Wednesday, January 27, 2010

I Recycle

For any of you that know Rob and I really well, you know that we're not green. We're so not green we're practically purple. We don't buy the twisty lightbulbs, I drive a huge SUV, and we trust Al Gore about as far as we can throw him. It's not that we don't believe in being good stewards of the beautiful Creation that we've been given, we just hate being told what to do. I guess it's because we're both quite strong-willed people, firstborns, and rebels at heart. For me, being rebellious is sometimes a struggle, I know it's a pride thing. As I was growing up, I kept looking to the day when I could do whatever I wanted. I get a thrill from not following the status quo, breaking the rules, thumbing my nose at "the man".

But, I recycle food.

In most areas of my life, I am more than happy with mediocrity and keeping my life as simple as possible. For some reason, I am a contradiction in terms when related to food preparation. My motto is: if in doubt, make it yourself. To prepare most things homemade requires planning, organization, creativity, and an investment in time and resources. I realize that food is my passion because I am willing to make the investment in preparing almost everything we eat. Part of the willingness derives from my love of serving my family and the other part is simply that I love to create. I am certainly not a perfectionist, but this is the only area of my life that I consistently challenge myself. Every year my parents would go to school conferences and hear, "Your daughter is extremely intelligent, if only she would live up to her potential". I was simply satisfied with mediocrity until I found my love for food.

Back to the recycling. I really enjoy using my creativity to make more than one meal from leftovers. If I have lots of food left over from a meal, I'll freeze some of the ingredients to use in a future meal. Last week the stomach bug hit our household and the night after I made meatballs. Let's just say that no one was really into eating and I stored the meatballs in the freezer for another time. When I saw the recipe for meatball soup on the Pioneer Woman website, I knew I had a use for them. Of course, being the rebel that I am, I made my own recipe. With the soup I made cheesy buttermilk biscuits. They have been in our refrigerator for quite a few days, so today I made "croutons" for my tomato soup [for lunch]. I'm going to try to make breadcrumbs with the remaining biscuits and see if I can make passable chicken tenders for dinner. We had friends for dinner on Friday night and we had beef tenderloin with a mushroom sauce. I used the leftovers for beef stroganoff.

Here are the recipes from my recycled food:


1 lb ground round
1 egg
1 cup slivered fresh spinach
1/8 cup parmesan cheese
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 tsp garlic salt
1 small can tomato paste
1 small onion, finely chopped

1. Mix all ingredients and form into bite-sized meatballs. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
2. Brown meatballs in saute pan on two sides.
3. Bake browned meatballs at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Top with marinara sauce or keep for use in soup.

Meatball Soup

2 T olive oil
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped coarsely
1 medium onion, chopped coarsely
2 medium-sized zucchini, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 cups fresh spinach, sliced
1 pt cherry tomatoes
1 small can tomato paste
2 cans chicken broth

1. In a large stockpot over medium heat, saute carrots and onions for 2 minutes. Add zucchini, garlic and spinach, and cherry tomatoes and saute for an additional 3 minutes.
2. Add tomato paste, stir and add broth and at least two "can-fuls" of water using the tomato paste can.
3. Add the meatballs, desired amount of salt and pepper and serve. The thickness of the soup is to your liking, add more water if soup is too thick.

Cheesy Buttermilk Biscuits
1/2 cup butter
2 cups flour
1 T sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp garlic salt
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup freshly grated cheddar cheese

1. With a pastry blender, combine until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
2. Stir in buttermilk (you may need to add water to make the mixture "stir-able") until dough leaves the sides of the bowl.
3. Turn dough onto a slightly-floured surface. Knead lightly 10 times.
4. Roll to 1/2 inch thick. Cut with a floured cookie-cutter.
5. Place onto ungreased baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes.

Beef Tenderloin with Mushroom Sauce
whole beef tenderloin (about 6lbs)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup burgundy wine
salt, pepper
3 large portabello mushrooms
1/3 stick butter
1/2 cup red wine
1/4 cup blue cheese
1/2 cup light cream

1. Marinate tenderloin at least four hours in olive oil, wine, salt and pepper.
2. Grill on high heat until both sides are seared. Roast at 400 degrees for an additional 45 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 145 degrees for medium-rare.
3. Allow meat to rest. Slice and cover with mushroom sauce.

