Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Christmas Up North

We headed up to Minnesconsin on December 22nd for a quick trip for the holidays. We did Christmas with my immediate family on the 23rd and it was a lot of fun to see the niece and nephew open their gifts. Each couple made some appetizers and we enjoyed sangria that we kept nice and cool outside the backdoor. Christmas Eve was the traditional dinner with my extended side of the family and I got a nice photo of the oldest and youngest members of the family, so sweet.

We then spent the next couple of days with Austin's family and I got to watch my other nephew tear into his gifts. We also had time to visit while sipping coffee/tea and my sister-in-law and I sneaked out for a fun girls' lunch with a friend (and now my SiL's coworker!).

It was a wonderful visit but Stinky was the only one who wasn't pleased. We got lots of sass when we returned and he still is quite clingy. It must be difficult to be a cat but at least he gets to spend New Year's Eve with us.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2013

I'm hardly a "food blogger" but rather a person who sometimes blogs about food. Nonetheless, I was able to join in on this very cool, nationwide cookie swap that also benefited a children's cancer organization. I sent out three packages of cookies and in return, received three different packages of cookies that included apple snickerdoodles, Nutella chocolate chip, and white chocolate dipped gingersnaps. All were so tasty and I also have this thing about getting real mail and packages.

For my contribution, I made chewy gingersnaps. They might not be the cutest little cookies but they are so delicious. Here is the recipe for about five dozen. You can also swap around the spices to your liking though I wouldn't skimp on the cinnamon. I've used some leftover pumpkin pie spice mix before when I was out of nutmeg and that worked.

Chewy Gingersnaps


1.5 cups butter, softened

2 cups sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup molasses

4.5 cups all purpose flour

3 t baking soda

2 t ground cinnamon

1 t ground ginger

1 t ground cloves

1/2 t salt

1/2 t ground nutmeg

additional sugar


In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add the eggs, one after the other, beating well after each addition. Beat in molasses. Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, salt, and nutmeg; gradually add to the creamed mixture. Refrigerate one hour or until dough is easy to handle.

Roll into 1 inch balls; roll in sugar. Place 2 inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake at 350 for 8-12 minutes or until puffy and lightly browned. Let cool one minute before moving to wire racks.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

For the record: Thanksgiving Menu

Yep, it's taken me until almost halfway through December to post this but I wanted to share our tried-and-true Thanksgiving menu items.

Brined Turkey Breast: We haven't hosted enough people to do a whole bird but brining the breast works just fine. This is the juiciest, most succulent bird recipe, hands down. If you know Austin, you know that he's got it down to a science and lots of research has gone into this process. If you're a meatatarian, you absolutely have to give this a try.

Creamy Mashed Potatoes: These are so decadent, they really should be eaten once a year. They include cream cheese, sour cream, butter, and sharp cheddar. American's dairyland in one dish!

Green Beans with Toasted Hazelnut-Lemon Butter: If you need something lighter after those potatoes, these beans will do the trick. We used haricots verts for a little more elegant touch. This is a great side dish that can be used for many occasions.

Blackberry Cobbler: Instead of the traditional pumpkin pie, Austin couldn't resist making this dessert. We use this as a baseline recipe but add some Amaretto to make it taste (almost) exactly like the legendary blackberry cobbler from The Salt Lick and of course we serve it with vanilla ice cream.

¡Buen provecho!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Friday, November 8, 2013

Autumn + Art

When I was asked which department from which I'd prefer a new faculty mentor, I immediately said art. Yep, when settling into a new community, it's great to get to know the artists and the perfect opportunity arose with a studio tour last weekend. I didn't feel particularly keen to spend the day out and about but in the end, we made it to only three studios because it was all about quality over quantity. Below are some photos I snapped at my mentor, Kristina's studio. Her husband, Charles, is a metalworker and you can see the wonderful red door of his studio.

Austin loved seeing all the tools for Kristina's glassblowing and we were amazed the delicate and complex neurons that she had made. I was afraid to even breathe near them. We also had a blast meeting another couple who lived very close to us and had university connections. We ended up sipping wine and their home-brewed beer and I bought a painting of a cricket that will live in my office. What a perfect day.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Breaking Bad Methcakes

We hosted a little Breakin Bad watching party on Friday night and I wanted to make cupcakes for dessert. Inspired by a Martha Stewart recipe for Broken Glass Cupcakes, I set to work.

