Sunday, April 28, 2013

Weekend Highlights.

This weekend was just about as perfect as they come. It was a good mix of fun, productivity and relaxing. Good thing too, because this week is going to be a doozy. 

TC and I laid low on Friday night. He worked most of Saturday and I spent the day painting my living room. While it isn't exactly what I envisioned, I'm really liking the change. I'll show you the photos tomorrow, but only if you promise to tell me what a vast improvement it is.

It was so beautiful out on Saturday that we spent the evening grilling out. Or, barbecuing, as they insist on calling it here - even though there is absolutely no BBQ sauce or meat involved. 

The first cookout of the season is always the best - so much to look forward too. A few of us got together and Carla and Tyler's house so that Gwen could entertain us the whole time. 

Those cheeks and blue eyes are too much. 

Sunday was...well...perfect. We got up bright and early and headed to our weekly breakfast place. When TC and I got home we put on our productive pants and finished raking the backyard and bagging the leaves. Let's be honest, TC did all the work and I just stood around looking cute and holding the bags open. 

I had a workout and grocery shopping on the agenda, but ended up pushing that back until later in the evening so that I could spend the rest of afternoon with Jaclyn. She's heading to Peru in a few weeks for the adventure of a lifetime. Lima, Cusco, and Machu Picu are all on her list. 

Last week we we were talking about her trip and it came up that she has a beautiful Canon Rebel sitting around and collecting dust at her house because she doesn't know how to use it. When I found this out I insisted that she learn to use it and then bring it on her trip. An amazing trip like this needs amazing photos! 

So we headed out for a hike around the park today while I gave her a crash course in DSLR cameras. The beauty of a Rebel is that the camera can't help but take great photos, even if the photographer doesn't have a clue what they're doing. Plus, they're light weight and durable, so they're perfect for traveling. My Rebel is eight years old and still rockin' it hard. I've put that thing through hell and it still perseveres.

I tried to keep our little session basic and just give her a few tips and some practice time, but of course she wanted to know details. So we talked a bit about exposure, aperture and shutter speed while we clicked away. 

Jaclyn, are you listening? Take that thing to Peru. You'll be glad that you did. 

I did eventually make it to the gym and even managed to shave a few more pounds off the scale.

Of course, that's obsolete now because TC and I got caught up in the beautiful weather this evening and indulged in ice cream cones. It's the first weekend that the ice cream man has been open for business, so there was no way I was passing it up.

Have a happy Monday!

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Ugly Table.

My living room leaves a lot to be desired. Amongst other things, the walls are mint green. A color that I accidentally painted them - a year ago. The couches have seen better days. The TV is precariously perched in such a way that I expect it to fall over if anyone ever breathes on it the wrong way. The fireplace and mantle are actually okay. But then there's the table. I've said it before, but it bears repeating. It's solid contender in the World's Ugliest Coffee Table Contest. 

First of all, it was a chew toy for Hobie when she was a pup. Second, TC bought it many moons ago off the back of a very questionable truck full of furniture. It's essentially orange, which is not helped by the honey color floors, which are not separated from the table by an area rug as they should be. Why no area rug? Because. Just because. There are too many reasons and if I even start on that list my head will surely explode and that will make a mess that I'll have to clean off my ugly mint walls and I just am not in the mood for all that nonsense. 

Last weekend I decided that things in the living room had nowhere to go but up, so I decided to try my hand at refinishing the table. I did little research, didn't do nearly as much prep work as I should have (although I did rake the yard before I set it out back) and basically went into the project blind. This approach has worked sporadically in the past and I just couldn't justify putting one extra bit of effort into this godforsaken table.

I texted my friend Sally a photo of the table with a can of black spray paint sitting on top. Sally is a bit of a furniture refinishing master so naturally my text just about sent her over the edge.

"Noooooooo!" she scream typed. "Have I taught you nothing?! Do I need to come up there?"

She went on with messages like, "Please use real paint!" and "How do you live without me?"

Well, I don't know how I live without her. Life is good when she's around, but I'm still getting by.

I did sand the table and even followed her vague directions about how to properly distress a table. 

Distressing is no joke. It's definitely an art that I have not mastered, and probably never will. 

I would sand a little, panic, and then run to Pinterest to look for inspiration. Then I'd sit down and have a glass of lemonade to mull over my exact plan of action. Then I'd go back to the yard and sand a little more. Then panic. Then stare at it while I raked the yard. And then back for more Pinterest and more lemonade. 

And so the table and I went, around in circles, while I tried to not completely screw up my make-this-table-bearable project. When I finally decided that the sanding process could last forever, I threw in the towel and whipped out the poly for the finishing touch. 

