Sunday, October 23, 2011

6 Days and Counting

Today's post will be short and sweet; this is the last full day I have to be productive, so I'm trying my best to make the most of it. The good news is that the end of my to-do list is finally in sight! After a few quick errands, some last minute arts-and-craftsing, packing, and cleaning, we will be almost 100% wedding ready. I just have to make it through 3 more painful days of work and then the fun can begin. Here's a look at the wall that has been dedicated to all the wedding goodies:

It's hard to tell because everything is in boxes but I have been a busy bee. I won't know what to do with myself after all of this. I hope everyone has a great rest of their weekend, and I'll see some of you very very soon!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Recipe Thursday: Ceviche with Chef Carl

Carl has been talking for a long time- years, possibly- about making a Ceviche recipe. I've gone my whole life without trying this dish and I have to say, it was pretty stinkin' good. We tested it out on the cookout crowd last weekend and it was a hit! So without further ado, I'll pass the Recipe Thursday torch off to Carl:

This is what a dedicated fiance I am: Not only did I take the time to prep, cook, and blog about this recipe, but I also had to dedicate an entire morning to fishing. Talk about dedication!

This is a super easy recipe.  There is no actual 'cooking' involved! All you have to do is gather the ingredients, chop em up, then let it all soak in the fridge for 1 to 3 hours.

The first step to making a delicious ceviche is to go and find one of these:

A Carl holding a Redfish.
I used redfish (aka spot tail, red drum, puppy drum), but you can also use shrimp or any fresh or salt water fish with firm white meat.  If you can get ahold of it, I hear wahoo, tuna, or mahi are the tastiest.  If you are as sloppy at cleaning fish as I am, here's what you're left with:

The filets

Several salt and fresh water fish have a line of red muscle that runs through the center.  Get rid of it.  It's not bad for you or anything, but it does have an overpowering fishy flavor. After that, make 1/2 inch cubes out of the filets.

Scraps on the left. I can't overstate how much Riley and Melman love fish scraps.

Here are most of the ingredients:
And your stomach begins to growl...
Ingredients List:

1 - 1 1/2 lbs. fish or shrimp

3/4 cup lime juice

1/4 cup lemon juice

1 small red onion, chopped fine

1 large tomato, chopped

1 jalapeno pepper, seeds and stems removed, chopped fine

1/2 bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped

2-3 garlic cloves, minced

olive oil to taste

Other optional Ingredients:

Juice from 1/2 an orange (for added sweetness)

1 yellow or green bell pepper, chopped

1/2 cucumber, chopped (for extra crunch)

 One thing that makes this recipe so great is that it doesn't require any spices.  The flavor of all the fresh ingredients combined is phenomenal. When I was checking out at the grocery store, the cashier looked at me and said, "mmmm, I can just smell all this coming together!" I'm pretty sure you could combine any or all of these ingredients in any way, shape, or form and whatever comes out would be delicious.

Everything but the fish.

The fruit of your labor, still missing the fish.

Question: True or False: Parasites could potentially give you super powers.

This one is tricky. The answer is actually False. For this reason, I let the fish soak in the ceviche at least an hour.  The acid of the fruit juice denatures the protein in the fish, which kills all of the cells, parasites, bacteria, etc. If the dish is refrigerated, it can last a day or two, but after marinating for 4 or 5 hours the ingredients start to lose their individual flavors. It's still delectable, but definitely best served fresh! Serve with chips or crackers.

For the record, I got this specific recipe off of the 'cooking your catch' forum on Try it out!

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Wedding Craziness Has Officially Started (if it hadn't already)

Hello, hello!

Today I embarked on my last full week of work before the wedding! I woke up on time and was even ready early- very uncharacteristic of a Monday morning. I headed to work and was in the car no more than 5 minutes before rear-ending someone. AHHHHHHH!!!! Let me rewind a second to say that the sun in the morning coming down Highway 17 has been absolutely blinding recently. My window was still slightly fogged over and my mind was in another world. Sure enough, you cannot plow through traffic to make it move. I must have done something nice for someone recently because Karma was really on my side today. No damage was done, and the guy didn't even want to take down my information- sweet relief!

