Thursday, February 26, 2015

2014 Books Read {Pathetic}

When I was young, we had a huge tree in the backyard with a split about 4 feet off the ground that was the perfect shape and size for me to cozy up in there with a book. I was a huge fan of the Boxcar Children, Babysitters' Club, American Girl (Kirsten, obvsly), and the Little House series. Then there are the books I read approximately 47 times each, like Charlotte's Web, James and the Giant Peach, and anything by Judy Blume.

I pretty much always had a pleasure book (that sounds dirty) in my backpack along with my textbooks, and whenever we took a road trip or vacation I had to bring several options to keep me occupied during any downtime. Otherwise I'd have to, like, talk to people? Nope. #nopenopenope. When we were assigned a book in high school, I read it. Why would anyone not want to read The Great Gatsby or To Kill a Mockingbird? Those bitches didn't know what they were missing! In college I took it a step further by reading pleasure books instead of my textbooks and reading on the quad instead of going to class. Bad. Also, beer.

{Side note: How annoying was it to listen to those presentations from the girls who obviously
didn't read the book because they said their favorite character was Daisy Buchanan. Um, no. Daisy was
a bitch. She couldn't wait on poor Jay to get back from the war so she married a rich dude instead because
status. She cheated on rich dude with Gatsby, let Gatsby take the blame for the car accident, causing him to get
shot by Tom Wilson, and then left town with rich dude and DIDN'T EVEN SHOW UP TO GATSBY'S FUNERAL.
No. She's not your favorite. She's a terrible person.}

Needless to say, I love books. Well, love[d].

You probably guessed (or already knew) that my college reading habits did not do my GPA any favors, which means I didn't graduate, which led me to go back to school and do it right this time. I threw myself all in to studying, assignments, papers - all the stuff I should have done the first time - and burned out on reading. So.much.reading.

Once I graduated, I didn't ever want to look at another book. I figured that feeling would last a few months and then I'd be back at it, but it has been almost 2 years now and I am just starting to feel the urge. I have big plans for 2015, which I'll write about later, but for 2014 I read a whopping TWO books. Haha.

{Actually 2.5 because I tried with all my might to read Gone Girl, but it just wasn't happening. 
That book is terrible. I actually threw it in the trash rather than donating it because I felt strongly
that I didn't want to subject anyone else to it. That's really mean, but I really did not like it. It's obviously
very popular and has since been made into a movie, but I just don't get its appeal.}

I have been watching Youtubers lately instead of reading blogs, and one of the channels I love is booksandquills. She suggested a book {We Were Liars by E. Lockhart} for people who, like myself, have fallen out of the habit of reading and want something easy yet interesting enough to keep your attention in order to get back into the routine - and it worked! I started it while I was lounging at the pool on vacation in the Outer Banks with friends, and had finished it by the next afternoon!

After I finished that book I read Horrorstor, recommended by another Youtuber, bookishthoughts. It won't win any literary awards, but if you love IKEA, ghosts, or making fun of/debunking ghost hunters on TV, you'll like it. Employees of an IKEA-like store start to notice weird things about the furniture and other merchandise in the mornings when they open, so a few of them go on an adventure after the store is closed to figure out who/what is causing the commotion. It's fun.

So 2 books. Better than no books, but I have a goal to read 15 books this year. I'll settle for an average of one per month, but hoping for 15 in '15 because it's catchy. I've already finished 2, matching my whopping reading total from last year, and I've started a list of books I want to read. A list which is sure to grow throughout the year. I'll post that list separately once it's finished.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Smooth{ie} Operator

In an attempt to be healthier, I've started having smoothies for breakfast on weekday mornings. It stops me from going to McDonald's (I KNOW) on the way to work, saving both calories and time.

But, the way I operate in the morning is that I'm thinking about getting to work, my to-do list and meetings for the day, what I'm bringing for lunch, what I need for errands after work, etc. I'm not necessarily thinking about eating breakfast, so I found that even though I had everything I needed to make smoothies, the task of actually making it seemed like one more thing to do when I had all these things already floating around in my brain. It's not an excuse, just how my brain works sometimes.

Part of the reason the simple task of making a smoothie turned into a whole thing is this situation:

Terrible photo, but it's all crammed in there, I have no idea what I have, and don't know what I feel like pairing together, etc. Ugh I am difficult!

So I decided to work smarter and make smoothie packs!

I pulled everything out of the freezer, bought some fresh bananas, and just paired things that sounded good together. Each bag got 1 cup-ish of spinach (gotta sneak greens in - you can't taste the spinach once it's blended but it affects the color of the smoothie) and 1 cup-ish of fruit.

I bought a plastic tray from Target's #dollarspot that I hoped would fit on the freezer shelf (spoiler alert: it did!) to corral my smoothie packs:


Now all I need to do n the morning is grab a bag from the freezer, throw it in the blender with some almond milk and BAM - smoothie!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Funeral Biscuits

Alternate Title: 'Terrible Name; Delicious Sandwich'

I know its morbid, but every website where I searched for these sandwiches called them Funeral Biscuits. I guess it's a southern thing - but it has something to do with how well they freeze and how many you can make very quickly, both of which  make them convenient to take to funerals that are unexpected?

