What I’m Reading

antipasta lunch

Warmer weather is finally in our sights, and the open-toed shoes I keep reaching for each morning are reminding me that my feet are in desperate need of some attention.  I love Lauren Conrad’s list of mani/pedi pairings.

How Clutter Affects Productivity.  Ugh, I have so much clutter.  And this article is enabling that.

Chanel No. 5 perfume costs $38/ounce, while Hewlett Packard printer ink will set you back up to $75 for that same small amount.  This is the story of how a teenager figured out that switching the font to Garamond on printed papers can save organizations thousands of dollars.  I love smart people.  At least a couple of designers, however, say it isn’t going to work.  Haters gonna hate.

I read about the 10/10/10 Rule in the January issue of Real Simple, and while I haven’t tried it yet, I think it’s promising.  I’ll keep you posted.

Tracy made vanilla almond milk and I’m temped to give it a go.  I’ve had two recent kitchen fails though, which always shake up my confidence.

And for fun, Can You Tell These YA Books Apart?

Listing: Cookbooks

5 Cookbooks

I’m playing around with Photoshop Elements this week, dear readers.  I do not love the way this little collage works, but I decided to call it done in the name of it can only go up from here, no?  These are seven cookbooks I wish I owned.  And now that I’ve completed 1 month of a 3 month shopping hiatus, creating a little space for them here will have to fill any void I feel on my bookshelves.

Clockwise from top left:

Forever Summer//Canal House Cooking Vol. No. 8//Dinner: The Playbook//Very Fond of Food//The Lemonade Cookbook//Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home//Aida Mollencamp’s Keys to the Kitchen

 

 

 

 

Keepers

What I’m Reading – New England Edition

My husband and I are planning to sneak away to New England in the summer.  He’s never been north of New York, and I have yet to visit Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont.  We’re going on a road trip along the coast because I’m naive and think it will be cute and bond-y.  This will likely prove to be untrue less than half the way to wherever we go first, but I’m sticking to my guns.  We will drive through America and we will enjoy it!  (And we will need some serious playlists and podcasts to get us through.)

Where should we go, dear readers?  What should we see and do?  And what should we listen to so we don’t kill each other?

beachy

I’ve been doing some research and this is what I’ve found:

First, and most importantly, I now have the perfect excuse to buy the (North) American edition of 36 Hours, which I’ve been ogling at Anthropologie more and more with each visit.

And the NY Mag travel guides are a nice complement to that tome.  I’ve been scouring the guides to Kennebunkport, Camden, Martha’s Vineyard, and Newport.

Muffy is certainly an expert on all things New England, and I like her list of shopping destinations.  Hoping to cross a couple of those off our list.  I’m also brushing up on my working knowledge of The Preppy Handbook.

And finally, BuzzFeed.  While I usually spend my time on BuzzFeed figuring out which emoji I am (the winky/kissy face), and which Mean Girls character best represents me (the girl who looks like Danny DeVito, what?), this list of New England towns I need to see is proving super helpful as I work to fill in some stops on our journey.

How Do You Know? [sweet tea vodka lemonade cupcakes]

And no, we will not discuss CV(D)’s and my (second) favorite part of Enchanted, but I will gladly begin with a clip anyway.

We will, instead, discuss how I never have any idea how much I like my cupcakes.

sweet tea vodka lemonade cupcakes

I make them, and then I just don’t know.  I’ve made so many.

This is not complaining.  I love them and I’m happy to eat them.  In fact, I just sliced the top off a leftover one and had it for dessert.  I just think they all start to blend together over time.  I judge the success of my cupcakes based on my co-workers’ reactions, and should they be a reliable indication, these are over the top winners.

sweet tea vodka lemonade

I saw these sweet tea vodka lemonade cupcakes in the summer, and immediately penned an email to Ali telling her I found the cupcakes of her dreams.  You see, this little cocktail is what gets Ali through the summer.  She drinks it as soon as the sun starts to shine bright on her face, and she doesn’t stop till she’s packed up her open-toed shoes in favor of Uggs.  And then I forgot that I sent that email because whole months went by, and work started up again, and blah blah, we’re all too busy, blah blah, until BAM.  Ali reminded me her birthday was coming, and a certain sweet treat had been on the menu since the summer.