I promised that I'd write a wedding advice post, and today seemed like a good day for it. I've been reminiscing over the events of the past year, trying to figure out where all the time has gone. I'm torn between overwhelming excitement for the big day and knowing that it's going to come and go faster than I'd like. How many times in your life do you get to have all your closest family and friends come to the same place at the same time to celebrate you? Not many! I've been trying to savor all the little moments- things that happen that are both firsts and lasts at the same time- that I know I'll look back on someday and smile. That said, here are some little pearls of wisdom that I've gleaned from the whole experience. Everybody's different, so in the end there is no formula for a perfect wedding, but advice never hurt.

*Try to do as much in advance as you possibly can. This is one thing that I've been especially appreciative of these last couple of weeks. I can't really take credit for this one, though- everybody knows I am the queen of procrastination. I have my mom to thank, as well as the crazy wedding scene that is Charleston. We realized early on that things book up far in advance, and so we had to pounce on our vendors while they were still available and make some quick decisions in a few instances. Having the groundwork laid out is key to managing stress levels later on.

*Whenever you make a decision or book a vendor, write it down in the same place (that part is really crucial) as all of your other decisions, etc. Make lists, and make lists for your lists. Also, take note of when payments are due. Normally I'm pretty good at keeping all my information stored and readily available in my various brain compartments, but don't rely on memory! I spent probably an hour the other day weeding through emails and trying to figure out when we needed to pay everybody by- something I could have avoided completely if I'd had taken note of it in the first place. Organization is a must.

*Don't think you need to have every minute detail figured out early on. For instance, the bridal books will tell you to decide on your color scheme in the beginning but this was something that took me months to finally settle on. It's not the end of the world if you change your mind 9000 times about flowers, or soup for the cocktail hour, or what favors to give, or how many tiers to put in your cake. You may start to irritate your vendors, but ultimately they know that it's all about making the bride happy :)

*Never hesitate to ask for advice. A secret: most of my wedding ideas were stolen from other people. It was so nice to let other people do the legwork for me; whether it was a customer at the bank, a friend bored at work, or a vendor with tons of experience, I've been happy to rely on word-of-mouth recommendations, and so far they've all panned out.

*Finally, don't forget yourself in the whole process. I've been really lucky to have family and a fiancee who, for the most part, have let me call the shots and dictate how the whole day will be. I can see how it would be easy to fall into the old people-pleasing trap, but it's not worth it to stress over what everybody else thinks. If people don't like it, they can go have their own wedding.

Anyways, wish me luck as I try to survive this next week without being too much of a threat to the world around me. And stay tuned for Recipe Thursday with a guest post from Chef Carl!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Puppy Chow Pictures

Here they are! The best part about puppy chow is that this whole process took about 10 minutes.

The naked cereal. I bought the Harris Teeter brand and got a kick out of the name: Crisp 6.  I always wonder whose job it is to come up with store-brand names that are different from the name brands, but close enough to be able to distinguish what product it's replacing. Whoever came up with Crisp 6 is a genius and deserves a promotion. 

Peanut butter, butter, and chocolate chips, all ready to be melted

Coating the cereal. The hardest part is trying not to crush the cereal as you mix it.

Shaken with powdered sugar and ready to go!
This afternoon I'm off to do the trial run for my wedding hair. I can't wait to see how it turns out! Then Carl and I are headed to a cookout that my manager is throwing- hence the puppy chow. I also made a pasta salad. I just sort of winged it, not really knowing what to expect, but I think it turned out okay. I used cheesy tortellini and bow-tie pasta, sauteed yellow squash and zucchini, chopped tomatoes, italian dressing, and parmesan cheese. Hopefully everyone enjoys it. 