At any rate, they're delicious!

All you need is slider buns (I buy 1 package that usually comes with 12 buns), ham (2 tubs of pre-sliced deli ham), sliced swiss cheese (6 or 8 slices, and it better be Guggisberg) and the following ingredients for the glaze:

  • 1 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 4 tbsp. melted butter
  • 1 tbs. brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. poppy seeds

Since I use slider buns, or Hawaiian rolls (YUM), I make 12 of these at a time and it's more than enough for a dinner + leftover lunch for both Dave and I. But you can easily multiply the recipe to make a shload of them for a special event. Bake them at 350 degrees for 10 minutes and you'll have ooey gooey cheese and perfectly glazed buns. ;)

I got the glaze recipe from Tasty Kitchen, but upped the poppy seeds because I wanted to.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Exploring RVA: Portico

When Dave's brother and sister-in-law were visiting a few years back we were giving her a tour of RVA, which included the huge houses along River Road. We passed a little house on the left and both Cindy and I gasped at its cuteness. We didn't catch any signs, but as soon as I got home I Google Mapped it to find out that it was a new restaurant - Portico.

We already had dinner plans for that night, so I filed it away to remember later. Based on the menu and $$ prices we decided to save it for a date night or special occasion. It's not that expensive, but more than we like to spend on a normal Tuesday night.

The restaurant is in an old house with a front dining room/bar area and a back dining room that looks like it used to be a sun porch. The kitchen is in a separate building, so you don't hear any yelling or other kitchen/cooking-related noise (I've heard some Gordon Ramsey-level screaming at other places *coughTheTaverncough*). They also grow their own herbs and have a flower garden in the back - check out their photo gallery.

They have great outdoor space with plenty of tables and a fireplace! I took my team from work here for lunch last spring and it was just so quiet and peaceful out there, even with groups at other tables. Since it's off the beaten path there isn't much traffic going by or just general city or suburb noise. I don't really know how to describe it. Just feels like you're having lunch in a friend's backyard. Is that weird?

Dave and I have been several times now, and have never had anything but a positive experience! Service is great, food is great (their salmon is zomg), I hear the wine is great but I'm no wine expert. Check it out!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Reed Turns 4!

I can't believe my little baby nephew is already 4! He knows more about Star Wars than I do (which is admittedly not much), he loves tractors and trucks and cars and pretty much anything with wheels, and can put together a puzzle faster than you'd believe.

A few weeks ago we had his birthday party and he got to rip open presents and take a swipe of icing off the cake every.single.time he walked by it :)

Happy Birthday buddy!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Crock Pot Freezer Meals

One of my Facebook friends recently had a new baby and as the end of her maternity leave loomed, she wanted to pre-assemble some meals that could be thrown into the Crock Pot, removing one obstacle from her first week back at work.

Around the same time, a friend of ours was having a pretty major surgery, and I wanted to do something to help take some burden off her husband while she recovered. I figured one less thing to do in a day when you have a sick spouse and a precocious toddler is a pretty good deal, so Dave and I chose a few of the recipes my friend posted, and got to work!

I chose recipes that had some of the same ingredients to decrease the amount of prep work (is that efficient, or just lazy?) and wrote out the grocery list as simply as possible, grouping like items together. I never do that when we do our normal shopping, and have no idea why. It made the shopping trip go very quickly and there was no zig-zagging across the store for something we forget in aisle 2 when we're already in the frozen section. I hate that part, so I always make Dave do the zagging.

Here's what we got:
note: the rice and egg noodles weren't part of the recipes, but we got them to be used as sides; same with bananas and clementines

When we got home, we decided Dave was in charge of setting up the freezer bags and portioning out the meat, while I was in charge of chopping. Once those were both done we finished off the wet ingredients one recipe at a time to avoid creating a Rachel trifle:

Here they are, all assembled:

The chicken soup didn't make it through the night in the freezer. I double bagged that sucker because I knew it had too much liquid in it, and that liquid expands when frozen. We also put it in a plastic grocery bag just in case the seal broke on both freezer bags, so we wouldn't have a mess in the freezer. All that was for nothing, because it still exploded. Poor soup.