A few coats later and a ill-fated sanding attempt (don't try it even if the Home Depot guy tells you it's fine) the table is done. And it's better than it was before. It's not perfect, the orange peaking out isn't actually as bad as it looks in this photo, but I can tell you this: It didn't make my living room any worse. Which, really, is huge progress around here. 

Actually, I kind of like it. Once I paint my mint walls a light grey this weekend its going to look even better. 

And thank you Hobie for photo-bombing. You've done enough damage to this table thankyouverymuch. Let's not have a table chewing relapse, please.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

New Favorite: Lite Sweet and Sour Chicken

I have a secret that I'm now ready to admit. It's kind of embarrassing and I'm sure my mother is about to hang her head in shame.

Until three weeks ago, I didn't know how to saute anything. Like, I didn't even know what kind of food to saute, let alone what utensils to use for the process. A spoon? Maybe a spatula? Pot? Pan?

I didn't have a clue.

Also embarrassing, what I thought was a clove of garlic turns out to be a bulb of garlic. Small difference, apparently.

Seriously, how have I made it this far in life without poisoning anyone?

Clearly, dinner around here has come a long way in the past few years. I've moved up in the world. Now I don't eat eggs and cereal for dinner every night. Instead I've slowly learned how to make the basics - tacos, baked salmon, chef salad and even the occasional pork tenderloin. Don't let my Thanksgiving table fool you. I can't really cook. I can merely follow basic recipes.

I was reading one of my favorite blogs a few weeks ago and came across a recipe for sweet and sour chicken that seemed way out of my league. It also had a list of a few foreign ingredients but it sparked a memory of delicious take-out back from back in my college days.

Ahhh, the sweet memories of gaining the freshman fifteen...or thirty. Luckily, this is a healthier version that won't plague my thighs the same way.

As it turned out, that week I just so happened to have a freezer full of meat, which meant my grocery budget was going to have some extra room. This was good because that meant I could splurge a bit on all the random items I would need to make this sweet and sour chicken.

Don't you hate that when it costs $30 just to buy the ingredients for one dish? And then the bottles are all so big that you better love this fancy new recipe because otherwise you're going to be stuck with enough random oyster sauce to last a lifetime? So you cross your fingers and hope you love the recipe because now you'll be able to make the meal for months without having to spend another penny.

That's exactly what happened here. I love this sweet and sour chicken so much, we have had it for dinner every single week for almost a month now.

I can't stop cooking it. I crave it. I dream about it.

And then, I inhale it.

The recipe came from Iowa Girl Eats, but was actually a guest post there by Gimme Some Oven. You can see the original recipe here. Neither of these ladies have every let me down before, so no surprise that this dish was excellent as usual.

I did make a few adjustments, however. I left out the pineapple and reduced the chili sauce because the full three tablespoons caused a decent amount of smoke to come out of TC's ears. It was hot! Two table spoons is more than enough. I'd go with one tablespoon if you're a weenie when it comes to spicy food.

Maybe you have rice vinegar, or oyster sauce or sriracha chili sauce already in your pantry - you must be an adventurous cook. Can you please invite me over sometime? If not, find a little bit in your grocery budget and give this a try. It's definitely worth it.


Light Sweet and Sour Chicken (adapted from Gimme Some Oven at Iowa Girl Eats)

Stir Fry Ingredients
2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 2 breasts), cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
sesame seeds (optional)
white or brown rice, for serving

Sweet and Sour Sauce Ingredients
1/4 cup ketchup
2 Tbsp. sriracha chile sauce (3 tablespoons if you're a badass, 1 if you're a weenie)
3 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar
3 Tbsp. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. oyster sauce
1 pinch freshly grated pepper
1/2 cup orange juice (or pineapple)
1 Tbsp. cornstarch (NOT corn syrup - duh!)

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper, then add to skillet. Saute for about 5 minutes, flipping occasionally, until the chicken is cooked through and no longer pink on the inside. Remove chicken and set aside. Cut the vegetables while the meat cooks.
  2. Add an another tablespoon of oil to the skillet, then add in the onion and peppers. Saute for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and cook for another 3 minutes or until the vegetables are tender yet still a bit crisp. Remove vegetables and set aside.
  3. Add ketchup, sriracha, vinegar, brown sugar, oyster sauce and pepper to the pan, and whisk to combine. In a separate bowl, whisk together the fruit juice and cornstarch until it has dissolved. Then add the mixture to the sauce. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Add back in the vegetables and chicken. Stir until evenly coated. Allow the mixture to thicken for 3-5 minutes, or until no longer soupy.
  4. Remove from heat and serve over rice, garnished with sesame seeds if desired. Serve immediately, or refrigerate in a covered container for up to 3 days.
  5. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 21, 2013


I've been waiting very patiently. 