Happy Saturday!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Recipe Thursday

Tomorrow night I'll be putting together one of my favorite crowd-pleasing snacks: Puppy Chow (aka Muddy Buddies). There's something about Puppy Chow that takes me back to simpler childhood days of yore and makes me want to play dodge ball or Chinese freeze tag for 5 hours straight. Or dress up as a crayon:

We've been collecting childhood pictures for the wedding and this was one I came across. Great costume.

 Not to mention, I don't think I've come across a single person who doesn't like it. It's very easy: first you melt together butter, peanut butter, vanilla, and chocolate chips. Add this to Chex Mix or Crispix and then toss in a plastic bag with powdered sugar until the cereal is coated. Pour into a big bowl and serve to your salivating friends and family. I'll post pictures as soon as I make it!

Monday, October 10, 2011


Happy Monday! This has turned out to be probably the single-most productive weekend of my adult life. My stress levels about the wedding have really gone down, so I'm just going to take a moment and pat myself on the back for conquering my to-do list. If we had any cookies in the house I would also reward myself with one... but alas, no cookies. I'm planning on dedicating a post to talk about all of the wedding preparations and what they've entailed for me. For as many wedding planning guides and magazines as I've read, I can't claim to have stuck to any particular timeline so I thought it might be useful for my friends who have weddings in their not-so distant futures to hear some suggestions and learn from my mistakes. Stay tuned for that!

In the meantime, I wanted to tell everyone about Fooducate. Carl and I have gotten hooked using this really cool iPhone app (it may be available for all smart phones, I don't know for sure). What it does is scan the bar code on your food item and gives it a grade (A, A-, B, etc) based on its ingredients and nutritional value. It will also give you information on "mystery" ingredients that are commonly found on food labels. We spent about a half an hour yesterday scanning every product in our cupboard and refrigerator. Sadly, most of our foods fell somewhere in the B and C range, many of which were labelled as healthy or natural products. For example, I bought a Kashi lunch meal that got a C+. Kashi is expensive but I'm willing to pay for it, given that it's providing me with a nutritious, well-rounded meal. I was disappointed when it only got a C, and probably won't continue to buy their lunch entrees. The app has made us a lot more aware of what we're eating (and it's made us wonder how our bodies are still functioning with all the junk we put in them), and I know it will motivate us to eat a little better. I highly recommend it, and would love to hear about the good food that people have found using it- or foods that we all assumed were good for us but turned out not to be.

Today I am working on cleaning the house from top to bottom one last time before the wedding. We'll see how far I get before I lose my gusto. As early wedding gifts arrive, our house has become filled with boxes and tissue paper, not to mention the arts and crafts explosion that has taken over the entire kitchen. I've really got my work cut out for me, but coming home to a clean house always helps me to stay unstressed. 

And look- we got pumpkins!

We haven't carved them quite yet... I wasn't sure of the shelf life of a carved pumpkin and didn't want them to rot before Halloween. That cute little bench they're sitting on was handmade by Carl's dad, Ernie. There are two pipes coming out of the siding that were really an eyesore (you can just see the bottoms of them here), so this was the perfect solution. 

Hope everyone has a great Columbus Day, and my condolences if you did not get the day off. I'm off to continue my cleaning frenzy!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Cheesecake Factory

Wednesday night a group of us from my training class went to the Cheesecake Factory in Charlotte. I have sort of a love affair going on with CF and am confused as to why there isn't one in Charleston. In my spare time I will write them a letter. I was the weirdo taking pictures of my meal the whole time so that I could share them on here and one day use them to persuade friends and loved ones to eat there with me.

 This little beauty was delicious. The Georgia Peach was its name, I believe. Because we all know that every 3000 calorie meal needs a frou-frou drink to go with it. 

