for life; we received in exchange the minivan and the Lunchable.”
  • "Bizarre as it seems, we’ve accepted a tradeoff that amounts to: 'Give me every vegetable in every season, even if it tastes like a cardboard picture of its former self.' You’d think we cared more about the idea of what we’re eating than about what we’re eating. But then, if you examine the history of women’s footwear, you’d think we cared more about the idea of showing off our feet than about, oh, for example, walking. Humans can be fairly ridiculous animals."
2. The book was very inspiring. I honestly am one of those people that has always questioned the food industry (primarily after watching the documentary Food, Inc.) and I knew that I needed to change my habits but never knew where to start. The book lists not only a detailed account of how Kingsolver and her family changed their habits but it also provides recipes, short informative essays about the food industry, and links to follow. I don't live on a farm and certainly don't plan on moving to one. Right now, we live in a tiny apartment with literally no outdoor space of our own - not even a balcony (we traded that for a fireplace). But despite our living conditions, I am already making changes. I am working hard to make more meals at home using local ingredients. I am in LOVE with our local David's Natural Market and I am anxiously awaiting the opening day of our local farmers markets. I am also prepping and planning ahead for when we move into our new house. Between gardens and meal routines, I've got a lot in the works.

3. It's not just the motivating story that gets me but the fact that the book is full of useful information. You can find everything from links for finding farmers markets close to you and fair trade products to CSA and GMOs. Now, I think a lot harder about where I shop, what I purchase, and what I cook. There is also a website for the book you can find here.

4. The hilariousness of some of the stories she tells made the book a bit lighter. The turkey-mating cracked me up. Also, her daughter Lily reminds me a lot of myself with her early entrepreneurship.

5. Like I said, I certainly don't live on a farm in the middle of Appalachia like Kingsolver. While I was inspired, in no way do I feel compelled to quit my job and become a farmer. From what I've read, it seems like a hell of a lot of work but that doesn't mean I can't make changes. The thing that I really liked about this book was that it often talks about folks living in New York City and very urban areas. You don't have to become a full-scale farming operation in order to adopt some of the practices she teaches. Simple things like purchasing food from farmers markets, canning, composting, gardening (indoors and out), and cooking at home are all things we can do.

What I Didn't Love
1. When on earth does this woman have time to do all of this?! Farming alone is a full-time job. With all of the planning, preparing, planting, weeding, managing, and harvesting of the crops on a large farm as well as all of the care and time the animals take, I have no idea how she also finds time to write books, meet deadlines, cook, clean, do housework, run errands and a perform million of the other responsibilities a working mother of two has. She made it seem so easy and carefree. I wish she would have described a little more about the stresses of daily life so that I could relate more. I can guarantee she has them but she just seemed to project this idea that she has everything perfectly managed and that drove me a little nuts. That was my only major complaint. I guess it just takes practice - A LOT of practice. I'll get there someday, right?

2. While this wasn't a big complaint from me, I wanted to mention it. I can see where some readers could take slight offense to some of Kingsolver's statements when she is referring to the habits of the American general public (especially the parts about vegetarianism). At times, she sounded a little like she was preaching and gave off a bit of a "holier-than-thou" attitude. Interestingly enough, a lot of the reviews that I read where people complain about her judgements of American culture usually ended with them saying something about how the book has still changed how they shop and eat. I personally didn't take offense to any of what she said but I think that had to do with the fact that I felt more like my relationship with Kingsolver was that of student-teacher than anything else. She is a woman who certainly knows what she's talking about and I was trying to absorb as much of what she presented as possible. I did feel that she may have been a bit harsh at parts but I didn't think anything she said was untrue.

5 out of 5 stars

Patapsco Hiking

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

When we moved into our apartment back in July, we were super excited that we were so close to Patapsco State Park and that there was an entrance right down the road from us. We talked all the time about how we couldn't wait to go hiking there every weekend and some nice evenings in the fall. Life got a little crazier than we expected and before we knew it, winter was upon us and we still had not visited the park.

Finally, for the first time this past week, we took an afternoon to hike one of the trails! It was really sunny and pretty but still a bit chilly in the shade.

Mike and I had a lot of fun hiking up to the swinging bridge and back down. It was so nice just to get out of the house for a while.

I took a picture of the only sign of spring we could find... We hope to go back once the weather warms up again!

Apple Cinnamon Puffs

Monday, March 25, 2013

As promised, this is the recipe for those "delicious apple creations" I talked about in my post on the Home & Garden show. My parents stayed up in Gettysburg at an adorable little inn a few weekends ago and they had these tasty little pastries for breakfast one morning. The bed & breakfast sells a collection of their recipes in a cute little book and so my mom picked one up so she could make them again at home.

