Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Letter to my Baby Girl, 6/23/2016

A Letter to my Baby Girl, 6/23/2016

Dear Baby Bean, 
In less than two weeks, I’ll be holding you in my arms, but for now all I can think of is all of the wonderful moments that our lives will hold in the coming years. I have so many questions- what will you look like? Will you be an outgoing, center-of-attention diva like your mama, or will you be more quiet, witty, sweet and patient like your daddy? I can only hope that you are a beautiful mix of both of us, a perfect mix of all the traits that make me love your daddy so, and all of the reasons he adores me.

The last 38 weeks have flown by so quickly- especially because we found out so very early that we were pregnant with you and had to keep it close to our hearts even though we wanted to shout it from the rooftops. The moment I told your daddy you’d be joining us- and the look on his face, the ear-to-ear smile. He loved you from that first moment, the first time he saw your itty bitty heartbeat, I knew he was a goner.

I can’t promise you that I will always make the right decisions as a mama. I can’t say that I will always be your favorite person, or always make the choice that makes you the happiest- but there are several things I can promise…

I promise to love you like my mother loves me, by celebrating your successes and encouraging your sense of self, always telling you that you are beautiful and building your sense of confidence and your happy self. I promise to have fun with you, but still protect you and keeping a watchful eye on your decisions- but it’s okay to make mistakes. I’ll support you and love you through them. It was this parenting quality from my mom, especially, that made me a successful, confident woman in my teen and adult life.

I promise to love you like my father loves me, to savor the daily moments with you. To never be too busy to read to you every night, to take your calls when you are having a hard day. To tell you how much I absolutely adore you and how much I cherish being your parent. To debate with you- encourage you to challenge what others think- in a respectful but confident way- to think for yourself. I’ll support you while you explore, trust your instincts and marvel at the person you’ve become.

I promise to never stop demonstrating the love that brought you here- your daddy has always been a sense of inspiration to me and the absolute love of my life- and you will always know how much I love him. I used to think it was gross to see my parents kiss when I was growing up; but their relationship was the basis of every relationship I’ve had since- and the reason that I found the love with your daddy.

There are so many people who already love you and are anxiously awaiting your arrival. Your aunts, uncles, plenty of cousins, grandparents and friends- and even though we live far away from most of our family, I promise that you will know them- they will be a part of your life and a part of your story.

I can’t wait to meet you, Baby Bean. I can’t wait to get to know your personality, your quirks, your sense of humor. I can’t wait to guide you through this crazy life and show you all of the wonderful things I’ve learned- and maybe we’ll learn some things together along the way. 

With so much love, 
Your mama

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Our new adventure! Part I

Hello hello! Those who know us personally already know of our big life change, effective June 2015: I accepted a marketing position right outside of Philadelphia and we packed up and moved our entire lives into one U-Haul & one Camry (packed to the gills with our possessions and our two dogs, Roxy and Cora).

It has been an absolute whirlwind over the last six weeks. First, I can tell you that it's a lot easier to promise to keep in touch than to actually find the time to balance an old life and a new one. In fact, the only moments that I feel sad about the life we left behind is when I think about all of the moments that I am missing back home: my best friend's pregnancy, weekend game nights with my friends, driving to see my mom in the moments when I really need her.  

But I do want to keep in touch- the easiest way to do this is to chronicle our lives using our blog- by sharing our quirky adventures as two Midwesterners transplanted on the East coast.  To call it culture shock is a massive understatement.

We chose to live in a vibrant town outside of Philadelphia called Phoenixville, which is where the cult classic The Blob was filmed in 1958. It's a charming little town filled with lots to do and a diverse group of people- a lot of entrepreneurs here. We live in a renovated twin style home that was built in 1900; it does not have central air conditioning and it is four complete floors: basement, main level, bedroom level, and a refinished attic. The homes on our block are packed together like beautiful puzzle pieces- the quintessential city landscape.

We are in such a central location that we are less than half a mile to Bridge Street, the PA version of Warrensburg's Pine street... lined with shops featuring local delicacies (my favorite so far:  sea salt caramels at Bridge Street Chocolates and parma pizza from Iron Hill Brewery), restaurants with ample outside seating, the historic Colonial theater, and on Saturday mornings, a farmer's market unlike any I've ever experienced. Adam and I love to trek down in the morning and come back with bags full of local produce, our bellies full from the food trucks and iced coffee vendors.

