Thursday, September 29, 2011

Recipe Thursday: A Restaurant Review

Since probably half of my meals over the past week have been pizza, I just feel wrong pretending that there's been anything whatsoever happening in my kitchen (besides ever-growing piles of mail and dirty dishes). Instead, I thought I'd share one of my favorite places to eat: Nirlep Indian Restaurant. Carl and I probably frequent this restaurant enough to be considered regulars- exciting, right? I've always sort of aspired to have a "where everybody knows your name" type place to go, and Nirlep might be the closest thing I've got. Uncle Louie's in Columbia makes a close second. Anyways, if you live in the Charleston area and haven't eaten here yet, all I have to say is GO! Or if you'll be in town for our wedding and have a spare moment, try it out. I'd probably forgive you if you showed up late to the wedding because you were suffering from an Indian food coma. Some days I wonder if we should have just hired them to cater the whole event! If you're like me, you might not always be open to trying to things. I remember the day Carl and I decided to go for the first time- we didn't really have a clue what we were eating, but to say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement. My taste buds were blown away by all kinds of exotic spices they had never tried. I couldn't believe I had gone my whole life and never had so much as a bite of the culinary masterpiece that is Indian cuisine! They have a large vegetarian selection, which is great. We can go to the buffet and I'm not limited to two items that probably still have some form of meat product in them anyways. Hopefully next week I'll have a recipe to post... wedding fever has really taken over my life at the moment, and I'm finding myself less motivated to cook when I get home from work.

Speaking of wedding fever, we are now down to the final month! I'm not the most organized person to begin with and now that's really starting to catch up with me. Every time I buy a planner I end up using it for a week, at most, and then losing it somewhere or forgetting that I need to be organized. But my forgetfulness of late has been such a problem that it called for drastic measures:

Wal-Mart Calendar!

This will be placed prominently on the fridge, where I'll be forced to look at it at least 14 times a day. I'm a little intimidated by this next month, and also disappointed in myself for not being one of those people that can thrive on 4 hours of sleep. I'm trying my very hardest to sleep less and do more, so say a little prayer for me that I survive.

Monday, September 26, 2011

True Love

Speaking of compatibility, here's Riley and Melman snuggling together. I've never known two dogs that were more attached to each other! Just a little tidbit of cuteness for the day...

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Results Are In

A few weeks ago I mentioned that Carl and I had to take a compatibility survey as part of our pre-marital counseling sessions. The survey was actually a rather lengthy multiple choice test meant to indicate which areas of our relationship are the strongest, and which ones have the most potential for growth. We were put in different rooms and given a test booklet and a scantron sheet, which I can only associate with jittery test-taking of school days past. We were asked to read the statements in the booklet and then say whether or not we agreed, strongly agreed, were undecided, etc. about the statement. Once we finished, our tests were sent off to be analyzed, so after a short wait today was the big day that we got to see our results. And now, the answer to the question that I know everyone has been asking: Can we get married? YES! We can all breathe a big sigh of relief, because we passed with flying colors. We answered identically on most of the questions, which I thought was pretty cool.

So now we're back in Charleston with another Monday upon us. A big kudos to Carl, who drove us back through the monsoon tonight with no casualties to report.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Recipe Thursday: Endless Jalapenos

Several weeks ago a customer at the bank dropped off an enormous bag of jalapenos. Most of my co-workers were reluctant to take any, so I brought the bulk of them home and made it my personal challenge to use all of them before they went bad. I had no idea what I was getting into! Here they are, all spread out on the kitchen table, just waiting to be seeded and minced:


How many jalapenos do you think this is? Carl and I both placed our bets, but we were really far off in our estimates. NINETY TWO. This is what 92 jalapenos looks like. The first thing I made was jalapeno poppers. To make these you just cut the peppers in half, take the seeds out, and add a little smish of cream cheese. Bake at 350 for about a half hour. So good!

Carl was in charge of cream cheesing.

Here they are, ready to eat!

