Though my one little word for 2014 is celebrate, if one is allowed a secret, second word, then mine is most certainly challenge.


I have never, not once, been one of those people who arbitrarily decides to tackle certain challenges for set periods of time…until now.  I have no idea what has come over me, I only know that something has, and so here we stand.  January-February was #60DaysofLetterWriting, March – June was a ban on shopping, and now for something new and unrelated.

 #Book A Day

I follow The Nerdy Book Club because I love what everyone over there has to say about kids and reading.  When I saw their Book-A-Day post, I knew I had found my next endeavor.  The premise is quite simple.  Read a book a day in the summer months.  Their rules are simple and straightforward because the point of this isn’t to read the most or read the best or read the smartest.  The point is to read.  The point is to get to that place where you’re turning pages without even thinking because you’re totally in the zone.  You know, that place where you forgot there was a day happening around you because you’re in your book.  I love that place.  I spend most of my summers in that place already, but this is a little push to do a little more.  Will I actually finish a book each day for my 63 days of summer?  Likely, no.  Will I pick some short books intentionally so that I up my total?  You betcha.  Like I said, the goal isn’t to read the best literature, it’s to read, period.  And I can’t wait.

romance is my day job.

I’ll let you know how I’m doing over here on a weekly basis, but you can always catch me on Instagram, too.


Is this a milennial thing?  The idea that one should have a life list on which to work over a set period of time?  A 30 before 30? or a 101 in 1001?  I have neither of those going right now, but both intrigue me.

olive oil drizzle

Having (somewhat successfully) finished the 60 Days of Letter Writing Challenge, I decided to tackle something new.  Something completely unrelated, unless you think back to my word of the year.  Celebrate.

The 60 Days of Letter Writing Challenge got me to celebrate the people in my life who I love.  It got me to thank those people who never get a thank you.  Those people are usually the most deserving anyway.

This idea is more about celebrating what I already have.  Celebrating what I don’t need?  Is that a thing?  I’ve seen similar ideas on several blogs recently (here’s one, and here’s another), and I’m jumping in, feet first.

I gave up shopping for 3 months.  Today is the last day of my self-imposed credit card freeze.


*Okay, actually, I caved last weekend because I had a completely unexpected hour and a half to kill in a town that wasn’t my own, and I found myself at the mall and called this thing done.  You can stop reading now if you think I’m a big phoney.*

Yeah, I needed to.  Not because I needed to spend less money but because I could spend less money.  Because someone with my amount of clothes should not be in want.

Why 3 months?  Don’t people like to challenge themselves to do things for just one month at a time?  Sure they do.  Or two, like in the case of my letter writing challenge.  But I don’t shop enough for a one month break to make sense.  At least I don’t think I do.  One month would mean putting off a couple of things, and rushing into buying them in a couple of weeks when the challenge is over.  This needed to happen for three months.  Long enough to make a difference.  Long enough for me to have some moments where I think I’ll die without a new _________, and long enough for me to realize I’m fine without it after all.  This, the most gorgeous navy bag of all time ever, remained a will-power tester for the duration of my little experiment.

Some (completely arbitrary) rules:

  • Nothing got placed in an online shopping cart for later – one of my old rules of shopping was that when I saw something I liked, but wasn’t sure if I needed, I would put it in my cart and see whether I remembered it was there in a day or two.  Things I remembered = things I needed, and they got purchased.  This seems a little ridiculous.  In light of my 3-month rule it also seems a little dangerous.  There are a lot of items that could sit around, waiting for me, no doubt calling my name once three months went by.  The last thing I want is a post-shopping-ban-spree that undoes what the past 3 months built up for me.
  • Starbucks purchases did not count – Yeah, maybe it’s a cop-out.  All I know is that last year, I gave up Starbucks for Lent.  It wasn’t the holiest of choices, especially considering I was doing it solely to break my addiction.  It was, however, the first time in a long time I kept my Lenten vow.  And it was the most miserable failure in that it taught me nothing in the long run.  I wanted Starbucks more than I thought possible by that last day.  I didn’t stop missing it.  I missed it more.  It’s safe to say that as long as I have to be at work by 7:30 each morning, you’ll find me in line for a green cup first.
  • iTunes and Kindle purchases totally counted – Which is maybe just my way to make up for the above.  But no renting movies, and no downloading new songs.  For the past three months, you could find me waiting for things to come out on Netflix, and praying that the radio started blasting the newest jams on the regular.  In fact, I’m still waiting for the DC Library to wise up and finally add Tsh’s new book to their collection because I’m dying to read it.
  • I could (and should) totally still buy things for other people – This could be a post in and of itself, but I’ve realized I have almost never regretted spending money on others.  I have almost never even thought twice about it.  I revel in giving gifts that mean something to those who receive them, especially those that don’t come on birthdays or other big occasions.  I love surprising people in this way.  Also I had a Bat Mitzvah, a bridal shower, and a baby shower to go to in this little three-month window, so there you go.

