July 31, 2012

Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookie

When I think of using a black skillet in the kitchen, images of "golden cornbread" and "crispy fried chicken"--typical main dishes come to my mind. 

Imagine my intrigue when Carolyn suggested that we bake a giant chocolate chip cookie in a black skillet.

I said "YES" before I you could say "Chocolate."



Ingredients

(1) stick of unsalted butter
1/2 Cup white sugar
1/2 Cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg 
1 1/2 Cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
9 oz. chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Step 1: Mix dry ingredients: flour, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.

Step 2: Cream the softened butter with white and brown sugars; add (1) egg and (1) teaspoon vanilla

Step 3: Add flour mixture to cream mixture.  Stir in 9 ounces of chocolate chips.

Step 4: Put dough ball in skillet; use hands to press it out to the corners {this is a good time to test the dough}

Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the edges start to brown.  Do not overcook!
Remove from oven and let cookies sit for 10-12 minutes; it will continue to cook slightly.

Prep Time: 12 minutes
Total Time: 65 minutes
Yield: 8 servings

Carolyn forming the giant cookie!


Serve warm with vanilla ice cream!

July 30, 2012

Christmas...in July

I feel ready for fall, which prompted me to think about football, which then reminded me of sweaters and scarves and my favorite leather boots, which then made me think of Thanksgiving...and ultimately led to humming Christmas carols.

So what's the next step?

Pull out the Christmas dishes!


There's no better way to make Sunday morning breakfast a little special and begin to anticipate the most wonderful time of the year.

And yes, for those of you rolling your eyes, it's never too early to think about Christmas!


What is your favorite holiday?

July 27, 2012

"The Music Man" at Arena Stage, Washington, D.C.

Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. is truly a gem.  My first experience at Arena was last summer when A Time to Kill premiered.  Kern and I went back later in the year to see Oklahoma.  We were blown away during both performances, so when I heard that Arena's 2012 summer season included The Music Man I jumped on a pair of tickets!


We made a great date night out of the play, enjoying a fun dinner beforehand and sweets and coffee during intermission.

{via}
Burke Moses (the original Gaston in Broadway's Beauty and the Beast) played Professor Harold Hill and Kate Baldwin (Finian's Rainbow) played the Librarian--Marian Paroo. 

{via}
The cast was dynamic and energetic--my toes were tapping and I was mouthing the words.  One of the neat things about the Fichandler stage (Arena has several stages throughout the building) is that is an arena type setting, which means there are elevated seats on all four side of the square platform.  Not only does this help with viewing (no craning your neck to see over the tall person in the front row), but it also draws the audience in no matter where a particular seat is located.

{via}
I'm already anxiously awaiting next season's scheduled shows, in particular, My Fair Lady, which will be playing during my birthday week.

July 26, 2012

Thankful in Threes: Week 4

This is the fourth week of finding thankfulness in my daily routine!  If you missed the previous weeks, you can catch up by clicking here.

I decided to make this week's theme my job...and some of the little things I appreciate about the daily grind.

One: my co-workers
I spend at minimum forty (4-0) hours per week with these people!  I have been fortunate to have the same group of co-workers since I started my job on the Hill in 2009.  No one has left.  As a result, we have all become closer than we probably want to admit.  This week, we all went to see a movie together after work and it reminded me of how much fun we have on a daily basis, amidst the chaos and busyness. 

{Disclaimer: not all of my co-workers are in the photo.  And no, Kern is not a co-worker, but he did make the photo.}

 Two: my space heater
The irony of the blazing heat outside is that my office often feels like the dead of winter. To combat the shivering, I finally bought a space heater and have never been happier (or cozier) at my desk.

Three: my morning cup of coffee (in my Williamsburg mug)
It's the little things, right?  One of my morning rituals (post green smoothie) is to enjoy a cup of coffee from one of my favorite mugs.  It tastes much better from a ceramic cup than a paper or styrofoam holder!

Wherever you work, whether at home or an office, what are some of the aspects of your day that make you thankful?