One of the biggest culture shocks for us is the ease and access to everything- several grocery stores... massive ones with so many choices that I leave with a headache! There are  several movie theaters and Targets within 15 minutes of home, yet you have to seek out a Wal-Mart! The area itself is a lush green landscape of hundreds-year old trees that line the highway I drive to work, and the city sits atop the Schuylkill River, (pronounced Skoo-kull) and French Creek, both of which are filled with kayaks and canoes. There are big, green mountains (or hills- everything's a mountain when you come from Missouri).

The little towns all run together, and there are each filled with tons of things to do, but my oh my, does this area love to shop. We are 15 minutes from the King of Prussia mall, the largest mall in America (2 million square feet), packed with stores such as Tiffany, Bloomingdales, Hermes, Gucci. In the other direction, we have the Exton Square Mall, and the Philadelphia Premium Outlets. Near my workplace, we have the QVC headquarters and the QVC outlet mall, where I will be taking my mom when she visits in September!

The best thing about the area, in my opinion- is the access to a part of the country we've only started to explore. We have been to New York City twice, and Buffalo a handful of times- but now we are within two hours of Philadelphia, Washington DC, Baltimore, New Jersey, New York City, and many other places! We are putting together a list of daytrips of places to go and things to see.

Making this move was a giant leap of faith, and Adam and I loaded the car without hesitation and made the jump. We have always sought adventure in our lives- and this is just the beginning of this journey. Just the very beginning.

Coming up soon: (my observations on the "people" differences here vs home)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A Well Fed Newlywed: Baked Ziti

Happy New Year! When I was younger, someone told me that eating noodles at the beginning of the year would bring you good luck. For some reason, I had that in my mind today, even though I noticed that "Hoppin' John" is the real New Year's Day food! (I've never even heard of Hoppin John before today, but it looks good- maybe a recipe soon- Meatless Mondays?)

Adam told me he'd like to enjoy Baked Ziti for New Year's, and we were preparing for a snowstorm, so we stopped by the store for a few ingredients. This is by far the easiest baked ziti I have ever made- and also the tastiest!

I also read something recently about "intuitive cooking", which is cooking with limited measuring, recipes, etc. It's about learning what foods taste good together and blending them to make your own dish. I had no idea my "throw this in, throw that in, oh that looks done" approach to cooking had a real name! Ha! I have included the amounts for the ingredients in this recipe, but I encourage you to increase/decrease according to your family's tastes. Without further adieu, I present to you:

Creamy Baked Ziti 
1 bag "Italian Trio" pasta (or penne/rotini)
1 jar pasta sauce
1 roll turkey sausage
1 package fat free cream cheese 
1 regular bag of mozzarella cheese (or shred a block, if you prefer!)
1/3 cup Parmesan Cheese (see note)
Italian Spices, Salt/Pepper

Boil the pasta to al dente; drain.
Brown turkey sausage and set aside.
When noodles are done, add pasta sauce + cream cheese into saucepan. Melt cream cheese until smooth. Add in sausage + noodles, and parmesan cheese.

(I used a Parmesan Cheese I found at Wal-Mart today called Francesca and it is AMAZING. It was right next to the Kraft and it was only 20 cents more. I got the Parmesan + Garlic kind).
Using this parmesan cheese eliminated the need for any additional spices, but if you use regular parmesan, make sure to add in a couple of churns of pepper, salt, and an Italian seasoning mix.

Next, layer your pasta/sauce mixture into a pan. Add a layer of mozzarella cheese over this mixture, then repeat. Bake at 375 for 20 minutes.

YUM-O. This was so good! And somewhat healthy- turkey sausage, fat free cream cheese. You could even use lower fat mozzarella (but that's the one concession I just don't make for weight loss!)

This is the only photo I got of our baked ziti- after we had already dug in! As you can see, the sauce coats all of the noodles pretty well and bakes in for a yummy, cheesy, saucy dish!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

I'm a Movie Theater Elitist.

I'm just going to start this post by just putting it all out there. I am a movie theater elitist.

I'm aware at how this may sound to those of you reading at home. Who cares about movie theaters, you may ask. It's a decision that is usually made for you- whatever is closest to you, or, in our small town, the only one that exists! Your options are often limited, so why be picky, right?

WRONG. In fact, I feel so strongly about this, that Adam and I vow to not put one penny into an AMC or a Carmike Cinemas in 2014.