Then I made jalapeno cheddar cornbread. I used this recipe, but I wasn't overly impressed by it, although everyone else who tried it seemed to enjoy it. I think I like my cornbread to be a little more sweet, and although there was sugar in this, it wasn't too sweet tasting. Next time I'll probably just save myself the hassle (and the 19 sticks of butter) and use Jiffy.

I used the jalapenos in black beans, nachos, and omelettes. Peppers, peppers, peppers, but I didn't seem to be making a dent in our supply. I knew I had to come up with something else. And so, in a moment of culinary inspiration it occurred to me: Jelly! I doubled this recipe and threw in a few extra peppers for good measure. I've never made jelly before; I've always been intimidated by the art of canning. I think of canning and immediately conjure up this image of a 19th century prairie housewife with a baby on her hip standing over a hot iron stove making preserves. And let's be honest here- while my housewifery skills are ever improving, there's still a lot left to be desired. Here's some pictures from the process. It turned out to be quite simple.

All the peppers, ready to be chopped.


The mixture of peppers and apple cider vinegar brewing. Our house smelled super spicy.

Filtering the liquid through cheesecloth- the pulp doesn't actually go in the jelly.


I didn't technically "can" the jelly (no hot water bath) because I didn't realize it would make so much. Instead, I've just been handing the jars out like crazy. There's only so much jelly two people can eat. Also, I wasn't sure how spicy it would be so I was hesitant to add too many extra jalapenos, but next time I'll use more, knowing now that it's fairly mild.

After all of this we STILL have jalapenos left, so if anybody has a fresh idea please share! Or break into our house. You'll find them on the middle shelf of the fridge, to the right.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Waiting on the iPhone 5 (sort of)

Today on my lunch break I decided to get ahead of the game and put together this blog post:

I’ve never been one of those people who is always on the cutting edge of technology, especially when it comes to phones. In fact, I’ve had the same phone since 2008- apart from a brief love affair with a Blackberry, which ended in tears when I lost it after two weeks- and I’ve watched longingly as all of my friends and, most recently, Carl upgraded to the latest and greatest in phones. I am finally eligible for an upgrade of my own. My first thought was to make a beeline for Verizon and pick up the iPhone 4, so that I no longer have to hold Carl’s hostage on evenings and weekends. But according to rumors, Apple will be releasing a new iPhone model sometime this fall, so I’m determined to hold out until they do and finally be the envy of every person I encounter while sporting my new phone. After three years, you would think that waiting a few short months would be pretty painless, but you’d be wrong. I’ve wasted countless hours sifting through all of the available apps and listing the ones I’d like to get. I’ve watched every single video on the Apple website and drooled over my future phone. All the while, the rumored release date keeps getting pushed back and my patience slowly wanes. Where are you, iPhone 5!? Just know that the day it comes out I’ll be doing cartwheels in a grassy meadow (before the Verizon store opens, of course), and partying like it’s 1999.

Fast forward about five hours to when I was getting ready to leave work and dropped my phone on the way out. Oh, the irony of it all! The poor abused thing has survived many a tumble, but this one was just too much. I was unable to resuscitate. All my dreams of cartwheeling and partying were dashed quicker than I could say "Steve Jobs." After moping around for a little bit, I pulled myself together and went to Verizon to get the iPhone 4. The saleswoman did a great job of making me feel better about my purchase, saying the iPhone 5 wouldn't be out for at least a few more months and that when it does come out I should be able to download all the new software onto my current phone. They also had this really cool promotion going for people switching to smart phones from regular phones where they gave you a $100 credit if you handed in your old phone. Get paid to turn in my nonfunctional phone? Yes, please! I think it's safe to say that I've emerged from my period of mourning, and will be spending the rest of the evening tinkering on my new phone.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

It's Beginning to Feel a lot Like... Fall!