I should have read the comments from the recipe first. My attempt at "meth" resulted in a blue substance the texture of a fruit roll=up. Austin tried again and got the granulated substance seen above. At our next viewing party, I'm definitely following the advice of Dr. B and doing some kind of granita beverage!

I chose not to use Martha's recipe but instead, adapted this one for a knock-off of Starbuck's vanilla bean cupcakes. The cupcakes themselves here delicious but the buttercream frosting was just too cloying for my taste. Instead of topping them with the fake meth, we sprinkled on Mrs. Kelly's lavendar rose sugar with excellent results. Next time, I'd go with my gut and do a cream cheese frosting but the cupcake recipe is a keeper.

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes


Makes 12 cupcakes

Vanilla Cupcakes:

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature 2/3 cup granulated white sugar 3 large eggs 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/4 cup milk


Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a muffin tin with 12 paper liners. Set pan aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides and beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. With the mixer on low speed, alternately sift in the flour mixture and milk, in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Evenly fill the muffin cups with the batter and bake for about 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in pan 5 minutes. Transfer cupcakes to a wire rack and allow to cool completely. Prepare frosting.

Vanilla-Bean Buttercream Frosting (make more than needed)

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened 1/2 vanilla bean, scraped 1/8 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 1/4 cup milk 3 cups confectioners' sugar

Cream the butter in a medium-size bowl until very smooth. Stir in the vanilla-bean seeds until they're evenly distributed. Add the salt, vanilla and milk, and stir until combined. Sift the sugar over the butter mixture and stir the mixture until it's perfectly smooth. If the frosting is too loose, add a few more tablespoons of confectioners' sugar, and stir until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap until you're ready to use; mix well just before using. Decorate cooled cupcakes as desired.

Source: Chef Mommy

Monday, October 21, 2013

Revisiting the Mac and Cheese

It was a perfect fall weekend and we decided some mac and cheese was in order. It really hit the spot and we updated our recipe a bit.

We previously made the recipe with the classic elbow pasta but got cavatappi this time. We always make our pasta by weight so it was surprising when the cavatappi didn't actually expand very much. At all. We ended up using all 16 ounces to get the same volume as the elbows got to from eight ounces. Huh. So the trick is to make enough pasta to fill up a casserole dish. We also chose not to do green chilis like before but I did jalapeño and Austin did bleu cheese. The baseline recipe can be changed easily so you can throw in whatever you have on hand.

16 oz. cavatappi pasta/8 oz. elbow macaroni, 2 c. 2% milk, 4 T butter, 4 T flour, 2 c. shredded cheese, salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste, jalapeños/bleu cheese to taste (not together though!), 3/4 c. panko breadcrumbs 1/2 c. P:armesan cheese, 2 T butter, melted

1. Boil the pasta until al dente. 2. Melt butter in your pasta pot while the pasta drains; add flour, salt and pepper and whisk together until well blended. 3. Pour in milk gradually, stirring constantly until thickened. 4. Gradually add the cheese, stirring until incorporated. 5. Add dash of cayenne to taste. 6. Combine pasta, mix-ins, and cheese mixture; pour into greased casserole dish. 7. Combine panko, Parmesan, and melted butter. Top macaroni mixture with the crumbs. 8. Bake at 375º about 25 minutes until bubbling and top is golden brown.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Good Things

Yep, I'm stealing Martha's line, but it works. It's beginning to look like fall around here and that makes me happy. I often walk past this little grove of sumac on my way to my office and I'm watching the color transformation. (Side note: I bought ground sumac berries and need a recipe to use them in. Any tried and true recipes out there?)

Rosie felt the need to check in when we were putting up fall decorations and had to approve the wreath. She has been lying on our front step regularly now, often meowing through the door if she hears us. So far Stinky hasn't noticed her there though they have had "words" through the back window screen. Watching Rosie hide under neighbors' cars and pop up out of nowhere makes me feel better about making Stinky an indoor-only cat, even if he doesn't realize it's for his own good.

The front stoop is decorated though we'll be changing it up just a bit for Halloween, then it will go back to this look for Thanksgiving. Our weather this weekend hasn't been terribly autumnal but the week will start off in the 70s then a front will bring some rain and highs in the 60s--I can't wait. We're also hoping for a calmer work week; from government shutdowns affecting Austin's work to a serious student issue impacting mine, the past week was a doozy. Fortunately we had an awesome weekend together which we kicked off with a faculty dinner party attended by really interesting folks (seriously, a guy who worked on a National Geographic boat for 15 years, a prof who regularly takes students to the Galapagos Islands, an engineer who designs headliners for vehicles, and more). There was also movie night, a brunch of pumpkin spice pancakes, and some football watching. Good things.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Shakespeare & Co.