Creamy Mushroom Sauce
Saute mushrooms in butter over high heat until browned. Reduce heat to medium and deglaze pan with red wine, allow wine to "cook off" for about 2 minutes. Add blue cheese and cream and stir until combined. Top sliced tenderloin with sauce.

Beef Stroganoff
leftover beef and mushroom sauce
2 T butter
1 pkg button mushrooms, sliced thinly
1 medium-sized onion, sliced thinly
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 T flour
1/4 cup red wine
1/2 cup chicken or beef broth
1/2 cup sour cream
cooked egg noodles

1. Slice beef and portabellos into bite-sized pieces.
2. In a large saute pan, brown mushrooms, onion and garlic over medium heat for about 2 minutes.
3. Sprinkle flour over vegetables and stir. Slowly add red wine and stir. Add broth and stir until thickened.
4. Add beef and portabellos, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes.
5. Right before serving, add sour cream and stir until combined. Top buttered egg noodles with stroganoff.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Chocolate Cupcakes

Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting (makes 24)

1/2 cup cocoa
2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup oil
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

mix all ingredients and beat for 2 minutes. Place into cupcake papers and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center emerges clean.
Let cool and top with chocolate buttercream frosting. I put my frosting into a ziploc baggie, snipped a small corner off of the end and piped the frosting in circle on top of the cooled cupcake.

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
6 T softened butter
1/2 cup cocoa
4 T milk
1 tsp vanilla
6 cups powdered sugar

Using a hand mixer, combine ingredients to achieve the consistency you desire. I use these measurements as my baseline and add more milk/cocoa/10x sugar as needed.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Holiday Jam Chicken

I love roasting a whole chicken. My friend, Whitney, gave me a jar of Stonewall Kitchen "Holiday Jam" and I was planning on making roast chicken for dinner. The Holiday Jam is a fresh jam made with cranberry, raspberry and pear with orange liquer. I had remembered seeing a recipe a few years ago that included cornish game hens and a cranberry glaze. I did a little internet surfing to gather some ideas and set to work with the ingredients I had on hand.

I'd love to say that this picture is the result, but alas, I scarfed down the chicken so fast that I forgot to take a picture. I usually assemble our dinner plates before I announce that "dinner's ready". On this night, after I made the announcement my family wandered into the kitchen to find me standing by the counter and literally cleaning all of the scraps off of the chicken carcass. The chicken was crispy, juicy, sweet, flavorful and addictive. The fact that the ingredient list is so small and so versatile makes this a recipe I'll use for years to come. You could certainly use any flavor of jam that you prefer, I happen to like the consistency of the Stonewall Kitchen jams and jellies. I also love that their ingredient list is easy to pronounce and that every product is high quality. I love their products as much as I love SmartWool socks, and that is my highest endorsement!

And, since we're pretending here, I'll also share the recipe for the acorn squash that happens to be displayed beside the chicken. I first had acorn squash prepared this way during a trip to Wegman's. If you've never gone to the "takeout" section of a Wegman's, you've never lived. The quality and choices of the foods showcased is something I've never seen before, not in a restaurant, and certainly not in a grocery store setting. We were in between games during a soccer tournament and Rob and I split up and surprised each other with our choices. He surprised me with this acorn squash and it was so delicious and simple that I was sure I could recreate it at home. With a few simple ingredients, it makes a healthy and delicious side dish.

Holiday Jam Chicken

1 whole "fryer" chicken (about 5lbs) "we" ate every bit of ours :)
5T Stonewall Kitchen Holiday Jam
2 1/2 tsp Stonewall Kitchen Bourbon Molasses Mustard
3 T softened butter
1 tsp garlic salt
2 clementines, quartered
4 garlic cloves, smashed and chopped
cracked black pepper
kosher salt

1. Loosen skin and spread butter on the meat of the chicken, replacing the skin after spreading the butter.
2. Mix jam, garlic salt, and mustard in a small bowl.
3. Stuff the chicken cavity with smashed garlic cloves and quartered clementines.
4. Spread the jam mixture on the chicken skin.
5. Drizzle whole chicken with olive oil, cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for one hour.
6. Uncover, raise heat to 375 degrees and bake for an additional 30 minutes, or until chicken is fully cooked.