Does anyone else in the Charleston area feel like they blinked and it was fall? All of a sudden it's getting darker way earlier, we're sleeping with the windows open, and I actually had the heat on in my car on the drive to work yesterday. I went to Wal Mart today and, of course, they were all decked out with Halloween goodies. IT'S NOT EVEN OCTOBER YET!! I don't claim to be a true South Carolinian, but having gone through quite a few Autumns here, I know better than to think that summer is really gone. Summer and Fall will battle it out through mid-November or so, making it impossible to know what to wear on any given day, or when it will be comfortable to spend time outside. This year the stakes are especially high, with our outdoor wedding set for October 29th. We do have use of the inside of the house that we're getting married at, so it won't be the complete end of the world if it's freezing. The downside is that space is limited and because it's so historic, there's no dancing allowed inside. The best we can do is hope for gorgeous weather, but have space heaters on standby just in case. Every time I find myself getting worked up about it I have to remind myself not to dwell on something as unpredictable as the weather.

This afternoon will be a craft-filled one. I keep going back and forth about whether or not I want to post pictures of all these homemade wedding goodies, or keep it a secret until the big day. What do y'all think? The USC-Navy game is on at 6 and we're pretty stoked to stream it from ESPN3 onto the TV. We've managed to go almost a full year without cable, but last year it was always so inconvenient and expensive to have to watch all of the games at bars. I'm eager to see how well this magical HDMI cable works.

Have a great weekend!

PS: A special thank you to Jessica, who taught me (over the phone, no less!) how to make hidden hyperlinks. You really do learn something new every day!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Recipe Thurday! And a Bonus Book Review

I’m still working on the aforementioned special Recipe Thursday post, so tonight’s recipe is an oldie but a goodie: Snobby Joes. I made this recipe several weeks ago. I love it because it’s one of Carl’s favorites, fairly easy to cook, and makes enough to take for lunch for a few days. I don’t know what the protocol is on “publishing” recipes from cookbooks- this particular one came from Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. To avoid getting in trouble with the cookbook police, I’ll share a picture instead. I’m also making a mental note to work on my food photography skills.

The recipe is very similar to a thick chili, except with lentils instead of beans. I was never a huge fan of Sloppy Joes in my meat-eating days, so I can’t say for sure if the taste is comparable to an actual Sloppy Joe because it’s probably been a solid decade since I’ve had one. But Snobby Joe is pretty darn tasty, despite its lack of visual appeal. Plus, it's always a bonus if Carl can enjoy my vegetarian fare. I'd be happy to email the recipe to anyone who wants it!

I also have a book recommendation that I thought would be appropriate since so many of our friends are beginning to enjoy more sophisticated living situations. Here's a picture, stolen from Amazon.

Carl and I got this for Christmas (good call, Santa Wonus!), and it was such a great help to us as we put together our new condo. It also served as a guide to our wedding registry, inspiring me to take a lot of things off that we’d probably never use. The book is both a lesson in homemaking and living simply, something especially valuable to us as we realized how quickly we could fill our new [small] space. I got really excited when the products that Flanagan recommended were ones that we either already had, or that we registered for. I put a lot of research into what went on our registry, so seeing it in this book really validated all my time and effort. I would be more than happy to let anyone borrow it. Or better yet, come visit and you’ll find it in our downstairs bathroom!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Butternut Squash Soup

I know I’m jumping the gun on Recipe Thursday, but I have something special planned for that post, and in the meantime wanted to share a yummy soup recipe that Carl and I tried tonight. Julie (my almost mother-in-law) gave us a butternut squash over the weekend. I haven’t experimented too much with members of the fall squash family, so I saw this as an opportunity to expand upon my culinary skills. I borrowed this recipe from Giada:

With a few tweaks here and there, it made a deliciously creamy fall soup. First off, I didn’t make the Fontina Cheese Crostini, mostly in an effort to save a little money. We opted for croutons, which I thought complemented the soup very nicely. I replaced the chicken stock with vegetable stock, and used dried sage instead of fresh. Once I realized that our squash was not 3 pounds I decided to cut the recipe in half. That’s where all the fun started. I can pretty much guarantee that if I’m doubling or halving a recipe, I’ll forget to do so with at least one of the ingredients. Carl and I were so busy conducting an elaborate Google search to figure out how much dried sage we should substitute for fresh that we neglected to cut the amount in half. Sage-tastic! I added about a cup more of the vegetable stock to try to compensate, which I think made the soup a little less creamy than it should have been, once blended. This actually turned out to be a good thing, because it would have been way too heavy otherwise. Here it is, topped with garlic and onion croutons, shredded pecorino cheese, and freshly ground pepper.