Keeping with the fall theme, I decided on the carrot cake cheesecake. A digression: is carrot cake actually a fall dessert? I guess the spices in it are similar to other members of the fall dessert family (i.e. pumpkin pie) and so I've always thought of it as one. Anyways, this was quite possibly the hardest decision I've ever had to make. I think that they should offer a cheesecake sampler for indecisive dessert-loving customers like me. 

I'm salivating a little as I revisit these... Apparently I neglected to take pictures of the meal itself- you can really tell what I value most in a meal! I ordered the mozzarella and tomato pizzette and a spicy shrimp appetizer, both delicious.

Does anybody have any big plans for the 3 day weekend? My goal is to finish assembling our wedding favors, which is going to be no small feat. I only got 30 done last weekend. Carl was sweet and attempted to help, but arts and crafts doesn't exactly fall into his skill set. I've decided not to post pictures yet and keep everybody in suspense in an effort to maximize the 'ooh' and 'ahh' factor once the wedding comes. Not to toot my own horn or anything but they are 200 times cuter than I imagined them being. On that note, I'm off to be productive. Expect some pumpkin pictures soon!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Recipe Thursday: Fall Chili

As I embark on this blog post, it is already 11:56, and something tells me that I won't quite finish in four minutes... so I guess that means that this is technically Recipe Friday. On the way back from Charlotte this evening we got stuck in one of those epic traffic jams where you don't even have the option to exit the highway, and two hours goes by and you've only moved a half a mile. Everyone's favorite! I made it home a lot later than expected, but was determined not to miss Recipe Thursday because I actually cooked something this past weekend. Once the weather starts to cool off I find myself constantly in the mood for soups, so I decided to make chili. What I love most about chili is the fact that you can take all this:

From left to right: Kidney Beans, Tomato Paste, Garlic, Vegetable Broth, Jalapenos, Pinto Beans, Red and Green Bell Peppers, Crushed Tomatoes, and Chili Powder. Not Pictured: Cumin, Oregano, and Hot Sauce

... and throw it in a pot for an afternoon, and get this:

Another lovely food photo... it really was delicious!

... not to mention all kinds of leftovers! I like to freeze half and then thaw it out on a night when I'm feeling particularly lazy. This recipe is loosely based off of the one that came included in the instruction manual for my crock pot. I always improvise a little, depending on what we already have and what I can find at the grocery store. No two batches are ever the same, but no matter how creative I get with my substitutions, I don't think that you can really ruin chili.

Actually, I take that back. A long long time ago, when I was not such a big fan of chili  (which, looking back, probably stemmed from my hatred of all things ground beef), I plotted to ruin my mom's recipe. Chili night was a dreaded night for me- one that usually meant staying at the table for an extended period of time while everybody else got to watch Wheel of Fortune and other fun evening activities. Oh, the misery! My mom had this trick with her chili, where she would add a little bit of Hershey's syrup at the very end to cut through some of the acidity of the tomatoes. In an effort to make the meal slightly more palatable I came up with the plan to sneak in more than a healthy dose of syrup while nobody was looking, working under the assumption that more chocolate = better food. The meal was served and everybody dove in, including me. I was disappointed when I found that it was just as nasty as always and quickly fell back into my normal chili sulking routine. The boys were really good sports about it, though. I have to give my dad some props for not saying anything about the overly chocolatey chili until my mom brought it up. Needless to say the jig was up for me, and I received some form of mild punishment for sabotaging the meal. This just goes to show that taste buds can grow up, and people can sometimes end up liking the foods they were force-fed as children.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Steve Jobs

I had another post planned out for tonight, but in light of recent news I'll save it for another time. It's so hard to believe that Steve Jobs died. What a profound impact one person can have on the world. May we all be inspired by his creativity, vision, and motivation.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Hello, October!