For months I've been waiting for the snow to disappear and for the warm temperatures to arrive. The official first day of spring came and went, without much fanfare. Then more snow came. Then it melted. And then finally, finally!, this past Friday temperatures actually reached a number that I consider warm. 

It was the kind of day that just begged you to come outside and play. Find anything to do because even the most mundane task would be glorious solely because of the warm bath of sunshine.

I set out to refinish my coffee table. It's a contender for the world's ugliest coffee table award, so I figured we had no where to go but up. I dragged it to the backyard for a bit of sanding and then some painting.

The only problem was that my backyard is a graveyard of dead and gross leaves. This is what happens when you forget to rake in the fall...again. Then the first snow storm hits and you think that surely at least one of the blizzards will dump enough snow to make all those pesky leaves shrivel up and disappear for good. I know a little bit about basic science - decomposition should kick in any day, right? Or maybe if I pray hard enough the Earth will just open up and swallow all the leaves and I'll forget they were even there in the first place.

But none of that ever happens. Every year the ground thaws and we're left with a very thick, very wet layer of leaves instead of lush green grass.

While I noodled on how to handle the coffee table situation, I raked. And then I raked some more. I raked so much that I briefly considered counting it as a cardio workout in my calorie counter app.

Another victim of winter that is now showing its true colors is our front steps. This, ladies and gentleman, is what happens when wooden steps are shoveled seven million times over the winter. As the snow gets scraped off, so does the paint.

I'm too busy refinishing furniture so if anyone wants to come paint my steps, I'll pay you in cupcakes and high-fives. Do a really good job for me and I just might throw in a beer or two.

As my quest to play outside continued, I also managed to find the most beautiful sign of spring. Yes! A real flower. Granted, it is growing amongst a mess of weeds. But it is purple, my favorite color and I love it.

It sits right along the edge of the driveway and I've made sure to smile at it every time I drive by. I'm hoping that enough love will make it blossom into a gorgeous garden of purple glory.

As the evening wore on I got my table sanded and slapped on a few coats of paint. While I was finishing up I heard the most exciting noise I've heard in months. Instead of the hum of snowblowers, or the neighbor's children screaming, I heard a bird chirping. I squinted my eyes and scanned the trees looking for the little guy who was singing such a beautiful song. I never did see him, but I did find the first signs of spring on the tips of the tree branches. Little baby buds just waiting to burst.

Of course, those new leaves will just eventually fall to the ground where they'll lay for another winter because I will undoubtedly forget to rake them again...but we'll tackle that next year.

In the mean time, even if the temperatures aren't exactly cooperating I can now rest easy knowing that spring is actually here. The flowers and the trees are all the proof I need.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Photo Book By Blurb.

Remember how I went to Paris earlier this year? 

I took approximately eight million five trillion photos. TC's parents were doing their best to ignore my obsessive picture-taking. I'm sure they went into the trip expecting me to have my camera in hand at all times, but I think I managed to take it to a whole new level.

What can I say? I'm a little crazy. Maybe a bit obsessive too. 

On the other hand, I had a plan. I had a legitimate reason for taking all those bazillion photos. I knew the plan, TC knew the plan, but his poor parents were kept in the dark.

There were several times that I told TC that I wished we could explain my obsessiveness. Really, they were starting to think that their son was married to his own personal Saturday morning looney-tunes special. We just didn't want to ruin the surprise. 

I like to think that I took the high road here by staying silent. I really took one for the team. 

So, why was I doing all this? 

Well, mainly because I like taking photos. I like to document everyday life so it stands to reason that a fabulous trip to Paris would warrant a little extra attention.

The real reason though, was the surprise. It's such a simple idea, but one that I'd never taken advantage of before. A BOOK! Yes, a photo book - a novel idea, I know. 

There are plenty of companies and ways to go about doing this. Originally I was just going to pop the photos right from iPhoto to iBook, which by the way is super affordable and easy. 

But then TC and I decided we wanted something a little fancier. After all, this was our way of saying thank you to his parents for taking us on such an amazing trip. 

Enter Blurb. It's a free website that lets you create your own photo books. You can choose from lots of different sizes and styles too. It was just what we were looking for.