sweet tea vodka lemonade

To make 30 sweet tea vodka lemonade cupcakes, you will need:

For the cupcakes:

  • 3 C cake flour
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 16 T (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 C sugar
  • 5 eggs, at room temperature
  • 3/4 C buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 tsp. powdered iced tea drink mix (I cheated and used powdered lemonade mix)
  • 1/2 C sweet tea vodka, plus more for brushing tops

For the frosting:

  • 26 T (3 sticks, plus 2 T) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 4 C confectioners sugar
  • 2 tsp. powdered lemonade mix
  • 1 T vanilla extract
  • 1 T lemon juice

To make the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line 30 muffin tins with paper liners.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light yellow and creamy, about 2-3 minutes.

Slowly add the sugar to the butter, stopping to scrape the bowl down as necessary. Add eggs one at a time, and scrape down the sides after each addition.

In a liquid measuring cup, combine buttermilk, vanilla, iced tea powder, and vodka and stir until well combined. With the mixer on low speed, alternate adding the dry and wet ingredients, beginning and ending with the dry and mixing until just incorporated.

Divide the batter among the paper liners, filling each about 2/3 of the way full. Bake for 18-22 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Once baked, allow them to cool in the pans for 5 minutes and then use a fork to poke holes in the top of each cupcake. Brush some sweet tea vodka on the top of each cupcake, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

To make the icing, beat butter in bowl of mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light yellow and creamy, about 2-3 minutes.  Slowly add sugar, a little big at a time, until incorporated.  You’ll need to scrape down the bowl, just like you did when you made the cupcakes.  Beat in lemonade mix, vanilla, and lemon juice, and frost cupcakes with a small spatula, or piping bag.

What I (Still) Don’t Do

milkshake

It seems only fitting that I follow up the List of Awesome with another (hopefully) annual Glass of Milk tradition.  The What I Don’t Do list.  If the former list is my ode to the little things that make life grand, this latter list is an ode to letting go of perfect ideals and cutting myself some slack.  Cathy made one of her own recently, and I am forever inspired by the words Whitney writes.

This year’s list is on a much smaller scale than last year’s, but it’s valid in its own right.  These smaller choices make have made just as big an impact in my life.

jeni's ice cream

I don’t say no to ice cream.  Ever.

I don’t keep my house clutter-free.  This year I am attacking the clutter I’ve amassed over the past 10 years of real adult life with fervor and passion, but it’s also not realistic for me to expect that my house will ever be free from clutter.  It just will not.  I love stuff too much.  Or maybe I just amass it too fast.

I don’t buy books.  At least not until I’ve read them first.  I used to be one of those people who needed to own a library’s worth of books, and I had a weird thing about loving on the actual copy I read.  Until I filled a huge Expedit (RIP) with books, couldn’t stop buying new ones, and couldn’t keep up with reading the ones I already had.  Moving into a house with one built in bookshelf helped me pare down and realize that if I hadn’t read a book since I purchased it in high school, I may not read it ever.  On the other hand when I read something I absolutely love, something I know I’ll want to come back to again and again (like this book), I’ll buy it after I’ve read it and find a home for it on my shelves.  But that happens rarely.  Rarely do I read something I have to own and keep forever.  Which helps explain my undying love of libraries.

I don’t make my own coffee.  It would save me money.  It would take less time than running to (my favorite) Starbucks that is a couple minutes past my place of employment.  But they know me, and I like them, and I go almost every day.  I love it, it’s my thing, let it go.

I don’t DVR.  We don’t have it, so not only do I not do it, I can’t do it.  We used to have a hand-me-down TiVo, but it wasn’t HD-compatable, so as we upgraded our TVs, we dropped it along the way.  This little change was amazing in that it greatly reduced the amount of stress in my life.  I used to TiVo every episode of The Barefoot Contessa, and every TCM movie I was aching to see, and then feel like getting through everything on TiVo was a giant to-do list item.  I’m pretty sure watching TV is not supposed to be a stressful part of life, and when I realized TiVo was the boss of me, I quickly readjusted.  We do have Netflix, which gives me no shortage of shows to binge-watch, so it’s not like I’m trying to be noble here, nor am I deprived.