July 25, 2012

Recipe: 3 Step Vegetarian Tacos


I often try to tweak my favorite recipes and swap out standard ingredients in favor of a healthy alternative.  When I set out to change a recipe, it involves multiple google searches, flipping through stacks of cookbooks, scanning my fridge and cabinets for ingredients I already own...and a little experimentation.

These tacos are one of my favorite meatless meals.  They are filling, flavorful and packed with nutrients.  You can easily make your own meal at home in just three easy steps:

Ingredients


1 c. walnuts
1/2 T. cumin
1/2. T Mexican seasoning
2 T. Bragg Liquid Aminos
1 zucchini
1 red pepper
1 green pepper
1/2 purple onion
1 c. grated cheese
1 package of (8) inch tortillas or romaine leafs as wraps
salsa
guacamole

Step 1: Chop the peppers, onions and zucchini into bite sized pieces
            Saute together in skillet with the lid on
tip: I use coconut oil instead of olive oil because coconut is more stable at a higher temperature

Step 2: While the vegetables saute, use a blender on low speed to grind the walnuts for 15 seconds or until they are chunky.  Empty the contents into a bowl and add the cumin, Mexican seasoning and Bragg Liquid Aminos.  Stir together well.  Set aside.

Step 3: Remove vegetables from heat and build your tacos!
tip: for an even healthier version, replace flour tortillas with a romaine leaf or collard green leaf

Prep Time: 12 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Yield: 8 servings

The walnuts add a delicious flavor and do a great job of replacing meat in this dish.  The Liquid Aminos are a non-GMO soybean based food that binds the walnuts and spices together for the ground beef-like texture.  It can be used in so many other recipes too, which makes it an excellent investment for the kitchen.

July 24, 2012

A World Full of Cactus


"The World is full of cactus.  
But you don't have to sit on it."
Proverb

Although circumstances often occur that I cannot control, I do have the opportunity to decide how I am going to react.

I remember when I started to realize that my world was growing at a faster rate than I could control: I was in high school and faced with the decision of selecting a college and for the first time I began to really consider how my choices affected my future.  Until that point, my world had been small and many decisions were made for me by default.  I had always been a planner and in some ways hid behind my ability to think ahead and anticipate scenarios.  Thanks to a predictable life, I was not often forced to be flexible.

As I entered college, I found that if a situation did not go the way I had planned (and I got stuck in the cactus), my gut reaction was to stress out, stew and try my best to change the situation.  Instead of looking for an alternative solution or considering the possibility that God was guiding my steps to a different path, I was bent on making it go a certain way--my way.

This mentality exhausted me.  I lived abroad for two summers in college and experienced situations where not only did I have no control, but I was not surrounded by my usual comforts.  I knew I had to make a decision: would I let circumstances rule me or would I learn to control my reactions?  Would I start seeing twists and turns as Divine intervention or annoying interruptions? In other words, I had to learn to choose to not sit on the cactus.

Can you relate to a similar mindset in your life?  "Life Cacti" are everywhere and they range in size from a couple of inches (like my photo above) to the Saguaro Cactus, which can grow taller than a five-story building.  They grow slowly, and sometimes we may not see them until we stumble upon them.

As I reflect back on that mindset now, I can still see similar patterns play out in my day to day life.  Of course, I want life to play out perfectly in a neat package.  However, I remember that I live in an imperfect world, full of cacti.  This doesn't discourage me, but it points me back towards God and increases my joyful expectation of heaven--a place where I will be surrounded by perfection.

July 23, 2012

Black + Jack

Celebrating birthdays is one of my favorite hobbies.

Note to self: add "Birthday Celebrator" to resume.

Kern and I went to Black Jack to wish Henry the happiest of birthdays. Archer planned a great evening and we all enjoyed delicious food and entertaining games.  I was glad to leave the Hill for an evening and spend time on U Street.



Food : : Basil Mozzarella Pizza, Fried Pickles
Drinks : : Sazerac and Chardonney
Sisters : : Betsy and Archer
Birthday : : Henry relaxes in the auditorium seating

Games : : Black Jack has a bocce court

Archer and me

July 20, 2012

Back down South

I spent last weekend in Mississippi, celebrating the marriage of my brother and Lee.  The weekend was filled with family, delicious food and plenty of activity.