Blurb came with good reviews and I had a great experience with it. First and foremost, it is user friendly. It took me less than thirty minutes to get a feel for the software. Secondly, there were tons of cool layouts to choose from for each page. Plus, if you are technically inclined, each layout is easily customized. Since I had so many photos, I needed layout options that let me have anywhere from one photo to sixteen photos. 

I chose a square 12x12 book and organized the book in chronological order and included some text that listed out our daily agenda. 

I read mixed reviews about the quality of printing, but I loved how well our book turned out. The colors were vibrant and the paper quality was great too. 

Truth be told, my favorite part was the cover. You're given the option of a dust cover and I totally went with it. How could I not? Everyone knows that only real and fancy books that belong in libraries have dust covers. People, this will probably be the only time in my life that I create a book that has a dust cover! I couldn't pass it up. 

Plus, one of my favorite photos of the trip graced the back cover in all it's glossy glory. 

Here's my point: consider making a book for either yourself or someone else who is especially cool. Is there a better way to commemorate a special trip? Or maybe a baby's first year? Or maybe just make one to document all the fun things you did over the summer. The ideas are endless!

There are plenty of routes to take, plenty of sizes, styles and price ranges too. It's pretty easy and actually really fun to make. 

Let your creative juices flow, man.

(Oh, last thing. If you make a book on Blurb, at the very end of your purchase they'll offer you a second copy of your book for 50% off!)

Have a great weekend, folks. Make sure to do something fun.

*not a sponsored or paid post. i wish it was...blurb, contact me! we can work something out. 
*i just like blurb and wanted to share!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Maple Syrup Season.

I have wonderful friends here in Canada. And we have great traditions. I'm sure most of you think that we're snowed in all year long and that we may even live in igloos. But I promise, it's not really that way. 

Yes, it snowed for three days straight this past weekend. And yes, it's still really windy and not remotely warm. However, there are perks to this place that you just don't get in Florida. Or Georgia. Or anywhere else in most of the US states.

For my friends, the annual trip to the maple sugar shack is normal. They've grown up going every year. Sometimes they go as a school field trip, but mostly it is with their families. Since I've been in Canada we've formed a small pack of us that goes every year as a group. 

Over the years we have gone as couples and friends, then we've gone with babies, and now we go with toddlers. It's crazy, I tell you. I don't know how time is moving so fast, but I'm going to need someone to slow it down. 

Like I said, we got a serious spring snow storm last weekend. Big snowflakes fell for three days but since the ground has thawed most of it didn't stick. The trees, however, were different. The snow stuck beautifully to the branches. It was rainy/snowy and cold, but our surroundings were beautiful. 

Because it is technically spring, I wanted to wear just a light fleece jacket. The chilly wind got the best of me and I ended up in my winter coat but left my hat and gloves behind. Yup, I was going to stick it to mother nature and show her who was boss. It's spring, dammit. I don't need gloves!

I was wrong and fortunately Carla had an extra pair of mittens in her car. She's a good Canadian. 

We meandered down the path and passed a few different family owned sugar shacks. Each family has a different way of collecting sap from the maple trees. 

Some collect their sap in buckets, which they then manually pour into larger vats on the back of a tractor.

Other families string blue tubing through the trees and let gravity steer the sap down to the barrels.

It all ends up in a giant tub that is heated until nothing is left but delicious maple syrup.

This is where the magic happens. Of course, bottles of syrup are for sale. But the real fun is in buying a popsicle stick and then making your own maple lollipop. It's a refillable stick, so it is definitely worth the three dollar price tag.

It's simple. The nice man comes out with a hot cup of maple taffy. He pours it in small strips across fresh snow that is in a trough. 

You take your stick and roll it from the top to the bottom, forming your own personal lollipop. 

(Please ignore my purple hand. I took off my mitten and it was really cold.)

The snow hardens the warm taffy until it's just the perfect temperature for ooey-gooey eating. 

There is a small group of our closest friends that have been making this pilgrimage for a few years now. We've been trying for the past few weeks to make the hike, but kept having conflicts. See, there is only a few precious weeks out of the year that the maple sap flows. It's all about getting there when the days are warmer and the nights are cooler. That's when the maple syrup magic happens.

We barely made it this year. In fact, it was the last day of the maple season. Come to think of it, we went on the last day last year too. This, people, is why my middle name is "flexibility."

It's one of the best times of the year - one of the few times that living as a Canadian transplant is really special. 

So, fine, I admit it. I'm having a rough time not wearing my flip-flops right now. BUT! How many of you made pancakes this weekend and topped them with real maple syrup AND saw the actual trees that it came from?

I win. Flip-flops ain't got nothin' on that.