Acorn Squash Wedges
2 whole acorn squash
olive oil
kosher salt
cracked black pepper
freshly grated nutmeg
4 T maple syrup

1. Slice acorn squash into wedges. Remove seeds and place onto cookie sheet.
2. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast at 375 degrees for 25 minutes.
3. Top acorn squash with freshly grated nutmeg and maple syrup and roast for an additional 15 minutes or until browned and "glazed".

****The chicken in the picture is grilled balsamic bbq chicken, equally delicious. Also pictured, roasted red pepper and asparagus quiche.****

Monday, January 18, 2010

Laura Ingalls I am not.....

Is it totally lame that I read my second-grader's library book this weekend? I am a sucker for the "Little House on the Prarie" series. I just find something so romantic about this period in our nation's history. The courage of pioneers to travel westward and simply set down roots is so awe-inspiring to me. I have made very plain my eventual goal to move to rural Iowa on a fully sustainable farm. With every visit to this beautiful part of our country I cannot help but miss the roadside produce stands that crowd York county. The gorgeous fields of Iowa seems to, instead, be filled with subsidized acres of genetically engineered corn and soybeans. My dream is to bring fresh fruit and vegetables to the rural areas of whatever little town we decide to settle in. I dream of growing produce, raising several animals (for eventual butchering, milking, egg harvest, etc.)

So, anyway, as I was reading "On the Banks of Plum Creek" I was, frankly, a little jealous of the Ingalls family. I mean, they were surrounded by plum trees of every variety (naturally occurring, apparently) and they were able to catch their dinner in Plum Creek. The pioneer life appears so idyllic until you factor in: grasshopper plagues, an 8 and 9 year old walking three miles to school each way, deadly blizzards, relying on crops for income, and the lack of modern conveniences.

Now, I consider myself a pretty low-maintenance girl. My one qualification, however, is cleanliness. To think of bathing once a week would be unfathomable. At the risk of sounding indelicate, I need a shower. Every. Day.

We traveled to our cabin this weekend, leaving on Saturday night. I arrived dead-tired after a long day of cooking (120 crabcakes, two cheese platters, fruit tray, veggie tray, 100 sandwiches, and spinach-artichoke dip). After I delivered my food I came home to pack and after 30 minutes of literally throwing things into suitcases and boxes, we were ready to leave. We stopped at Wendy's for a completely disappointing meal (a little tangent: this is why I can't work full-time...I fed my family Wendy's) and finally arrived to our cabin around 9:00pm. As we were getting ready for bed I realized that I had completely forgotten mine and Rob's suitcase. No clothing. No toiletries (including contact case/solution/glasses for Rob). I don't even want to tell you what I'd thrown on to wear on our trip. It was so bad I made Rob go through the drive-thru because I was embarrassed to be seen in public. At Wendy's.

Thankfully, I have a wonderfully generous husband. He drove me (actually I drove, long story - we got contact solution at the closest grocery store) to the nearest "big town" 40 minutes away and bought me a new pair of jeans at Tractor Supply! (it was the only retailer we could find with clothing). I continued to wash out my undergarments and t-shirt every day just to feel a little cleaner, but still, I felt so dirty wearing the same clothes for two days. I would not make a great pioneer.

Because this is a cooking blog, here is a dinner I made a few weeks ago that seems a little rustic. We'll call it "Pioneer Chicken Pie". Not really. It's a simple recipe that pleases each member of our family. It's hearty and filling. A perfect choice for a cold winter night.