While I was at the conference in Lexington, I stumbled upon Shakespeare and Co. and had to go in, both because I have been to the real thing in Paris and it had such an appealing exterior. I had a glass of wine and an appetizer then returned the next day to have brunch with colleagues. Marie-Antoinette joined us for tea.

I couldn't resist ordering a Meditarrean-style meal. My brunch was composed of grilled halloumi cheese, labneh (similar to Greek yogurt), halawa (a sweet nougat), and cheddar saj (a flatbread). It was delicious!

The ambiance was lovely and I got to know to colleagues better while at the conference.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Book Group

Once again, it's been awhile since I posted given the busy-ness level. Last weekend, I was at a conference in Lexington which was great but time consuming. Nonetheless, we made time to host the first book group and it was lovely. It was the first official entertaining we did in our home which made it even more exciting.

I made a tortilla española and Austin made his amazing Boursin crositinis. Other folks brought sangria, patatas aïoli (I've already scored the recipe for that one!), and a spicy cheese dip and chips. Of the six of us, only one didn't get into the book, The Shadow of the Wind. Several people mentioned that it wasn't the sort of book they'd normal select but they really enjoyed it. I had a hard time with discussion because I had also read the prequel and started on the sequel so it was kind of a blur for me. Our next pic is World War Z.

Stinky bolted as soon as the doorbell rang but amazingly, emerged to take a look at things later on. Our Croat friend spoke to him in Croatian, assuring us cats love Croatian, and sure enough Stinky listened without making a beeline to safety.

I'm looking forward to our next book group meeting and a few other social events that are starting to make their way onto our calendar. Finally, I know it's still two months away, but I am really excited for my parents to visit for Thanksgiving.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Farmers Market

We checked out one of the three farmers markets today and it was quite nice. It also helped that the weather was perfect. Can't wait to explore the other two!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Still Settling In

It's been another busy week that flew by in a blur. Over the long weekend, though, Austin finished some wiring on the fireplace for an eventual TV to be hung above it. Once he cleared his tools away, I unpacked a few boxes of random shelf-y things. They aren't arranged yet but it was nice to feather the nest and get my cookbooks back out.

It will be another quiet weekend here, especially since I'll be gone next Thursday-Saturday at a conference. This evening, I'll also be cooking a few recipes to share on the fantastic food blog The Bitten Word for their cover-to-cover magazine cooking project. Now back to the lesson planning and work so I can have a few things done before some leisurely cooking.

Friday, August 30, 2013

First Week of Classes

This has been a long week but not a bad one. Due to very last-minute circumstances, I ended up covering some classes at a satellite campus on Monday and Wednesday. My own classes are Tuesdays and Thursdays. Gearing up for my own classes, trying to write syllabi and prepare for someone else, and a long commute added a bit more to the mix. I'm finally catching my breath today when I have no classes, getting to unanswered emails, setting up online course management software, and doing other administrative work. I will need to build research and publishing into my schedule soon too, eek.

A few things have progressed on the house. We put up blinds in my office, the dining room, and living room. Two new houses are going up right by ours so the blinds were essential with lots of workers coming and going. The house next to us is really, really close. You can catch all the exciting construction action here if you're into that sort of thing (and I know at least Austin's dad is!).

We also have some towel bars and toilet paper holders up, yay. I believe mirrors and the kitchen backsplash are in the works. I haven't had a chance to take any photos due to the busy-ness of our week (which also results in a less-than-photo-ready home environment) so here is a picture of the nice zinnias growing in our front yard.

On thing we did find time for was organizing our book group. Five of us met at the bookstore and scooped up some fantastic titles. It was incredibly difficult to choose the first book and I am hoping we can get to some of the others at a later date. We ended up selecting one of my all-time favorite books, The Shadow of the Wind. It is set in Barcelona and I read it in its original Spanish while we were honeymooning in Spain. It turned out another member of the group and I share Barcelona as our spiritual hometown. We thought some compelling and readable fiction would be a good starting point as we all get to know each other. It's also a great excuse to have tapas and sangria at the first meeting which Austin and I are looking forward to hosting.