This little cookie made my day today. After eating lunch at Panera for the second day in a row, I decided that I deserved a cookie. A pumpkin-shaped cookie. There's something about fall-themed anything that just makes me feel good about the world. Maybe we all need a little more pumpkin in our lives! With that said, I'm making a point to go out and buy- perhaps even carve(!)- some pumpkins this weekend. I'd also like to visit the corn maze at Boone Hall Farms in Mount Pleasant. And maybe go to Scarowinds... too bad we can't take a field trip while I'm here in Charlotte. And if anyone would like to take over wedding planning while I pretend I'm 7, please feel free!

Monday, October 3, 2011

My Two Cents on Debit Card Fees

Here it is: my first current event-related blog post! Normally I'm not a very opinionated person, at least not to the point that I'll argue with someone about it. This media circus that has been going on about every single thing Bank of America does has gotten to be a little ridiculous, though. If you asked me what I like least about my job at the bank I would tell you a) mean people, and b) responding- or trying to bite my tongue- when customers come in and recite whatever it is they have heard on the news about us. If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me if my job was in jeopardy, or made a sarcastic comment about the bailout money, or blamed any fee related to their account on the mortgage issues... well, I'd probably have about $7.65. That's 153 nickels!

With regards to the latest news about the debit card fees, I have to say I was just as shocked and outraged as every other customer when I initially found out about it. However, today in my training my teacher- who is absolutely awesome, by the way- explained it really well. After the conversation was over I felt a lot better about it, and ready to face a stampede of disgruntled customers. Apparently the passing of the Dodd-Frank Act, which was put in place to regulate debit transactions, is the culprit. NOT mortgage issues carrying over into consumer banking or whatever else the media will have you believe. As part of the act, a cap was put in place to limit the amount that merchants would have to pay to banks (only those that have over a certain amount of money on deposit. Read: big banks) whenever a debit card is used. Prior to this, banks like BOA received between $1.40 and $1.70 per swipe. The cap will drop that number down to about 40 cents. In an effort to recoup the lost revenue the bank is now imposing a monthly fee for those customers who choose to use debit cards for purchases (not at the ATM or within the bank). Makes sense, right? In theory, the merchants will now be able to lower their costs because they're not paying so much to banks, so as consumers we should see that money coming back to us. We'll see if that actually happens- wishful thinking never hurt.

Another thing my teacher pointed out was the fact that banks have more or less shot themselves in the foot by being the only business to lead customers to believe that its products and services are worthless. There's now this expectation that all accounts and other services should be completely free, otherwise it's highway robbery. In any other industry it's perfectly acceptable and normal to pay for goods, but for some reason banks can't catch enough grief for trying to run a profitable business. It's absolutely ludicrous that people will spend $5 a day on their morning latte or $4.99 for an app on their phone, but a $5 monthly fee for something that helps you access, manage, and protect your money seems to be starting riots. Get it together, folks.  

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Workout Success!

I'm happy to report that yesterday I finished the last Firm Express video! These workouts were really awesome, and I plan on cycling through them one more time before the wedding. What I liked about them most was that they were only 20 minutes long (hence the name 'Express'). On days when I was feeling less than motivated it was easy enough to talk myself into doing one, knowing that it wouldn’t eat up a bunch of my time. And even though they were tough, I feel like I can do anything for 20 minutes without it killing me. Each of the 12 workouts was completely different, which was both good and bad. It didn’t get boring because they weren’t doing the same routines over and over again, but on the other hand, it was challenging trying to keep up. Once I got the moves down they were already moving on to the next thing. Hopefully this won’t be as much of an issue my second time through. I did not lose the promised 15 pounds, but let’s face it; I wasn’t really expecting to drop that much weight. The good news: I’m starting to tell a real difference! I feel like I’m a lot stronger and toned, which is exactly what I was hoping for. Who knows- at this rate I might even grow my first ab. 

In other news, I'm headed to Charlotte this week for some training for work. That's right folks, my first "business trip!" I have no idea what it's going to be like, but am hoping that they don't make us work too hard and that I make some new friends. It could be a long week if I have to eat all my meals alone. On that note, I'm off to pack and get some shut-eye so that eye can be on my A- game this week.