And that’s it.  During month one, the credit card bill was lower, but not dramatically so.  Month two was remarkable in that I did not know my husband and I were capable of spending so little.  And month three is currently full of hotel reservations for our big summer trip.  I shudder to think how much higher it would be had I been on my usual spending tear.

60 Days of Letter Writing

For the first two months of the year, I vowed to write a letter a day.  #60DaysofLetterWriting

I didn’t finish.

But it taught me a lot anyway.

letter writing

Over the 60 days I participated in the challenge, I sent a lot of thank you notes and birthday cards.  I sent a couple of gifts just because, and a couple of notes that told someone how much they meant to me.  I sent some letters to let people know I was thinking of them and I love them.  And I meant to send some postcards, but ended up being so much lazier than I planned during two getaways.  Isn’t that how it always goes?

letter to queen cupcake

Here is what I learned:

letter to allison and melissa

Thank you notes come so easily to me, and are one of my favorite things to send.  In 60 days I sent thank you notes to: people who bought me gifts, both big and small, people who hosted me, people who hosted events I attended, people at work who make my life easier, people who were doing more than their job for a short time, and people who did nice things for me.

letter to colleen
I learned that people get excited to get snail mail.  Actually I knew that.  But this challenge reminded me of it.  I sent birthday cards, Valentine’s Day cards, new baby cards, and you’re having a baby cards.  And with all that time at the card store, I found some cards that I sent to friends just because the card was perfect for them.  Have you ever done that dear readers?  If you cross off the part of a card that says “Happy Birthday,” (or, “Happy Insert Holiday Here”) then it’s just a regular card.  And anyone can get just a regular card anytime.

letter to lindsay

I learned that it’s always a good idea to let people know I love them.  Actually, I knew that too.  But again, the letter writing challenge brought this idea to the front of my mind.

thank you notes

I learned that keeping 8 different kinds of notecards in my desk drawer, and in a drawer at home is a good idea.

letter to ali

I learned that people get excited to get random gifts in the mail.  Random gifts can include a roll of washi tape because a friend told you she loves it but isn’t sure how to use it, or a fantasy football trophy because your best friend won her fantasy football league and she doesn’t know anything about football.

letter to scl

So mostly what I learned is that letters make people feel good.  In life, using manners is important.  Being kind and polite and respectful will take you far.  But taking the time, not just to tell people how wonderful they are in passing, but to write it down?  To acknowledge them in a moment of stress, or of celebration, or in any moment at all, and say that you see them?  That you know they matter?  That’s magic.

Touching Base

Is totes one of those overused phrases.  You know, like totes.

But I use it all the time.

When I connect with colleagues, long-lost friends, or strangers I pass on the street.

And here I am tonight, touching base with you, dear readers.

I made manicotti.  It was good.  It wasn’t great.  But it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be.  Note to self: try again soon.

My husband knocked me off my feet the other night when he suggested we go to dinner.  If you don’t know us, then you might not know that this doesn’t happen.  We’ve been together for almost 10 years.  We don’t date anymore.  That’s kid stuff.  We do other things.


We watch Downton Abbey.  I’m sure you’ve heard of it by now.  Bite the bullet.  Start watching.  The show is seriously serious.  And it will make you speak in a British accent for several hours afterward.

Oh and I went to a cooking class, which I’ve always wanted to do.  It was totes amazing.  We made bleu cheese shortbread, spinach salad with berries and citrus vinaigrette, mushroom risotto with filet, and chocolate fondue.  It was a meal for the ages.