Carl made the comment that he thought it was better without the cheese- we both gasped in horror as the words escaped his mouth, but he was right! So next time it looks like we’ll skip the cheese.

Here’s my smoothie from today:

1 peach
1 banana
a few pineapple chunks
1 stalk of celery
3 big handfuls of kale
a small handful of sprouts
1 teaspoon each of flaxseeds and hempseeds
ice water

I’m trying to soak up every last drop of peach season, but I think my peach smoothie days are numbered at this point. Speaking of numbered days… 46 more days till the wedding!!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Weekend Recap

Our weekend was pretty full, but enjoyable nonetheless. I have a feeling we have a weekend of nothingness coming up as we recover from the past two, and gear up for last minute wedding planning over the next month. We were happy to see the Gamecocks beat Georgia on Saturday- what a close game! I'm getting into football much more than I ever would have expected. I still couldn't tell you the first thing about how the game is actually played, but I'm good at reacting when other people do, and appreciating when one of the players runs without being tackled. That pretty much sums it up, right?

On Sunday Carl and I had our first pre-marital counseling session, something we had been putting off for a while. I had this image in my mind of having to sit down and list the things I like about Carl and the reasons we thought marriage was a good idea. Instead it ended up being more of a time to express and plan out what we want for our ceremony, followed by a compatibility survey. We get the results in a few weeks, so I'll elaborate a little more once we're sure that we don't have to call off the wedding!

I finished this book over the weekend:

I wasn't wowed by it or anything, but it did hold my attention from start to finish, which counts for something. I think it read too much like a Jodi Picoult book, except it lacked the extensive research that Picoult does on all of her novel themes. I wasn't overly impressed by Unger's writing, nor was I surprised by the ending. That's not to say that I didn't get a little weepy during the cheesy parent-son bonding moments, but we all know it doesn't take much to get me choked up. Today I started Folly Beach (maybe not the best book to read as summer comes to an end), so I'm looking forward to sharing my thoughts on it, especially since I've never read anything by Dorothea Benton Frank.

More soon!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Green Smoothies

Allow me to introduce you to what has become unquestionably the greatest health and diet invention to ever enter my life (drumroll, please): The Green Smoothie. Here it is, in all its glory.

“What makes a green smoothie so much cooler than other smoothies?” you might ask. And what makes it so green?

Before I answer these and other questions, let me backtrack a little and make it clear that I am not the inventor of the green smoothie, though I wish I could take credit for something so wondrous and life changing. A few years ago I started following a few Vegan and Raw Vegan blogs, and these smoothies were popping up everywhere. They were as popular among the raw food community as Pogs were in Mrs. Brown’s  second grade class. Or Nano Babies in fourth grade. Or Jncos in sixth grade…  anyways, you get the point. To see what all the fuss was about, I decided to make one of my own. I’ll be honest, it took me a few tries to get it right. My first couple batches looked like straight up swamp sludge, and tasted about the same. Once I started to learn which fruits went best with which greens, things really improved. The thing that most amazed me was that I could make something so yummy without having to include yogurt or other dairy products. Why add the needless sugar and fat? If you're wondering what does actually go into a green smoothie without yogurt and milk, here’s a very basic outline:

  • 1 banana. Two if you’re feeling crazy or if you know you're about to put some funky greens in.
  • About a cup and a half of fruit. I like to use a mixture of fresh and frozen; for instance, a pear and a handful of frozen blueberries, or an apple and a few frozen cherries.
  • About two cups of some variety of greens. The greens usually take up half of my blender. If I’m using something mild like spinach, I’ll add more as I blend- I swear, you can’t taste it at all!
  • About a cup and a half of ice water, or a water/juice mixture.