I would eat one of these with breakfast, lunch, and dinner if Mike would let me. The recipe requires a large or "jumbo" muffin tin. We actually had to go out and buy one because I only have ONE 6-cup tin and it does definitely  not produce "jumbo" muffins like the recipe describes.

Unfortunately I haven't taken a photo and they didn't have one in the recipe book but I can't wait to make these again and I hope you try them too!

Apple Cinnamon Puffs

8 ounces cream cheese softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 Pillsbury Grand Home Style Biscuits
1 cup chopped apple
1/2 cup chopped dates
1/2 cup melted butter
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cinnamon

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl, mix cream cheese and powdered sugar until well blended and set aside. In another small bowl, add sugar and cinnamon, combine and set aside.

Separate dough into 8 biscuits. Separate each biscuit into 2 even rounds. Place 8 of the rounds on a cutting board and spread 1 tablespoon of cream cheese mixture on each within 1/2 inch of the edge. Top each round with 1 rounded tablespoon of the chopped apple and dates.

Press the other remaining biscuit halves out slightly. Place each on top of the apple-topped biscuit rounds. Press the edges to seal.

Dip each round in melted butter, then dip in cinnamon sugar mixture and place in a greased jumbo muffin tin.

Bake at 350 degrees for 13-18 minutes or until golden brown. Cool 10 minutes and serve warm.

Spring has Sprung!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Today is the first day of Spring! FINALLY!

I have been anxiously awaiting this day since the first day of the new year. Even though it's still absolutely freezing and we are still getting those stubborn snow flakes here and there, I don't care. To me, spring is here! When I think of the first signs of spring I immediately think of... Daffodils!


Unfortunately I haven't seen many blooming. Maybe one or two but not enough to get a good photo of my own. Nevertheless, today I am celebrating! I will be looking forward to the rising temperatures as the weeks pass.

This month has been a busy one for both me and Mike. Our lives have been very consumed with work lately so there hasn't been too much else that we are focusing on. The appraisal and loan process have passed very smoothly so far and we are still in the waiting game for our first house. We are officially 76 days away from closing!

I am hoping that once we get through March and the weather warms up a bit, time won't drag as much. It's so exciting to think that before we know it, we will be moving in! Since we are almost through the process though, I'm trying hard to appreciate every day living in our little apartment. While we are severely lacking in space and storage, this is still our first place together and I want to make sure that we cherish this time. I'm definitely a little torn but I know that it will be great to have a big yard and more than one bedroom!

We have a bunch of exciting things planned for the next couple of months so I am hoping that they kind of carry us through until June. Lord knows we will have our hands full after we close. Can't wait to share all of the adventures on the blog!

Happy Vernal Equinox!

Home & Garden Show

Saturday, March 16, 2013

My dad's birthday was last weekend and usually these kind of celebrations are pretty low key on my side of the family. Whoever is having the birthday usually gets to pick a place to eat or the meal they want on their special day and the type of cake they like best. Unless it's a milestone, once you get past 21, there's not much commotion. With all of the craziness of our everyday lives, it's nice to relax on your birthday instead of running around trying to plan a party. My dad chose his favorite meal - lasagna - and an ice cream cake to celebrate his day. Mike and I planned to spend the day with both of my parents and do whatever it is that dad wanted to do.

When I called the morning of, mom said something about going to the Home & Garden show in Timonium for the day. In all honesty, I didn't think it was going to be all that fun. I mean, really, I could understand dad wanting to go golfing or out to a movie but a Home & Garden show? Definitely not. It sounded more like something my mom wanted to do. I could see her dragging him down the aisles of booths displaying flowers and crafts while my dad followed looking bored and checking his watch every few minutes. I was not expecting very much.

Boy, was I wrong.

We took the morning to relax and enjoy these delicious apple creations my mom had made for breakfast. (I will definitely be getting the recipe from her and posting here!) Dad opened his presents and was super excited about the fleece blanket all three of us had chipped in to make. It was a Ravens pattern, of course. Dad already has one but he kept telling my mom he wanted a bigger one since the one he has doesn't fully cover him. Well, he definitely got what he asked for. We made his new blanket nine feet long. He went crazy over it when he saw how massive it was!

We got ready to go and piled into the car to drive up to the Timonium fairgrounds where the show was being held. We checked in and headed over to the first building which housed booths full of unique crafts, art, and food. Every table in that building had something interesting to look at. The even cooler part was that most of it was homemade! We had a great time walking through the aisles and stopping to show one another different things we thought the other might like. We ended up buying all kinds of snacks and some cool things for our future house. We joked and laughed the whole way through and had a great time admiring all of the cool pottery, paintings, sports memorabilia, jewelry and more.

I definitely did not expect it to be as much fun as it was. The place was HUGE and we had only wandered through the first building!