Silver lining - we now have a really clean freezer and got rid of a bunch of expired Lean Cuisines! :)

Here are the recipes:
  • Orange pork chops- this is NOT a crock pot meal but can be frozen in the bag, thawed and baked when ready like all the others
    • 4 pork chops
    • 1 cup orange marmalade
    • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
    • 1/4 cup honey
    • 2 tbsp olive oil
    • 2 tbsp soy sauce
    • 1 minced onion
    • salt & pepper to taste
    • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • Chicken noodle soup
    • 3-4 boneless chicken breasts
    • 5 carrots sliced
    • 1 onion chopped
    • 1-2 cups of diced celery
    • 3 cloves of minced garlic
    • 2 tbsp of olive oil
    • 6 cups chicken broth
    • 1 cup water
    • parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme (These weren't the original spices, but I used what I had. Plus I like Simon & Garfunkel)
    • 1 tbsp lemon juice
    • salt & pepper 
    • Cook on low 6-7hrs; remove chicken and shred with fork. In the process, turn heat to high and add in bag of egg noodles. Return chicken to Crock Pot and cook until noodles are tender.
  • Pepper steak
    • 1 lb of beef fajita strips
    • 1 bottle of pepper steak sauce/stir fry sauce
    • 3 sliced green bell peppers
    • 1 sliced onion
    • 3 cloves minced garlic
    • Cook on high 3-4 hrs or low 6-8
    • Remove 1/2 cup of sauce from crock pot about 1/2 hour before serving; whisk it with 1 tbsp of cornstarch - return to Crock Pot for 30 more min
  • Red pepper chicken
    • 3-4 boneless chicken breasts
    • 2 red peppers sliced
    • 1 onion sliced
    • 2 minced garlic cloves
    • 2 tbsp olive oil
    • red pepper flakes & Italian seasoning
    • Cook on low 3-6 hours depending on how much chicken you used or how thick the pieces are
  • Garlic honey chicken
    • 3-4 boneless chicken breasts
    • 1/3 cup soy sauce
    • 2/3 cup ketchup
    • 1/4 cup honey 
    • 3 minced garlic cloves
    • Cook 3-4 hours on high or 5-6 hours on low

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Valentine's Day Gift Using #onespot Finds

Yup. Target is my BFF (sorry Bonnie).

They stepped up their game recently in the #onespot. Tons of junk, but also tons of cute stationery, paper clips, post-its, stickers, etc. Even washi tape!

On New Year's Eve, I was in there and saw so many things my mind started racing with crafty ideas. Here's my haul from that day:

I also found some treat bags, in craft paper brown and white, and some Valentine's candy. It was too early to be thinking about Valentine's Day, but once my mind starts churning an idea I can't really stop it. It's a curse.

So when I came home I started on my project to get it out of my head. I used the washi tape to create a decorative border on the top and bottom of the treat bag, and a craft paper label to write a sweet note. Then I put some candy and gift cards in the bag to finish it off.

Cute little gift for the one you love. Or you could create many of these, filled with just candy, on the cheap for a class full of kids!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

#nospenduary

It's no secret that I love to shop. Target is my happy place. Ulta is also my happy place. I could spend my whole paycheck in either of those stores, plus a few others.

But I also like money, and hate when it comes to the end of the pay period and I don't have any left. So when I saw the #nospenduary hashtag going around, I jumped on it. Some people are going hardcore and not buying anything but household essentials and not eating out. I can't do that. Hell if I want to cook 7 days a week, and Hell if Dave is going to pick up the slack when I don't feel like it. If it involves the grill he's pretty agreeable to cooking the meat part of our meal, but I'm still on the hook for the sides. Some days I just don't freaking feel like working all day and coming home to cook.

Anyway, so I committed to #nospenduary, but only the frivolous spending part. We kept our grocery and eating out budget as is, which makes sense because my frivolous spending money is in a separate account. TMI.

I set myself up for success by getting a lot of my shopping urges out over my Christmas break from work. I got a ton of gift cards for Christmas, so I went on a shopping trip to pick up some things I had been wishing for, and some others I didn't know I needed. :)


Since I had some new toys, I didn't miss shopping all that much once January started. I kept a running list of things I bought that I shouldn't have:
  • work pants - not so frivolous, but it's clothes so I'm counting it
  • washi tape (1 roll - which showed extreme restraint on my part, trust me)
  • mason jar paper punch (OMGSOCUTE)
I also kept a running list of things I wanted to buy once the month was over, but have since lost it. The only thing from it that I can remember is this Orla Kiely bag. NEED. If I'm being honest with myself, not buying it has more to do with its price than #nospenduary. $50, Orla? Really?

I made it through the month. My bank account breathed a sigh of relief, and everybody's happy. I'm thinking about continuing it through the end of February, although I did buy some stickers on Sunday. Fail.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

25 Days of Christmas - Day 25: Christmas #2

Merry Christmas! Today we celebrated Christmas with Dave's family.

Dave and Rich confessed some very funny things from their childhood/teen years to their parents over dinner. That's become a tradition over the last few years!

Enjoying the day to just relax, laugh, and watch A Christmas Story 12 times. In a row. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

25 Days of Christmas - Day 24: James Center

Today was a typical Christmas Eve for us, which means chili in the crock pot, Christmas movies all day, open our gifts to each other, and then drive downtown to see the James Center all lit up!

All the banks downtown line their buildings with Christmas lights, and the courtyard is full of deer! There's a huge Christmas tree, and the main corridor of the Omni has various Christmas/winter scenes.

It's so festive!