I've always loved movies, and so has Adam, so when we started dating, we started seeking out new independent films, which are only available about an hour away, over the Kansas line, at a group of theaters called The Fine Arts Group. Since we discovered these four wonderful theaters, Adam and I find ourselves often- driving a solid sixty minutes just to watch a movie!

On Christmas Day, Adam and I were in town with our family so we planned to see The Wolf of Wall Street at the local theater, a Carmike. In our town of 20,000, Carmike is the only option within 30 minutes, and they're very particular about what they show. Over the years I have only been surprised once at an independent movie they chose to screen. Everything is run-of-the-mill, and perfectly suited for the kind of people that purchase those big popcorn buckets. They show the blockbusters. (And once in awhile, really creepy conservative, Christian films, and sometimes, operas).

Adam & I are just not those kind of people that want to be contained to just blockbusters.

Let me explain.

Christmas Day was a perfect example of the kind of people that frequent the movies at Carmike & AMCs. They arrive late, with their huge popcorn & large sodas, squeaky plastic Twizzlers. They squeeze into rows while the previews are screening. They chat during the previews. Their phones glow as the lights are already lowered. They talk LOUD. They laugh even LOUDER. They are the kind of people that think that because they paid $10 for a movie ticket, they can do whatever the hell they want. And you know what, they can.

So we arrive early, select our seats, and we encounter two patrons right away. One was on his cell phone having a very loud conversation about family medical history, and the second was having an equally loud conversation while chewing through his popcorn bucket. We moved toward the front of the theater, and were comfortable- until a big ol hot mess of inebriated blonde hair stumbled in. She and her boyfriend talked at conversational level throughout the entire movie- and every funny part was accompanied by her throwing her body forward and back in a dramatic display of excitement. About an hour and a half after the movie started- I had had enough, and told the staff. They sent someone in who stood there for about five minutes- and Blondie calmed down. This happened three times, until someone behind her had enough and called her out on it. Then- something that never happens, occurred- several groups of people chimed in and told her that she was being ridiculous- and she didn't say another word for the rest of the evening.

Why is this such an issue at these theaters? Because even though the passive-aggressive "Don't talk; don't text, turn your cell phone down" commercials play before the movie, this group is desensitized to those warnings. Why wouldn't they be? Who's going to enforce those rules? The staff? On the rare occasions that I have had to complain to the staff, it's so very ineffective because the offender cools it while the staff stands there- and then continues when they leave. I have never seen a staff member escort a patron out in an AMC or a Carmike.

It doesn't have to be this way. There's a chain of movie theaters called Alamo Drafthouse. Their policy is strict on what they tolerate and what they don't: No talking. No texting. No exceptions. Even Madonna was recently banned from an Alamo Drafthouse after texting during "Twelve Years a Slave" at the New York Film Festival. (Read the story here)

Why don't theaters such as Carmike & AMC adopt a similar policy- and actually enforce it? I think that it's because they're worried about alienating movie-goers if they come on too strongly. I call BS on this- and here's why. NOBODY likes a talker or texter during a movie. It's annoying & distracting. And I've talked to several people that have said that they refuse to go to movies because of the experience (and the price- but that's a topic for another day). I, too, feel let down if I spend money and 2 hours at a movie with an incessant talker.

Which brings me to: Our 2014 Vow. After leaving the movie theater this evening, Adam said to me what I was already thinking: "I think this is the last time we come to Carmike." He took the thought right out of my head! (One of the most amazing things I love about him: he can read me like no other.) At that point we vowed to only spend our money at Independent theaters, which are far superior, and here's why:

#1. Everyone arrives early! At the Fine Arts theaters, I have rarely had the displeasure of having to scoot over, bend my legs, hold my breath while late-comers squeeze by with their plethora of snacks.

#2: No One Talks- Ever! My absolute favorite reason to go to these theaters. The crowd is so different- usually middle-aged to older (Adam and I are usually about 10-15 years younger than the crowd). Let's face it. Most of the troublemakers in movie theaters are 21 and younger. It's gotten so bad that I don't even attend a PG-13 movie anymore, unless it's at the 1:00 pm daytime matinee!

#3: They show independent films, as well as blockbusters! The beauty of these theaters is that they show both the movies that are offered at AMC and Carmike, as well as the wonderful independent films that change your life.

#4: It's the SAME PRICE as an AMC or Carmike! One of the biggest reasons that people tell me when I share with them the greatness that is Fine Arts Group, is that they are too expensive. Ha. They are the exact same price- $8-10 for an evening ticket, around $5 for the matinee.