And that’s the latest.  You’re completely caught up.  We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming tomorrow.

The Wine

In January, people talk about resolutions.  And this year, try as I might, I could not think of one that made me excited.  But this time two Januarys (Januaries?) ago, I made 12 resolutions, only some of which I kept.

One was wine tasting.  Which I had never done.  Two years, and one hemisphere later, I have.

This is Vina Santa Cruz, in Chile’s Colchagua Valley.  And now, when I find myself in an establishment that sells Chilean wine, you’ll find me running over to the bottles to see if the wine is made there.  So I can say I’ve been there.  Yep, I am not a savvy traveler.  I’m that girl.

But when the “ceilings” at the local restaurants look like this, can you blame me?  This place is stunningly beautiful, and served as a perfect escape from our busy week in the city. We arrived in time for a traditional Chilean lunch.

While waiting for our order, this little beauty showed up in front of me.

An empanada.  The South American version of a dumping/pierogi/samosa/what have you.  Fried, flaky, filled with oozy, bubbling cheese.  Hello, lover.

But enough about food.

I was completely engrossed while on our tour.  I am not known for my listening skills, but I was hanging on our guide’s every (thankfully English) word.  And when we got to taste little glasses of everything, I was in heaven.  We drank in the dark cellar, or you’d be seeing each and every sip I took, dear readers.  Most memorable were a rose that was barely sweet, and the smoothest red that was a mix of Carmenere, Malbec, and Cab Sav.

I left Santa Cruz completely inspired.  To taste more, and travel more, and of course, drink more wine.


We found a Chinese place that we love right here in our new neighborhood.

Wish I could say the same for pizza.  But I’ll take what I can get.

I got to play in the kitchen this week too.  I spent the week dreaming of pasta because I had cream and mushrooms and I knew that could be something good.   I googled “Giada pasta mushroom cream sauce” to no avail and decided to turn to Ree.  She’s your girl when you have more cream than you know what to do with.  I sort of followed this recipe, except without the chicken and the artichokes.  Pasta with garlic mushroom cream sauce.  Oh, I know the name doesn’t sound like much, and with my phone camera the dish doesn’t look like much either, but with enough Parmesan grated into the mix, this is a rather indulgent dinner.

I wish I could give you a recipe, but I couldn’t really tell you what I did.  I was on the phone with cv the whole time.

If you have some favorite ingredients, and you’ve always followed recipes when using them, branch out and try something new.  You probably know what to do on your own by now.



Whoa, remember back last December when I set all these food goals for myself and then did like, five of them?

***Side note, I never know how to handle the word “like” in print.  But I try and keep it real on this here blog and let’s face it, “like” is like, a totally huge part of my vocabulary.***

Five is almost half, so I probably shouldn’t dismay.  I could tell you I was saving the other seven for this year, but to be honest, I’m not.  They’re still tasks I’d love to tackle in the kitchen, but they were inspiring me last December, and they’re just not anymore.  I’m okay with it.

Funny, because as I sit and type this, there is homemade chicken stock simmering on the stove, and a loaf of bread I baked this morning sitting on my counter.  So while I left seven goals completely unattended, at least two have become a huge part of my cooking life.  Which goes right along with this year.  It was all about finding new routines.

Routines that no longer include grad school (though this photo is a complete and total lie, it’s from my undergrad ceremony.  I didn’t attend graduation #2),

which has given us the time to travel,

about which I could not be happier.  We’re also adjusting to the routines that come with being homeowners;

namely, how to keep things clean enough that company could come over anytime.  I had no idea this would impact how much I cooked and the kinds of foods I would turn to more often (hello, weeknight staples and IKEA meatballs).

But tonight, the kitchen table is clean again (except for my laptop and my Crate and Barrel catalog), which means partial order has been restored.  You already know about the bread of this morning and the chicken stock of right now, but do you know what happened in between?  I made a little something to take to our friends for New Year’s.

Whenever I’m making something to serve to others I always take time to think about the occasion, and try and match the food to it.  Casual get togethers with old friends call for Paula Deen-style home cookin’.  Ritzy New Year’s fetes call for something more decadent.  So let me introduce you to …


Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles.