The men kicked off the weekend with a game of golf.  Gran Fran's house backs up to the second hole, so Mom, John Murray and I walked outside to see the boys take a few shots.

Top Left : : My Dad and Uncle John
Top Right : : Josh watches John Murray take a few swings
Bottom Left : : Kern, Josh and John Murray pose with their clubs
Bottom Right : : Potts' boys - Chris and Jay
Saturday evening was a special party honoring the newlyweds at the Bridgewater Clubhouse in Madison.  I had the opportunity to visit with so many dear friends--from my former preschool teacher to my parents' co-workers to my best friend.

Josh and Lee

Of course a trip to Jackson would not be complete without Mary Jane and Greg!
I wish I had more photos of the remainder of the weekend (including two wonderful days in Brookhaven) but the truth is...I was having too much fun to stop and take photos.

I need to work on having fun while taking pictures.

But sometimes you just have to live in the moment!

July 19, 2012

Thankful in Threes: Week 3

This is the third week of finding thankfulness in my daily routine!  If you missed the previous weeks, you can catch up by clicking here.

One: Electricity 

On Monday evening I was at my parents' house in Madison only to be without power until nearly 11:00pm due to a blown transformer on the street.  Such is life...and I really can't complain considering thousands of people have been without power this summer (during heat waves) due to storms.  It certainly made me appreciate the convenience that electricity brings to our everyday lives.

I found myself squinting across the table while I ate dinner and pondering what life must have been like in Colonial Williamsburg...for real.


Two: Snow Cones

It's hard to come by a few items that we southerners consider necessity in DC: good sweet tea and snow cones.  One of my primary missions while visiting my home state was to obtain one of my favorite summer treats: a Tiger's Blood Snow Cone.

If you've never had Tiger's Blood, you are missing out.  It's the perfect combination of watermelon and coconut and leaves you with an amazing red tongue.



Three: Having a foot in two places: Mississippi and DC

I always fight back tears at the airport...on the runway...and in the air on the flight back to DC.  This week, as I gazed out the window at my favorite state sprawling below, it occurred to me that I have so much to be thankful for with a job that allows me to work for and serve my home state while affording me the once in a lifetime opportunity to live in our nation's capital city.


What are you thankful for this week?


And just as important...what's your favorite snow cone flavor?

July 18, 2012

Recipe: 3 Step Almond Bite Cookies


These almond bite cookies are vegan and gluten free!  They are the perfect companion for a cup of freshly brewed coffee or a cool glass of almond milk.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 c. almond meal
1/4 c. Earth Balance Vegan Buttery sticks (plant based butter alternative)
1/4 c. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. Ener-G Egg Replacer
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 C. Carob Chips

Prep:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Line a baking pan with parchment paper (to avoid the use of unnecessary oils)

Step 1: Cream the sugar and butter together

Step 2: Add the egg replacer, almond meal, salt, cinnamon, vanilla and baking soda and stir well; fold in the carob chips

Step 3: Use a spoon to get the dough from the bowl and form golf-ball sized cookies.  Bake and enjoy!

Prep Time: 8 minutes
Baking Time: 12-15 minutes
Yield: 10 cookies

Why should I consider baking with Carob instead of Chocolate? 


I am a self proclaimed chocolate lover, but I try to only indulge on special occasions.  Chocolate contains caffeine and the cocoa bean, from which chocolate is made from, is very bitter.  This means that copious amount of sugar, cream and other chemicals are added in the manufacturing process in order to get the final product we all know and love.

Carob is actually a legume that is naturally sweetened, which means it needs much less sugar during the manufacturing process.  Carob contains as much Vitamin B1 as asparagus and strawberries and more Vitamin A than eggplant.  Compared to chocolate, carob has three times as much calcium, one third the amount of calories and seventeen times less fat!

Branch out and give it a try!

July 17, 2012

Make Someone's Day




I've started playing a new game with myself.

It's called "Make Someone's Day."

The rules are simple: do one thing a day to make someone else's day brighter or easier. 