P.S. Feel free to comment if you've read any of the above titles.

Friday, August 23, 2013


I haven't been blogging because I've been in non-stop meetings and getting ready for the semester, I got sick (just a cold), and Austin's car... also got sick. I plan on bouncing back soon so look for less whining coming up.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Socializing on Friday

One of the things that made my time in IL (and TX and EC...) so wonderful was the group of people Austin and I hung out with. A few folks were great about organizing social events and getting to know new faculty from many different departments and programs. I loved being invited to join a book group and wouldn't necessarily have thought to start one on my own. In my new gig, however, I decided to make an effort to find new friends and the best time to do so is at the beginning of the year when lots of people are new and don't know many others in the area. We newbies spent all day on Friday at a new faculty orientation session and I wondered who among the group might also be interested in some social events. We had more time to get to know each other at the new faculty picnic at the President's house and Austin was a trusty sidekick at the event. I know I made at least one friend in Big Red.

Later, I recruited for a book group. I'm pleased that a number of people said they were interested and I'm hoping we'll be able to actually pull it off. The plan is to meet next week at the bookstore to select our first title and then give people time to read. I'm excited to see what we choose since it seems the group is fairly diverse, demographically speaking, and I love the potential for fascinating discussion with everyone.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Living Room Furniture

Here is a preview of what we ordered. There will also be a more neutraly beige chair and a rug at some point.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Settling In

I got home from Mexico on Saturday night. The bottom line is that I had one of the best classes ever and I really enjoyed myself but being a little under the weather and still covered in bites made me all the more ready to chill in my new home. And I LOVE this house.

It's taking a little longer than I anticipated to get fully unpacked and organized. I finished grading on Tuesday and since then, have had new responsibilities to address. The kitchen should be done today and it's been like Christmas to have the space, the fully-functional appliances, and to find things that have been in storage for over a year. I need to rice some potatoes! Bake some Madeleines! Make homemade ice cream!

There were a few things about having a new home that I hadn't expected. None of the bathrooms have mirrors, toilet paper holders, or towel bars. Our Amazon Prime account will come in very handy for the bathroom hardware and the builders will install the mirrors soon. We also need to purchase some furniture since we have an empty living room with the existing furniture upstairs in the "bonus room" aka Austin's entertainment center. I am really looking forward to furnishing the living room and then will just need the temperatures to drop so I can park myself in front of the fireplace with a good book.

Ultimately, the house is just perfect and will be our office, restaurant, movie theater, gym, coffee shop, and more. I'll post more photos when things actually get organized and the printer is no longer in the foyer.

Monday, July 29, 2013

About that cute little hotel...

It had bedbugs. Chinches. I was already starting to feel sick for unrelated reasons which resulted in a little more time in bed. Sue and I decided to have a very low-key day so instead of going out and seeing touristy things, we laid in bed working. I was propped up on my left arm for an hour or an hour and a half and when I got up, it was covered in red welts. Long story short, we got the night refunded but the (American) owner did not believe the bites were from bedbugs. I feel bad for whoever stays in that room next. So after packing up and trying to find a hotel room in San Miguel de Allende on a Saturday afternoon, Sue and I eventually ended up at lovely place high above the city on a hill. We eventually made our way back to Guanajuato where lots of sterilizing, cleaning, washing, and purging occurred. I still haven't felt great today so I went to the doctor to deal with my minor affliction and I got a little something for the rash too. You just walk into this lovely atrium, pay 250 pesos (20 USD), and someone sees you. I expect to be feeling 100% soon.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

For Hoy

Meanwhile, in Mexico...

While the closing was happening, I was traveling to San Miguel de Allende with my friend and colleague, Sue. We decided to stay at a cute, quiet inn where we could get some work done, lounge, and see the sites when we wanted. Here is our room (prior to the king being made into two twins).

This is the courtyard below our room, really tranquil and peaceful.

We have breakfast at the main house, a former bordello, and sat near a gorgeous fountain today.

Even the place settings were incredibly cute. We had fruit, yogurt, and tortillas filled with eggs, bean, and cheese. There was even a real electric tea kettle, sparing me from the dreaded coffee-flavored-tea. It was just lovely. I'm having a great time but I'm ready to get the last week of teaching done and head home to my little family and our new home.

Friday, July 26, 2013


We're officially mortgage-Americans again.

We have a house!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013