#5: It's generally a fun place to be. I love these theaters because of their nostalgia. Back when going to the theater was a treat, patrons reveled in the paisley carpet, the buttery smell of popcorn, the velvet seats. Adam and I truly love movies- and the film experience- and I feel so at home here. We love these theaters so much, that Adam actually proposed at the Glenwood Arts in 2012!

I encourage you to try an independent movie theater. I am leaving you with a list of some movies that we have seen in the last year at the Fine Arts theaters that were not available at our mainstream theater. Check them out and let them impact your life, as they have impacted ours. (Click on the links for trailers!)


Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Well-Fed Newlywed: Homemade Noodles

Happy Thanksgiving Week everyone! This year, we are celebrating Thanksgiving with my side of the family. What's for lunch, you ask?

Oh, you know. Turkey. Stuffing (I call it stuffing even though my mother never actually put it in the turkey), Gravy. And noodles! My grandma Bettie and my grandma Pat always made noodles for holidays, and everyone looks forward to them each year. This year, for my bridal shower, I received the most amazing gift- a recipe book from Adam's family. In it were recipes from every branch of the family- cousins, aunts, in laws! There were even recipes from Deneise, Adam's mom, who passed away in 1994.

So about a week ago Adam asked me what dish we were bringing for the holiday, and he said that his mother used to make noodles. I started flipping through the book, and low and behold- there was Deneise's noodle recipe! As soon as I told Adam the recipe was in there, he insisted I make them. But the recipe looked so incredibly simple! How could this 5 ingredient recipe yield such a yummy dish?

Today we decided to make a "practice batch" of homemade noodles and chicken (even though Adam insists that chicken has no business being in the noodles). To my surprise, they were so simple- nothing to them! Without further adieu, I share my mother in law's noodle recipe- with a few little twerks added for the chicken!

Note: You can serve these on their own, or my personal favorite, over buttery mashed potatoes. My Grandma Pat used to make the two together and she still does if I'm sick! (Shout out to Grandma!) 

Deneise's Homemade Noodles

1 egg
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp milk
1 cup flour
Chicken stock/broth

Combine 1 beaten egg, 1/2 tsp salt, and 2 tbsp milk. Add 1 cup sifted all-purpose flour. Roll very thin on floured surface. Let stand 20 minutes. Roll up loosely, slice 1/4 inch wide, unroll, spread out and let dry 2 hours.

Cut with a pizza cutter into smaller section of noodles (we like them the size of a pinky finger). Drop by handfuls into boiling stock or salted water and cook uncovered for about 10 minutes. Stir often to prevent sticking. The amount of chicken stock you need depends on how soupy you like your noodles. It will reduce. We started with a full container of chicken stock and 1/3 box of chicken broth. Add more if necessary! Your noodles will expand and soak up the broth. Add salt & pepper to taste.

To add chicken: Boil your chicken in the chicken stock, remove from pot, shred it with a fork, and set aside. Add the noodles, cook through, add the chicken at the end.

 Makes 3 cups cooked noodles.

Family Recipe Book; Mixing Bowl/spoon, eggs, milk, salt, flour. You can't tell but my measuring cups are these wonderful little M Cups that modeled after the Russian Dolls that fit into each other! They are so great and were given to me by my friend Anna!

Adam cracking the egg to start the dough! 

Rolling out the dough onto the floured surface. If it sticks, make sure that your rolling pin is floured. You cannot overflour! It's that easy. 

After rolling and slicing, they are long noodles. I made three horizontal cuts in these noodles to make them shorter and more "spoon sized"! 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Well-Fed Newlywed: Homemade Refrigerator Pickles!

For our wedding, we received homemade dill & bread n butter PICKLES from a family friend! Adam and I were super excited to try these pickles, and after we devoured them within a couple of days, I got it into my mind that we would also set out to make pickles! How hard could it be, I wondered! Well, pretty damn easy, I found out!

I used this recipe from It Freezes Beautifully: 
For you lazy peeps, Imma just repost it here, with all of the wonderful changes I made:

Garlic - 1 clover per pint jar (2 cloves for quart jar)
Cucumbers - Enough to fill your jars - I used the pickling cucumbers from my garden.
Ball pickling spices 
Fresh dill  
Ball Pickle Crisp granules
Pickling cucumbers (smaller cucumbers with bumps on them!)