It can be as small as holding a door open for a mom with a stroller.  Snail mailing a note to a friend.  Giving a co-worker a sincere compliment.

I started trying to make this a conscious effort the more I realized how easy it is for me to be absorbed in my own thoughts or wrapped up in my own problems.  There is nothing more therapeutic than helping another person.

Try it.  The great part is...in making someone else's day, I often make my own!

Need some inspiration?  Check out this site: Makes Me Think.

Has a stranger done a random act of kindness for you lately?

July 16, 2012

Summer Tablescape


Happy Monday!

Kern and I are still in Mississippi today.  Since we are traveling, I wanted to share my travel-themed tablescape today.

One of my favorite ways to "scratch the creative itch" is to change up an easy element in my house, such as a table top design.  I usually try to use items I have on hand, which makes the challenge even more fun.  I walk around my room and dig through boxes in my closet--just looking for the perfect prop.

Photo 1: : I turned travel tags into napkin placards and free-handed the monogrammed initials for each roommate.

Photo 2 : : Wolfe birds look perfect and add whimsy to any occasion.  Also...an antique key that probably opens a door in a fabulous Tuscan villa in Italy.

Photo 3 : : McCarty pottery filled with sea shells from North Carolina.

Photo 4 : : I already had the cornflower blue napkins as well as both ribbons in coordinating colors that I used to tie on the name placards.

You can do this too!  It is fun to "shop" your own house.  Make it a game--look around and move sentimental pieces that have been hiding on a shelf to the forefront.  You will enjoy looking at your belongings in a new light and feel like you bought something new.

July 13, 2012

Recipe: Pretty Lady Sangria


It's summer and we are all suffering through the heat together.  Other than total immersion in a pool, I find it difficult to find many outdoor activities than I can enjoy when the temperature and heat index rise above 100 degrees.  Such was the case on the Fourth of July, when our friends planned an Independence Day Barbecue.  I knew I needed something ice cold that included water.

As an alternative to other alcoholic beverages, I decided to mix up my own batch of Sangria.  As I researched various methods for combining this fruity summer drink, I knew I wanted a light version.  Some recipes call for rum or other liquor added--no way on such a hot day.  In my quest to incorporate strawberries, this is the concoction I created:

Ingredients: 

2 C. of white wine (I used Sauvignon Blanc)
1 C. sparkling lemon water
1 C. sparkling lemonade
1 C. chopped strawberries
1 C. chopped apple
1 lemon, thinly sliced

Step 1: Chop/slice the fruit

Step 2: Measure and pour all three liquids into a pitcher and add the fruit

Step 3: Place in the refrigerator and let the flavors marinate for four to five hours

And yes, I decided to name my creation: Pretty Lady Sangria--I felt like it deserved a classy title.

Enjoy with care!

Notes:
The lemonade has some sugar in it, which helps neutralize the tangy lemon.
The sparkling water and lemonade give the drink a fizzy lift (note how the fruit rose to the top in the photo below). If you don't care for bubbles, use still water and regular lemonade.



July 12, 2012

Thankful in Threes

Last Thursday was the first "Thankful in Threes" post.

Here are some scenes from the week that have made me stop, pause, reflect and be thankful.

One: Summer foliage/the beautiful yards of Capitol Hill
I love that I am privy to such great eye candy on all of my walks.  It is refreshing to see bursts of color all over the neighborhood.


Two: Library Books!

"We may sit in our library and yet be in all quarters of the earth."
John Lubbock

Despite my bad habit of reading three or more books at once, I absolutely love the ability to have access to thousands of wonderful books.  What are you reading this summer that you love?

Three: My gourmet dinner on Monday night.

I had some dear friends (thank you David and Zach!) go to Venice, LA last weekend and catch (literally) hundreds of pounds of fish.  They cooked a large portion of it (along with salad, to-die-for mashed potatoes, broccoli and ice cream cake.  

Below is my fresh tuna.  I also enjoyed wahoo.  It was heavenly, y'all!


What "little things" were you thankful for this week?