Chicken Pie

1 small whole chicken, cut up (less than 4lbs)
4 large potatoes, peeled
2 stalks celery, chopped
3 large carrots, peeled and chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 bag frozen peas (I forgot to add them in this batch)
1 pie crust (I have recently started using lard in place of shortening...I'll fill you in at a later time)

1. In a large stockpot, place chicken, celery tops, carrot tops, onion peel and plenty of water. Simmer for at least 1 1/2 hrs or until chicken is fully cooked. Reserve 2-3 cups liquid for recipe. Keep the remaining in freezer for additional uses.
2. Shred chicken from bone.
3. Place potatoes, onion, celery, and carrots in large pot and boil until tender. Drain, add peas, and pour into 9x13 baking dish.
4. Pour 2-3 cups chicken broth over vegetables. Add shredded chicken.
5. Cover mixture with prepared pie crust. Cut slits into the crust and bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes or until crust is fully baked and golden brown.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Career Day

Today is "career day" at Kate's school. The kids are encouraged to dress to represent what career they will pursue when they get older. Kate wanted to dress like a mom. It was a cold morning, with a coating of new snow on the ground and she dressed her bitty baby in a snowsuit to keep her warm. I pray for my children that they would know the joy of being a parent and it is obvious to me that God has created my little girls to be mommies. Both girls have the natural gift to nurture.

I don't understand why our culture has decided that the natural inclination to nurture has become undesirable. In our quest to find equality, women have been denied the privilege of being who they were created to be. To watch a two-year old that already has the instinct to rock their baby is enough to prove to me that our ability to nurture is inborn.

I strongly feel that to be able to nurture is to die to self. Becoming a parent very vividly illustrates how incredibly self-consumed we really are. It is hard work to put another first and a baby demands that from us. Even though raising children is hard work, there is no greater privilege. I strongly feel that this is my purpose on this earth. I have been entrusted with three precious lives to mold, and as a result, to bring glory to God.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Two Easy Dinners

Easy Dinner #1 -
I know I've mentioned this dinner before, but since we just enjoyed it for dinner tonight, I thought I'd share with you these pictures! Last week I was perusing the discounted meats at Giant and grabbed a package of "stew meat" for less than $2. While I was grocery shopping yesterday I decided to buy a few different kinds of beans to make chili. One of our favorite ways to eat chili is to create a loaded baked potato. I know my mother-in-law doesn't approve, but you could totally bake the potatoes and let the chili simmer if you needed to run errands. Once the chili has been assembled and the potatoes are in the oven, this is totally a hands-off dinner. I found the stew meat created a little bit of a different texture, but definitely required a longer simmer time than ground beef would have.

Chili with Baked Potatoes
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp olive oil
1 pkg stew meat (I cut mine into bite-sized pieces)
1 medium-sized can tomato paste
cumin, smoked paprika, garlic salt, onion powder, ground pepper
3 cans of water (I used the tomato paste can to measure)
1 small jar roasted red peppers, diced
3 cans of beans (I used red kidney, small red, and small white)

1. Saute onion and garlic in oil until tender. Add beef and saute until browned.
2. Add spices, tomato paste and stir to combine. Add water, peppers, beans and simmer until beef is tender (at least 2 hrs).
3. Bake potatoes: Wrap whole russets in foil and bake at 350 degrees for 1 1/2 hrs or until tender when pierced with a fork.
4. To make the loaded baked potato: Slice potatoes in half and mash each half. Top with a generous portion of butter, sprinkle kosher salt and fresh ground pepper over potato halves. Place desired amount of chili, cheddar cheese and sour cream over potato haves and enjoy!

Easy Dinner #2

This is always my go-to meal when I don't have any other ideas. Spicy Italian sausage with peppers, onions, and cherry tomatoes over rigatoni. Typically I grill the sausage, peppers and onions, but I can't seem to get out of my pajama pants to grill. I always pray no neighbors see me when I scurry out to my truck to run to the bus stop (yes, that's right, I'm too lazy to walk to the bus stop and our garage is filled with renovation materials and has no room for vehicles!). So, anyway, I just browned my sausage in the oven and sauteed the onions and peppers on the stove. I also made cheesy garlic bread, a mixed greens salad with homemade blue cheese dressing and whipped up Ina Garden's brownie pudding.

Sausage, Pepper, and Onion Pasta
1 pkg (6 links) spicy italian sausage
1 medium onion
1 small red pepper, chopped
3/4 jar marinara sauce
1 pint cherry tomatoes
3/4 lb rigatoni, cooked al dente

1. Grill or bake sausage until nicely browned and fully cooked. Slice diagonally into bite-sized pieces.
2. Saute or grill onions, red peppers, and cherry tomatoes until browned.
3. Mix remaining ingredients (including sliced sausage) and cook over low heat until pasta is warmed through (less than 2 minutes or the pasta will be overcooked). Top with parmesan cheese if desired.