That’s it! Blend for about a minute, or more depending on the quality of your blender. One big problem when I first started making these was that I wasn’t blending them long enough. Having to chew your smoothies can be a huge turn-off, so don’t be afraid to add more ice and wake up your neighbor’s napping infant and just blend, blend, blend.
*Adding ice is really important, because as the smoothie heats up from your blender’s motor the nutrients (aka enzymes) are compromised. Keeping it cool prevents this and makes your smoothie way healthier.

I try to have at least one green smoothie a day. I’ll typically make them in the morning, or store them in mason jars the night before if I know I have to get up really early. I’m not a huge coffee drinker, so to me this replaces the energy burst that most people hope to find in their morning cup of joe. Also, even if I eat unhealthy the rest of the day, I can at least feel good about consuming more greens in a single sitting than a lot of people eat over the course of a couple days.
So here’s today’s smoothie, before I blended it.

1 Fuji apple
A few frozen pineapple chunks
A mixture of collard greens and romaine
A small handful of sprouts
About a teaspoon each of Hempseeds and Flaxseeds
A stalk of celery
One frozen banana
Ice water

Delightful! I overslept this morning, so I actually ended up making this as an after-work snack. Carl and I shared it before taking the dogs on a walk. It has been absolutely gorgeous here the past couple of days, so the dogs are loving the fact that we can take longer walks without pouring out a gallon of sweat and suffering heat stroke.

More recipes and pictures to come! I might end up doing something along the lines of a "Smoothie Thursday" blog post weekly. Or maybe just "Recipe Thursday," in case I get slack on my smoothie-making and want to recap other kitchen adventures. I wish it rhymed, but I guess you can't win them all.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Getting in Wedding Shape

The road to wedding fitness has been a long and bumpy one, with many stops at rest areas. Some time in March, after splitting a quart of cookie dough ice cream from Marble Slab with Liz, I decided it was time to start thinking about making some changes to my nonexistent diet and exercise plan. We ordered P90X, and I even roped Carl into getting on board with me. We were doing great- we took our measurements and our “before” pictures, but after about three weeks of torture we quit completely. P90X, we decided, was entirely too painful and time consuming. Days turned into weeks and then months, and all of a sudden it was the end of June and I was back to square one. In a moment of combined desperation and motivation, I made this workout chart:

Yes, I know it bears much resemblance to a child’s chore chart (minus the gold stars- my sticker collection isn’t what it once was), but filling in those boxes after each workout gives me more satisfaction than it should. So since P90X was an epic failure, what workouts have I been doing?

I started by ordering six of Jillian Michaels’ workout DVDs (Ripped in 30, Six Week Six Pack, Banish Fat Boost Metabolism, Yoga, No More Trouble Zones, and 30 Day Shred). My favorite ones by far are Ripped in 30 and 30 Day Shred. They’re half hour-long workouts with three circuits consisting of 3 minutes of cardio, 2 minutes of strength, and 1 minute of abs. Perfect for those of us with short attention spans. I really like Jillian, but she can be scary at times with that no-nonsense attitude. I think they're working, though. I find that I can hold a plank for longer than 3 seconds now, and I did my first push-up without my knees the other day!

Most recently I ordered The Firm Express workout system (my workout DVD collection is quite impressive at this point, much to Carl’s chagrin), which I started on Monday. The premise behind these videos is that you only have to work out 3 times a week for 20 minutes. The sequence of the moves combined with “8 second cardio bursts” allows you to get the same quality workout in 20 minutes that you would doing 40 minutes of traditional cardio. The girls in the infomercial lost 15-20 pounds in 30 days, so of course I was sold. So far I really like it! They’re challenging enough that I don’t feel like I’m wasting my time, but not so much so that I’ll easily give up. Also, as much as I’d like to think that one hour of working out each week will give me the results that I want, I’ve been incorporating my old Firm videos as well as the Jillian DVDs, just to play it safe. I’m on a mission to fill up my workout chart before the wedding, and nothing is getting in my way!