July 11, 2012

Annie Sloan Duck Egg Blue Desk Top

Every once in a while, I get the urge to paint! Since I've already painted most of the furniture in my living room, I began eyeing the pieces in my bedroom.  

When I moved to DC in 2008, I got all new furniture for my bedroom.  Or rather, it was new to me, but old in years...which meant it needed some tender-lovin'-care.  Unfortunately this was before my epiphany with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint, so I used latex paint.  I sanded.  I primed.  I sweated. While there is nothing wrong with latex, I now realize that I could have saved myself a whole lot of work by using Chalk Paint.

I decided it was time to update my desk color and I've been eager to try Annie's Duck Egg Blue, which happens to perfectly coordinate with my rug and other room fabrics.

BEFORE:
The original desk top was Benjamin Moore's Marshmallow.  It's a lovely shade, but I was ready for color!

I removed the desk skirt, which also afforded me the perfect opportunity to do a thorough cleaning out of any and all old items inside.  You can see the top is just a basic, smooth latex paint.
 Chalk Paint PLUS+:
(more reasons to use ASCP)

*I did not have to sand or prime the top
                             
*I could complete this entire project without moving my furniture to another room or outside.  Chalk Paint has very low VOCs and basically no scent.  I cannot quantify the convenience of this in the city!

I used two coats of Duck Egg Blue followed by two coats of Annie's Clear Wax.  Since it's a high traffic area, I wanted to really seal the paint with extra care.  I let it dry for 24 hours.
Questions on waxing?  Take a look at my Waxing tutorial.

AFTER:
A subtle change, but just enough to tie the desk together with the rest of the bedroom.
This was the perfect weekend project.  I started on a Friday afternoon and had all my belongings back in order on Sunday.  It would have been even faster, but I let the wax "cure" for a day.

July 10, 2012

Recipe: Mini Strawberry Pies



When I close my eyes and imagine "summer," visions of picnics, watermelon and pie dance in my head.  I recall the family reunions of my childhood, crickets humming as the hot sun finally began to sink and a cool night's breeze making its way through the trees.  I remember the tiredness that would overcome me after a full day of swimming, riding my bike and jumping on the trampoline.  Good times.

In order to re-create a little summer magic, I decided to make miniature strawberry pies--imagine a slice of your favorite summer dessert in a single serving portable portion!

Ingredients:

2 1/4 c. all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1 stick cold, unsalted butter
2 eggs (1 yolk, 1 whole egg)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 pound strawberries, cut into small pieces
1 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
3 T. strawberry jam

July 09, 2012

My DC Life: Four Years

For the past few years, the month of July has caused me to pause, reflect and evaluate my current state. On July 1, 2008, I moved to DC fresh out of college, eager to take the city by storm and soak up all the amenities it had to offer.  Little did I know that the people I would meet, live with, work with and interact with daily would help me grow, challenge me, encourage me, laugh and cry with me and have a huge impact of my life.

As my mom and I began the 1,000 mile drive from Mississippi to DC, I remember staring out the window and wondering if "this" would all work out for my best.   How could I have known I would land my dream job, fall in love (with a guy from Mississippi) and have a strong community of friends around me.  I didn't know, but I had faith.  I believe that God has guided my path over these past few years (as he has my entire life).

This July marks four years of my life in DC--the same amount of time I spent in high school and in college. I don't have a paper degree to show for my life experiences, but I do have many memories and a growing collection of stories.  As I was flipping through the five thousand photos I've snapped in the last four years I found myself laughing out loud, tearing up and recalling so, so many good times.  A few posted photos wouldn't do the last four years justice, so Kern offered to help me make a mini movie.

To all those who have played a crucial role in being my friend, loving me, encouraging me and being there for me: thank you.  Your steadiness has been such a blessing in my life.

To my parents and other family members: thank you for assuring me that I am where I need to be, despite feeling too far away most of the time.

To Kern: thank you for giving so selflessly of your time and energy to help me on all of my crazy projects. Thank you for eating my vegetarian cooking and telling me you love it.  Thank you for helping me learn not to panic when my car breaks down or I lock myself out of the house.  Thank you for being the best friend I could ask for in this city.