Here are the recipes for the cheesy garlic bread, homemade blue cheese dressing (courtesy of Betty Crocker), and Ina's Brownie Pudding.

Cheesy Garlic Bread
1. Slice french bread horizontally.
2. Spread butter, garlic salt, dried Italian herbs, and parmesan on both sides of the bread.
3. Sprinkle with shredded cheese (I use sharp cheddar). Close sides of bread together, wrap in aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes.

Blue Cheese Dressing
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 tsp garlic salt
1/2 tsp onion powder
freshly ground black pepper
3 oz crumbled blue cheese
mix above ingredients until combined

Ina's Brownie Pudding (adapted with the ingredients I had on hand)
1 stick butter
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/8 cup cocoa powder
1/8 cup flour
1 tsp vanilla

1. Lightly butter a pie plate.
2. Melt 1 stick butter with chocolate chips in microwave for one minute or until melted. Stir until smooth.
3. In stand mixer on medium speed, beat eggs and sugar for 5-10 minutes, until pale and thick.
4. Add flour and cocoa powder over low speed. Add vanilla and butter/chocolate mixture.
5. Bake at 325 (in a water bath) for exactly one hour. Pudding will be crusty on top and will appear underbaked.
6. I served ours with pureed thawed red raspberries (I added 1/2 cup sugar and warmed the mixture to dissolve the sugar). Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream is a must!

This will keep you honest...

I have days that I just can't stop eating. I try to only keep healthy things in our house for such days. I realize that a lot of this hormonally related, but I also find that if I start the day eating unhealthy foods, I'll just keep on eating them (know what I mean?). Now, if I exercise and start my day with a healthy breakfast, I can usually continue the trend.

I enjoy running, but not so much in the frigid weather. Rob has actually been running very consistently, in the snow, in the wind, in the rain, and in the very cold mornings we've been having the past few weeks. I try to use my exercise tv on our comcast box or on my laptop, and I enjoy that almost as much as running outside.

My sister-in-law took a nutrition class for her master's equivalency a number of years ago. She utilized an online tool that calculates your calories and evaluates the foods you've eaten and gives a breakdown of the vitamins and minerals. She called to get a list of everything Josh had eaten the day before. The result was actually quite pleasing and I was interested in the website so I could gauge my own diet.

The actual tool is a program of the University of Illinois and a bit labor-intensive, but I do it every so often to keep myself in check. Basically you enter all of the foods you ingest during the day. It seems that they have many "brand-name" pre-packaged foods, and since we rarely eat things like that, I needed to improvise. What I do is to input all of the ingredients used to make the foods I eat. For example, if I make tomato bisque for my lunch, I simply enter: 1 fresh tomato, 1 T butter, 1 small onion, etc.

If you're interested, here is the link:

By the way, I have not figured out how to link a website without just listing the whole address. I love how other bloggers say, "here"...anyone know how to do that? I'm sure it's probably pretty simple, but I haven't figured it out yet!

My results usually go something like this: calories are higher than recommended, vitamin c is higher than recommended, vitamin d is lower, and the rest are just about normal. The results are posted in a percentage. For example, my calories are usually posted as 113% of the recommended daily calories.

Let me know what you think! Tell me if you decide to try it and if you find it helpful.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Little More Pennsylvania Dutch...

We have friends who are from Spain. She just graduated from college and her family visited over the Christmas break. They traveled all around trying to sample the local history and sights of the Central Pennsylvania region. I thought it might be fun to cook a local specialty for them. What do you feed international guests, you ask? Why, stuffed pig stomach, of course! Hog maw is a derivative of a German dish brought to America with the farming immigrants that settled in this area. Traditionally it's a dish that was either served on hog butchering days or on New Year's Day as a "good-luck" dish. The pig's stomach can be bought at local butcher shops and is stuffed with various ingredients, including sausage, carrots, and potatoes.