I don’t keep up with the news.  This one does pain me a little, because I would love to be intelligent in this way, and hold my own in conversations surrounding current events.  But reading The Skimm every weekday morning has done wonders for my ability to at least tell the truth when someone asks if I’ve heard about the situation in insert war-torn country here.  I have heard of it, I Skimm’d it.

Let’s hear it, dear readers.  What don’t you do?

We Always Buy Broccoli [broccoli, cheddar and wild rice casserole]

One of my favorite marriage stories happened this year when I sent my husband off to the store with a list a mile long. I don’t remember why I couldn’t go, and it may well have been because I didn’t feel like it, thank you very much.  He ended up at the check out line, and the cashier said, “Wow, you have a lot of groceries.”

He told her, that yes, indeed this was much more than he usually buys and it took him an hour to find everything, but, “If my wife had been shopping, it would have taken her about 10 minutes.”

Which is a bit of an understatement, yet there is some truth there.  Our grocery list holds a fairly stagnant lineup of foods.  Though we rarely eat the same meals from week to week, the ingredients that go into our dinners are similar.  There’s always some pasta, chicken, rice or quinoa, and broccoli.

broccoli rice casserole

There is always broccoli.

I wasn’t one of those children who despised broccoli, in fact, I’ve never been able to get enough of the stuff.  As such, it always finds its way into the cart on my weekly trips to the store, not because I meticulously plan the vegetables that will accompany our meals, but because I like it, plain and simple.  I can’t think of a week in my life that’s passed where I haven’t eaten broccoli at least twice.  And I’ve never tired of it.  Steamed, with salt, plus butter when I feel extra-indulgent.  And a squeeze of lemon like Grandma Glass of Milk taught me.

Thus, when Deb put her spin on broccoli, cheddar, and rice casserole, I wasted no time in getting it on the table.  Holy dream flavors, Batman.  This is absolutely amazing, and the way the flavors work together feels like someone really thought about the way the ingredients would meld, just like The New York Times said it would.

broccoli rice casserole 2

To make broccoli, cheddar, and wild rice casserole, you will need:

  • 3 T butter, divided
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • salt
  • 2/3 C uncooked wild rice (or, like I had, a wild rice blend)
  • 1 pound broccoli
  • 1 garlic clove, minced (or, garlic powder, like I used in the ultimate act of laziness)
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • 2 T flour
  • 1 C whole milk (yes, you can use lowfat, but I’d hesitate before choosing skim)
  • 2/3 C low-sodium chicken broth (veggie is fine too)
  • 8 oz. grated cheddar cheese, divided
  • freshly ground black pepper

Heat 1 T butter in skillet till melted.  Add onion, and saute till translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add rice, and cook 1 minute.  Add 1 2/3 C water (or other amount depending on package directions).  Bring mixture to simmer, then reduce heat, and cook on low, covered, for 50 minutes.

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Peel broccoli stems, and cut into small, one-inch chunks.  Cut florets into pieces about the same size.  Cook in boiling, salted water, for 2-3 minutes, then drain.

Melt remaining 2T butter in saucepan.  Add garlic and cayenne, and let cook for 1 minute.  Add flour, and whisk till combined, cooking 1 to 2 more minutes.  Add milk and broth, whisking constantly.  Let mixture come to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, continuing to stir, till mixture thickens.  Depending on the milk you used, this will take between 5-10 minutes.  The lower your milk is in fat, the longer it will take, and the thinner the sauce will be, no matter how much you stir or cook.  Remove pan from heat and stir in 1/3 of cheese.  Season with salt and pepper.

Place broccoli in bottom of oven-proof skillet, and top with sauce.  Sprinkle remaining cheese on top of casserole and bake for 10-15 minutes, until sauce is bubbling, and cheese is fully melted.  Crank the oven up to broil and give the casserole another 2-3 minutes to crisp it all up.