2 cups vinegar
4 cups water
3 TBSP Kosher Salt/ Sea Salt
So, funny story. I took off to Walmart with this recipe and ended up with what I thought was Pickling Salt, but it was actually Ball Pickle Crisp granules, which is not salt, so don't try to use as such! Most recipes call for pickling salt, but of course I wasn't going back to the store (because I sure did wait until 9 pm on a Saturday night to make these pickles!) Other recipes warned not to use table salt as it will make your brine cloudy. Enter the sea salt. 

Put your water, vinegar & salt into a stockpot and bring to a boil. Make sure that your salt is dissolved. (This is where recipes differ- it says that you should let it cool, but I was impatient and put it in warm).

Set your jars out on the counter and, assembly-line style, fill with the following: 
Sprigs of dill (however much you're feeling- I put 2 sprigs in the bottom and one on top) 
1/2 tsp Pickling Spice 
1-2 clove of garlic (I smashed my garlic with the back of the knife and put it in like that so the garlic juices would flow.

Chop your cucumbers (or slice, or put them in whole) on top of the pickling spice, dill & garlic. I sliced most of mine into spears, but the small ones went in whole. Put 1/4-1/8 teaspoon of the Pickle Granules on top, then ladle the brine over the cucumbers. Seal with the tops of the jar lids, and put into a sink filled with hot water. This is supposed to seal the lids even tighter to keep freshness. 
  Then, put your jars in the fridge for atleast 48 hours. I tried them somewhere around the 36 hours mark, and they still tasted like cucumbers! At 72 hours, they were perfect! I took them to work and handed them out. It was fun hearing the CRUNCH of a perfectly pickled pickle! 
These pickles should last around 6 weeks in the fridge (if they last that long!!)

Monday, October 7, 2013

Wedding Tin Can Ham (Salad)

Sometimes, you get a gift and you don't quite know what to do with it. 

Then you find out who gave it to you, and it makes sense. As part of a wedding gift, we received a fully cooked, tin can ham.

First, a little background. My dad's best friend Andy has floated in and out of my life since I was little, living between Wisconsin and Missouri, always arriving unannounced after driving umpteen hours, crashing on our couch, and waking up to the same can of Folgers he left a year earlier. It was always great to see Andy, but now that I think of it, there is something I remember about him... 

Andy, Me, Dad
He never eats full meals. Andy's always snacking. Peanuts, crackers, chips, but never a full on dinner! So when we received a beautiful wicker basket full of tons of snacks, I should have known it was from Andy! This basket was chockfull of cheese spread, crackers, nuts, champagne, glass flutes, cookies, and more. It came especially in handy when Adam and I were opening gifts and needed some finger foods! 

I'm picking through the basket for a snack, when all of the sudden, I see this cooked ham: 
At first, I laughed. It reminded me a bit of Spam, with it's pop tab. My Grandma used to slice Spam and serve it to me on a slice of white bread, folded over to envelope it. It made so much sense at her house, but I never ventured to Spam again in the comfort of my adult life.

Over the last week, I've been thinking about this ham. How to prepare it? Should I even ingest a preservative laden pork product? Well yes, I thought. Unfortunately, tin can hams just don't have much appeal to foodies, so classing this ham up was going to be left to my imagination.

So I thought about the ham. I told people about the ham. I even looked it up on Pinterest, to no avail. Since I was left to my own devices,  I decided a couple of days ago that I was going to make ham salad! Having never made ham salad before, I treated it like tuna salad, which I thought was a pretty good idea.

I peeled open that tin can ham and sliced it- then threw it in my food processor! (This is not pretty). I added dill pickle relish, a little mayonnaise, chopped red onion, and a bit of pepper (you do not need salt, trust me on this!), and some mustard!

I have a tasting rule- if I'm going to taste it, so is Adam- so if I die,  he dies too. (Just kidding- I like his opinion!) (Side note: Often he says "It needs......something" offering no suggestion!) I scooped some ham salad onto two buttery Ritz crackers, and watched Adam's face light up. He loved it!

We toasted wheat bread, added some swiss cheese (Pinterest idea!) and had kettle cooked chips with our ham salad sandwiches for dinner! The best part: it makes tons and tons of ham salad! (But I dont know if I'm still going to be gogo for ham salad tomorrow!)

 Lesson Learned:  When Life Gives you a Tin Can Ham, laugh and make ham salad!