I love the fact that when I make this dish I am carrying on a tradition that my grandmother also included in her family. She also added stuffing to her hog maws and I follow her recipe. While it is a novel meal, we also really enjoy it. We add lots of ketchup on the side, as the vinegar cuts the richness of the dish. I usually serve pepper slaw and spiced apples, as I think it provides a nice complement.

The recipe is an easy one: stuff a maw (pigs stomach that has been thoroughly cleaned!) with cubed potatoes, carrots, raw sausage meat (out of the casing), onions, and unbaked stuffing (white bread, lots of butter, celery, onion, parsley, salt and pepper). I layer mine (ie, a little sausage, then the veggies, then the stuffing, and so on). The stuffed maw is placed into a large baking pan with some water in the bottom (maybe a 1/2 inch) and baked for at least 3hrs, covered, in a 350 degree oven. The maw should be baked, uncovered, an additional 30 minutes, or until browned on top, sliced, and served. If made correctly, the layers will create a tight result, and can be sliced laterally and served.

I forgot to take a picture of the finished product, and we didn't have any left (yes, it was that good!). Here it is before it was baked. Sometimes I feel like I'm part of a dying breed: I simply love carrying on traditions that were started in my family long ago. I would love to hear about any regional specialties that you are still making.

What our family eats in.....less than a week

I'm not sure if anyone remembers the slideshow I posted a number of months ago. I found it quite interesting: a compilation of average families in various countries and the food they purchased and consumed in a week. In case you missed it, the link is,29307,1626519_1373664,00.html

I decided to do something similar, but a little bit on a smaller scale. I continually extol the virtues of our local "Price-Rite" store. Basically, it's a discount grocer that seems to target more inner-city families of various nationalities. There are many brand-names, great produce, and phenomenal prices. I shop in the mornings, it's very quiet, the shelves are stocked and I miss the crowd that requires a security guard (no judgements, just an observation). I don't buy everything at Price-Rite, but here is a sampling of what I bought today:
4 boxes honey nut cheerios
1 bag dried pasta
4 cans of beans
1 bag dried beans
1 can tomato paste
1 jar roasted peppers
1 large 8pk juicy juice
1 box green-tea bags
1 bottle unsweetened grape juice
3 cans beef broth
1 bottle parmesan
1 box kashi seven-grain crackers
1 loaf baguette bread (sorry, Abbie, I promise I'll bake bread soon!)
1 box granola bars
spicy italian sausage
spring mix
sweet potatoes
grape tomatoes
sweet onion
russet potatoes
red raspberries
bananas (2 bunches)
gala apples
bartlett pears
6 chobanis
1 pkg cream cheese
1 tub crumbled gorgonzola
2 boxes superpretzels
1 bag frozen spinach
1 1/2 lbs sharp cheddar
naan flatbread
1 bag cinnamon raisin bagels

my grand total: $90.18

Now, this doesn't include my meat. I shop at our local market to buy beef and pork, then supplement at our local grocery store (Giant) with chicken, fish, etc (I usually buy what's on sale or discounted). I also buy our dairy and eggs at the local dairy. I probably spend about $150/wk total. Our diet isn't perfect, but I try to present a well-rounded choice of food to my family (albeit a little heavy on the meat).

Tell me what you think! How much do you spend a week at the grocery store? Any thoughts on the slideshow?

I'll be posting on some real recipes later today...promise!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Let's Celebrate Marriage-

Yesterday was our twelve-year anniversary. It was very romantic. Rob spent the better part of the day in our master bathroom. Seriously. Our master bathroom has been a work in progress for the better part of the last year. When we bought our house at public auction over eight years ago, it was very dated. Parts of it will always be very dated, but we've tried to update a little bit at a time. The master bathroom was an explosion of pink. The walls, toilet, shower, sink, and floor were all pink. My mother-in-law tried to tell me that retro is trendy. Maybe I'm just not trendy!