That’s right.  I’ll be saying hello to 2011 with these little guys.

They made the cut on two of my top blogs‘ top post lists.  Which, as far as I’m concerned, is a sign from heaven above that it’s time to get my own butt in the kitchen to make them.  I made Taylor and Lindsay’s because I had all the ingredients I needed already.

I prepared the cookie dough holding my nose loftily in the air, dismissing these treats as something that would turn out far too sweet for my palate.  I figured they would be a hit at the New Year’s party, and even better, they wouldn’t hit my waistline at all.


It’s funny to look back on my morning self haughtily rolling these balls of goodness and comfort and joy (oooh, Christmas carols are still on the brain) now that I’ve eaten a couple and we’re not going out for a couple more hours yet.  Thankfully, the recipe makes about 4 dozen, so there are plenty for my friends and still plenty for me.

And “make truffles” was on the list.  So I’ll finish off the year the way it all started.  Go me.



Onions! [onion rings]

Dear Ina,

We’ve had some great times together over the last 10 years.  I first met you when I worked in a little flower shop while I was in high school.  You would like it.  We had orange tulips.  When the store was slow, I would flip through The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook and ogle the glossy, kosher-salted photos.

I copied your recipes down by hand because even with my employee discount, $35.00 was too steep for a cookbook, especially in my high school days.  But eventually I couldn’t take it any more and you came home with me.

We’ve been together ever since.  You taught me how to cook.  Before I knew you, I was famous for one-pot pasta dishes.  Now I’m frying things!  You showed me how to get the most out of my ingredients, and coax the flavor from a dish in ways I had never seen before.

And this is you at your finest.  It’s a simple recipe.  But it’s perfect and it’s not too hard, and I did not have to go out and buy a single ingredient for it.  I had flour.  I had cornmeal.  I had onions.  And I had buttermilk (thanks to you, it’s something I keep around now).  And they all came together.

You gave me these perfectly light, crunchy, salty, sweet onion rings.  And they passed the husband test (“I don’t really like onion rings but these are the best thing I have ever eaten”) with flying colors.  And I couldn’t stop picking at them either.

So thank you Ina.  Here’s to ten more years together.



Cornmeal Fried Onion Rings

Just to go on a bit more…

I can’t even tell you how much better these are than anything you’ve ever tried in a restaurant.  If you haven’t ever made them, now is the time.  Don’t be afraid to fry.  It’s worth it.

*adapted from Ina Garten

  • 2 onions, sliced into 1/2 inch rings
  • 2 C buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 C flour
  • 1/4 C cornmeal
  • kosher salt
  • pepper
  • 1 qt. flavorless oil (I used canola)

Pour the buttermilk in a bowl and stir in 1 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper.  Let the onions sit in the buttermilk for at least 15 minutes (and up to a couple of hours).

Heat the oil (use a candy thermometer) to 350 degrees in a Dutch oven.  Preheat the oven to 200.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour and cornmeal with 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper.  In batches, dredge the onions in the flour mixture.  Drop them in the oil a few at a time (get ready for, but don’t fear the sizzle) and fry for about two minutes, turning once, until they are golden brown in color.  You don’t want to crowd the onion rings in the oil.  You also want to watch the temperature of the oil, as it will drop once you add some new friends.  When they’re ready, fish them out with a spider or tongs and place them on a baking sheet.  As your batches finish up, keep adding to the baking sheet, so the finished rings stay warm in the oven (this works for up to 30 minutes).  Before serving, sprinkle liberally with salt.

Betcha can’t eat just one!

*a note…For lack of a better category, this one is going under “veggies.”  Make of it what you wish.

Epic Win [pizza dough]

To all my gentleman readers (do you exist?).  Let me share with you the BEST pick up line I have ever heard.

You see, I was on the treadmill this evening.  I finished my finals recently, and so the treadmill and I had not been spending as much time together as we used to.  It’s been slow-going getting back in the swing of things.  And tonight there was a man in the gym with me who was doing big scary things like lifting weights as I huffed and puffed on my little girly machines.  We finished up around the same time and he walked over and said, “You look like you run often.”