As I get further into The Firm Express, I’ll give a more comprehensive review. At this point, I’m not looking to lose those 15 promised pounds; I just want to tone up a little bit, so that I can look back at my wedding pictures one day and think about what a babe I used to be. Isn’t that what every girl wishes upon her future middle-aged self? I also plan to post more about what I’m doing diet-wise: smoothie and salad recipes, etc. Stay tuned! 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Post-Bachelorette Blues

This past weekend was my bachelorette party. Words can’t describe the amount of fun I had and how wonderful it was to spend the weekend with my best friends. It’s so rare that we all end up in the same place at the same time, so I’ve started to look forward to these occasions like I looked forward to Christmas and trips to Disney World as a little girl. Needless to say we all had a blast, and I’m hoping someone else gets engaged soon so that we can do it all over again.

I’m realizing that each time one of these wedding milestones passes I’m overcome with a sort of sentimental sadness at how quickly it all is over. I’ve spent the last year looking forward to my bachelorette party, and I swear I blinked and it was
Tuesday morning and I was hitting the snooze button, trading different parts of my morning routine for five more minutes of sleep. The only thing left to look forward to now is the wedding itself (let me just pause a moment to say: AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!), and part of me knows that this will be exactly the case once that’s all over with, too.

On a lighter note, here’s a brief recap of the weekend:
  •         Champagne + Snacks + Gossip = a great Friday night
  •         Those same snacks the next morning = food poisoning
  •         A lazy afternoon spent napping and hanging out at the pool was just what we needed to prepare to do it big on Saturday
  •        We weren’t the only ones with the idea to have a bachelorette party Labor Day weekend (fast forward to bachelorette party dance off, where Liz takes second place)
  •         Finding someone else named Carl was by far the hardest thing on my scavenger hunt, with dancing on a bar coming in close second. Who knew these bar-owners would be such sticklers for safety?
  •     Liz, I think you have a phone call. 
  •         Don’t steal cones from parking garages.

I decided to go to Columbia Sunday so I could maximize my QT with Jessica before she headed back to Boston, and came home yesterday to this little souvenir collection:

Looks like the boys had an even crazier weekend than us girls. 

Monday, September 5, 2011

New Blog!

So here I am, the newest member of blogdom! After several years of blog-hopping and watching various friends and acquaintances create websites of their own I have finally taken the plunge. I’ve never thought of myself as an especially insightful person, nor am I whole-heartedly devoted to any particular crusade- and for these reasons have always shied away from the idea of starting a blog. “What could I possibly have to write about that would add to the blogging community?” I’ve always wondered. Or, “doesn’t everyone of significance in my life already know what’s going on with me?”

In response to the first question, I’d say I’ve given up on the idea that in order to have a blog you must have an arsenal of intellectual, witty, and opinionated things to discuss. Not to mention the need to be incredibly tech-savvy (um, it took me about a half an hour to figure out how to change the layout and background on here). And while I can be some of those things some of the time, I figure maybe only 1% of the blogging population encompasses all of those qualities that I’ve built up in my mind as being necessary to maintaining a successful blog. Probably nobody but close friends and family will read this anyways, and most of them don’t demand perfection.

Which brings me to the answer to my second question. Lately I’ve felt like I can’t keep up with everybody. I blame it on a combination of my awful phone call etiquette (has it really been since July that we’ve talked?), and the fact that we’re all running a mile a minute on completely different schedules in numerous cities and time zones. Now I can keep everyone in the loop, and maybe motivate myself to take more time to stop and reflect on what I’m doing. I look forward to giving everybody a glimpse of what day-to-day life is for me, mundane as it usually sometimes is.

And so that’s what this blog will be: a hodge-podge chronicle of what’s important to me on any given day of the week, and what’s going on in my corner of the world. More to come!

PS: I jumped the gun with the title a little bit since I'm not officially a Bussells yet... but only 54 more days to go!