My husband works very hard. He runs a non-profit foundation, maintains investment clients, volunteers a large portion of his time with a family non-profit, and manages to be a very involved father and husband. The fact that he devoted his time this past week to finishing our basement into a playroom for the kids and finishing our master bathroom project is the most romantic thing he could have ever done for me.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I am impossibly practical. We have never really "celebrated" our anniversary. This may be due to the fact that our marriage didn't exactly have illustrious beginnings. My mom and I had always argued about the merits of a big wedding. She dreamed of a big wedding for me and I never wanted one. The fact that we arrived home on winter break during our junior year of college and informed everyone we wanted to be married before we returned in two weeks made the decision for us. I was quite relieved and our wedding was exactly what I wanted it to be. Small, low-key, and involving only close family. I'm not saying that I haven't attended very meaningful weddings, I just never wanted that for myself. I just wasn't comfortable with the amount of money my parents would be spending on one day and I really don't enjoy being the center of attention. All this to say, I've decided to celebrate my marriage instead of celebrating an anniversary.

I like to take care of my husband and to serve him every day. When he does something like taking his time to do a project that's important to me, that's way better than buying me flowers that were overpriced and will die in less than a week! Now, before you think we're some kind of poster children for a perfect marriage, just ask anyone who know us: we fight fairly regularly. When two firstborns marry, sparks fly (sometimes good, sometimes bad). What I am amazed with, though, is that even with all the stresses we faced as a young couple, we have thrived. I truly believe this is a testament to praying parents. Statistics were not in our favor, yet the Lord has truly blessed us.

Please understand I don't feel like anniversaries shouldn't be celebrated! Also understand that I think big weddings are a special way to celebrate a new life together. I have simply chosen that we will celebrate a little differently. The fact that we have two daughters will prove insightful as we navigate their wishes for a nuptial celebration. I will undoubtedly struggle as I battle between my practicality and their wishes. I am fairly certain that to make my daughters feel special I will probably have to put aside my own tendencies. Perhaps I should let my husband help plan the weddings. He does things like take our kids toy shopping. They returned home yesterday with "dinosaur goop". This drives me crazy, that they would pick something out that has no purpose! Last year on the fourth of July he drove three hours one way to get the best fireworks I've ever seen outside of a professional show. My husband is the most fun, thoughtful, kind, and generous partner I could have ever picked to go through this life with!

This post is about as sentimental as I get and let me just encourage you to celebrate your family, friendships, marriage, and all of your blessings everyday - don't wait for a special occasion!

A Little Name-Dropping...

I'm sure I've mentioned some of the luxuries I simply can't live without. I refuse to exist without good toilet paper and paper towels. I can't clean my house without "magic erasers". My life would be very empty without my trusty, old laptop (the one I've now dropped at least ten times and still somehow turns on). I adore having a good book (especially from the local library, as I'm a consummate cheapskate). As you can tell from this very sparse list: I am unbelievably practical. It's just who I am. I'm just very no frills utilitarian.

There are, however, things I could live without, I just don't want to. Here is a list of some things that make my life a little more enjoyable. Some of these things are on the expensive side, but I guess it's all relative. The socks I wear every day during the winter are upwards of $15/pair (of course I buy them for $3.99 at a local discount store, but I'd dare say I'd pay $15, I love them that much).

Here is my ever-increasing list:
1. Smartwool socks (I really can't overemphasize my utter devotion to these)
2. Chobani yogurt
3. Mott's natural blueberry applesauce
4. Kashi pumpkin-spice flax granola bars
5. Eucerin Calming Creme
6. Oil of Olay complete all day moisture (with spf 15)
7. Keen shoes (I only have one pair, but I'm hooked)
8. Stonewall kitchens jams and jellies
9. Perrydell milk, cream, butter, and ice cream (our local dairy)
10. Martha Stewart Living flannel sheets
11. Cheese: goat, gorgonzola, feta, cheddar
12. Burt's Bees lip balm
13. Dove deodorant
16. My vehicle (I'm totally in love with this 10yr-old beast)
17. Grape-nuts
18. J-Mar Farms (a local farmstand I buy from as much as possible during the summer)
19. Comcast on demand Exercise TV
20. Ina Garden (did anyone read the story about Ina and Jennifer Garner?)

Well, there it is, a few little things that make my days a little more sunny (during these gray and cold days). I kind of need to treat myself just to get past winter. I am not a fan. At all.

Have you gotten hooked on any of these things? I'd love to hear your "luxuries" list! Please share-