Stop.  Stop right there.  I look like I run often?  There is no way this statement is true.  Although I do run often, I eat enough that it doesn’t look like it.  But this man has just won me over, a mere three days after I jumped back on the treadmill.  Yeah, yeah, I know I’m married.  I had my wedding ring on and wiped the sweat off my forehead with that hand, and he kept talking.  So maybe he wasn’t trying to pick me up.  But guys, let me tell you.  That line is a winner.  I look like I run often!

Two great recipes came out of the kitchen on Sunday night.  I knew it was my civic duty to share the chocolate one first.  But what we ate for dinner before the chocolate sauce was pretty good as well.  I needed to preface this recipe with the treadmill story, because you need to know that when I eat like this, I have to do something to work it off.  I don’t want you thinking I just sit around on my bum and let the pizza and hot fudge work itself off.

That’s right, you heard me.  Pizza!  With homemade dough.  It doesn’t get better.  And it takes a little time, but it really couldn’t be easier.  Roll up your sleeves and join me if you want.

For the dough, you will need:

  • 1 1/4 C water between 100 and 110 degrees (I use the hottest tap water I can)
  • 2 packages of dry yeast (4 1/2 tsp for those who need equivalents)
  • 1 T honey
  • 3 T olive oil
  • 4 C all purpose flour, plus extra for kneading
  • 2 t Kosher salt
  • cornmeal, for dusting the baking sheet

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water.  Stir it aorund a couple of times to ensure it’s all mixed in.  Pour the water mixture, honey, olive oil, 3 C flour and the salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook (That’s right, the dough hook!  Challenge met!).

Mix on medium low speed, and while mixing, add the additional 1 C flour.  Continue mixing the dough for 10 minutes, sprinkling a little more flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking to the bowl.

*a note:  These 10 mixing minutes are great for getting little things done around the kitchen.  I cleaned out the fridge, took out he recycling, emptied the dishwasher, you get the picture.

After ten minutes, you should have a smooth dough.

Mine was a bit sticky still, so I kneaded a little more flour in by hand.

On a floured board, knead the dough about 10-12 more times by hand.

Place in a large bowl greased with oil (this will ensure the dough doesn’t stick when you need to take it back out).  Cover with a kitchen towel and let the dough rise for 30 minutes.


When I picked this dough up, I gasped.  There was no one home, but I didn’t mind.  It was pillow soft and absolutely heavenly.  At this exact moment, I knew dinner would be a hands-down winner.

Divide the dough into two parts.  If you are not going to use the dough right away, wrap each half tightly in Cling Wrap and zip it into a Ziploc bag.  Then put it in the freezer.  Even if you’re going to use it right away, you need to freeze it to stop the second rise.  Otherwise (and I’ve learned this the hard way), the dough will keep rising and pop out of the bag and spread all over the fridge.  Ew.

If you are ready to keep going, place one ball of dough on a baking sheet, cover with a damp towel, and let rest for 10 more minutes.  After it has rested, roll it out lightly, then stretch it with your fingers until it fits your baking sheet.  Though I am no professional pizza tosser, I like to pick it up to stretch it.

And there you have it.  Homemade pizza dough that is absolutely perfect for whatever toppings strike your fancy.

For us, it was tomato sauce, 8 oz. of sliced mozzerella, 4 oz. shredded Fontina and thyme.  I had visions of carmelized onions, wild mushrooms, and of course, this, from whence the dough recipe came.  But we kept it simple and loved the results.

Bake your pizza in a preheated (450) oven for about 15 minutes, or until the cheese bubbles.

Challenged: March Edition [chicken stock]

I did it!

Oh, and it was such an exciting way to spend the day.

I swear to you, I must have gotten up to check on the stock and skim off foamy scum or fat about every 4 minutes.

But mostly I just watched in amazement as something that looked like a chicken caracass taking a nice hot bath in boiling water…

turned into this deep, golden-hued stock.

I strained it into the LeCreuset, and stuck it in the fridge once it had cooled.

Then, I proceeded to FREAK OUT (!) when it turned to chicken stock JELL-O overnight.  Google has assured me that this means I got the marrow out of the bones while they simmered away, and that it should still cook up just fine.  Which is absolutely necessary because I have big plans for this stuff on Tuesday night.