We popped over to the next building which was three times bigger than the first. This one had every kind of home project company you can think of - hot tubs, cooking supplies, wineries, crafts, pet items, plants and more. We wandered around for hours making sure to stop at every wine tasting booth! We even snagged a few bottles for later. We had a blast spending time at each booth trying what they had and talking about our future home and things my parents were interested in doing for theirs. It's so exciting looking forward to the future and all of the fun things we have coming our way.

This might sound strange but I really enjoyed being able to enjoy my parents not as parents but as friends. We are getting to that stage where we are starting to have so much more in common with them now that we are starting our adult lives and it's such a blast!

By about 6:00PM we were exhausted but so glad we ventured out to the show. We went back to the house, had lasagna and cake, and watched Argo. Mike and I ended up spending the night there and he and my dad went to the driving range to hit a few golf balls the next morning.

The whole weekend was so nice and it was great spending time with my family. Once again, it's always back to the simple things in life. They really do mean the most.

Canton Irish Stroll

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Last weekend, Mike and I and two of our close friends ventured down into the city for a day of drink specials and good bar-hopping fun to celebrate good old St. Patty. This was our first trip to the Canton Irish Stroll and we had such a good time, I hope we are able to make it again next year.

Since St. Patrick's day is on a Sunday this year and I will be busy the night before, we didn't think we were going to be able to celebrate the holiday at all. I was super excited, however, when I found out about this bar crawl and thought it would be fun even if it was a few weekends early.

We started off at Looney's Pub and ventured around through the square to Portside Tavern, Claddagh Pub and more. We wanted so badly to head over to JD's but it was packed most of the day so we ended up in Vaccaro's and grabbed something to eat there.


Right after we got down there, it started to snow. It was cold and literally felt like we suddenly got hit with a blizzard. I tried hard to get a picture of it but this is the best I could do. The wind was so strong it was hard to see.  

Good old Boh.

The day got even cooler when I ran into my friend Kacie from back in my early college days! She went to school with me back when Stevenson was still "Villa Julie College" but then she transferred to St. Mary's College in southern MD. I haven't seen her since my Freshman year of college!

I have been to Canton before but I was always too young to go into any of the bars. Mike and I will likely go back this summer for a date night or something to hit up some of the places we missed. It was a blast and I can't wait to go back!

Asparagus and Spring Onion Risotto

Friday, March 1, 2013

Happy March and Happy Friday! I've got lots of fun things coming up on the blog this month that I can't wait to share with you!

Since I began reading my latest book (which by the way will be next on the book review list), Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I have become obsessed with the idea of trying to stay out of the big chain grocery stores and eat more local, in-season foods. I have been frequenting winter farmers markets, Trader Joe's, and our awesome local health food store, David's Natural Market, to find the best of the best when it comes to our meals. This book has really opened my eyes quite a bit about what we put into our mouths every day.

For the winter months, I've learned that you kind of need to plan ahead since not much is really grown in the winter time (duh) that hasn't been shipped here from warmer climates many miles away. Since I don't have a garden and I have not yet learned the process of canning, I felt a little behind and unprepared. Fortunately for me, Spring is right around the corner! And if there's one thing the book has taught me is that the first signs of spring equal ASPARAGUS!

Now this is a tricky vegetable for us since Mike won't eat asparagus alone. I deeply enjoy fresh asparagus sautéed in a little butter just like the next person but trying to convince my husband to eat it is more of a battle than it's worth. I have since learned that, most of the time, hiding the vegetables he doesn't like in our meals so that he doesn't even notice he is eating them works like a charm.

Hence, our next recipe:

Asparagus and Spring Onion Risotto

2 cups Arborio rice
5 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup dry white wine
8 ounces asparagus, ends trimmed, sliced one inch thick at an angle
3 medium spring onions, cleaned and sliced, green stalks discarded
1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
zest of one lemon
salt and black pepper to taste

In a small pot on the back burner, warm the vegetable or chicken broth.

On the front burner in a large pot, melt half the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and saute for about three minutes, stirring ocassionally. Add the rice and cook for another two minutes, stirring. Add the wine, continue to stir.

Once the wine has been mostly absorbed, about 5 minutes, begin adding the warm stock in 1/2-1 cup increments. People often tell you to stir constantly, but in the beginning it’s alright to let it be for a bit.

Heat a medium skillet over medium heat and add the remaining half tablespoon of butter. Saute the asparagus until just tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Meanwhile, continue to monitor the risotto, adding stock as needed, and stirring regularly. Towards the end, as the risotto plumps and cooks, you will need to keep a pretty constant eye on it, stirring frequently so that the rice doesn’t burn. When all of the stock has been absorbed and the rice is cooked through, remove from heat. Stir in the cup of parmesan. Add the asparagus, parsley, lemon juice and zest, and stir to combine.

Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.