Tuesday, January 12, 2016

2016's Resolutions Began back in December

On December 1, John and I decided to overhaul how we eat. No, we didn't go vegan, paleo, gluten-free, or onto a "prescribed" diet like Weight Watchers or Atkins. Instead, we started small, the hope being to put into practice good habits that would get us through the holidays able to make better choices.

The first thing I did was Pinterest, Buzzfeed, and Google the hell out of recipe ideas. A huge problem for us had been that we fell into a terrible meal plan rut. We'd buy the same things, cook things the same way, and rely on pasta 2-3 nights a week out of laziness. Because we were bored with our menus, we had also taken to eating out more often. So armed with a handful of new tips, tricks, and recipes to try, we set out on our journey.

We have basically eliminated pasta from our dinner menu. In fact, I can't remember the last time I cooked pasta at home (aside from a recent Blue Apron meal). I've replaced the need for a fast and fuss-free dinner (essential on nights we need to run out the door--whether to food shop or run errands) has been bean burgers. If I have enough forethought I'll even make sure to have a head of Boston lettuce on hand to use in place of bread buns. It may sound very light, but because of all the protein in the beans, it's very filling. We made the mistake of having 2 each the first time I made them (we were hungry and excited), we were both stuffed afterward.

I've been on a rampage trying new recipes, whether for mains, sides, or breakfasts. I've been dedicating time on the weekends to batch cooking meals for the week, making a stash of veggie burgers every week (switching up between white bean Italian flavors and Southwest black bean flavors; I'm scheming a Mediterranean chickpea version, too), and this weekend I tried out what will become a breakfast staple--mini quiches baked in a cupcake pan.

It's been really fun to feel passionate and excited about cooking again, and also to feel good about what we're eating. John and I have both lost a few pounds, and hope to continue to lighten up as the year progresses.

This week starts my renewed efforts at the gym as well. After a painful and disappointing finish to my half marathon, and thus my running season, I've been feeling rather insecure about setting goals for next season. But I think I want to hone in and go back to my training from 2013-2014. I will run more 5Ks and strive to improve those times and my consistency in speed, and I will nix another half this year in favor of making the Perfect 10 Miler my Big Distance Event. If I decide to revisit a half marathon in later years, I'll seek out a better location for my fitness level (I heard well-seasoned half- and full- marathoners exclaiming over the difficulty of the Trenton course).

This year I turn 30, and I'm working really hard to solidify my health and fitness so I can stay strong through the next decades. I think I can, I think I can, I think I can...

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Oh dear, I ghosted on here again...

It has been an absolutely crazy stretch of time this summer. As indicated by the tumbleweeds blowing around this site lately.

Since my last posting, our HVAC overhaul is completed (I have photos, I just need to get them on here). I was in a (minor! very minor!) car accident just before starting a week of staycation and got to drive a tricked-out loaner car for 3 weeks while my car was getting repaired, we have traveled to Atlanta, GA for the first time, we went to one of my best and oldest friend's weddings, and I am on week 2 of a new job!

I was fortunate enough to make a dream career move into one of the residential colleges on Princeton's campus. Okay...so how to explain what is, to me, a very weird concept...? I now work at Forbes College, which is not an academic institution by any means. It's in fact just a cluster of underclassmen dormitories at Princeton. Because Princeton can be large and intimidating and imposing to many freshmen (and all class years, actually!), the residential college system was set up to form little communities within the bigger orange bubble.

Students are sorted randomly into any one of six residential colleges on campus for their freshman and sophomore years. Once they are upperclassmen, then can seek other housing arrangements (in short). The residential colleges are home bases that combine students from all backgrounds, different areas of study, and different interests. One res college is not home for all of the music majors, for example. It's a bit of a weird concept, I know--just roll with it.

The story of my journey to Forbes intersects directly with my car accident, and so it kind of becomes a funny story. A friend pointed out to me just before I left for staycation that the secretary position in Forbes has opened up. It had long been a dream of mine to move into one of the res colleges, so having recently taken a resume and interview workshop that was offered by the U's HR department, I felt pretty good about my resume, so I tweaked it a bit, wrote a cover letter, and sent it off on my last day before a week off. That Sunday, John and I were in the accident when I was hit by a car that didn't yield at the sign in the circle. I'm very grateful that no humans were hurt, though both my car and the other driver's car both needed bodywork.

So that was Sunday. Monday I spent the majority of the day doing recon with insurance and all that good stuff. Liberty Mutual was fantastic and set me up with a loaner car, and even dropped it off for me and picked up my poor girl to take her to the shop. Tuesday, I checked my email and saw that I had an invitation to come in for an interview--which was a LIGHTNING FAST reaction, as I had applied like 2 business days before. I wasn't due for my loaner car until Wednesday afternoon, and was planning to go in for a Wednesday morning interview. So I got in my car, which seemed to run just fine, got me there and back safely. I got my loaner car, felt really good about my interview, and all was well.

Fast forward, I think, 6 days, and I got a call with The Offer. Again...just crazy fast! As you can imagine, I had next to no time to really process all of this, and of course it was also intense as far as notifying my then-current job! I didn't expect to hear anything about an interview until I was back from my time off, and so I had to email my office manager from vacation like, "Uhm, yeh, I just had a great interview and you'll probably get a call as a reference..." Total whirlwind.

And now I'm a Forbesian. It's been awesome, and feels both like I'm an idiot all the time because so much is new, to also feeling like I've been here forever. My former position required a lot of close collaboration with the res colleges, so I've known the staff for pretty much my whole time here. It's been a wonderful and comfortable transition.

And that is basically what life has brought us since my last post!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015


This will be brief because I mentally cannot get too deep into it yet. But I need to word vomit a bit.

We are on day 3 (not consecutive) of overhauling our HVAC system. Two Fridays ago we had a whole new furnace, air conditioner and compressor installed. Then, in order to address the fact that our air flow was never complete, the guys added some duct work in order to tie the upstairs into the circuit of airflow. So day 1 was the equipment install. Day 2 was adding the duct work. And today has been fraught with more construction--a small crew of contractors are here walling in the ridiculous 10-inch wide pipes that carry air throughout our home.

I'm so ready to have my house back. We made the decision to replace the entire heating/cooling system because we knew it was nearing the end of its life, and we wanted to replace it before we had a system failure and were in an emergency response type of situation. (I still may need an ambulance to come and haul me off at the end of it all for cardiac and mental health reasons.)

It's not cheap, but it's also not unreasonable. We managed it be negotiating down in price, asking for a few freebies, and also scoring 18 month 0% interest financing. So all of that adds up to a manageable debt that will pay off in the long run.

As for the short run, I just want my damn house back, and I want to see the return on our next few cooling bills.

So that's what's been going on here lately. I can't wait to have time off that isn't spent sitting in the house watching my walls and floors get ripped apart.

Outside, our tomatoes are exploding! I mean...I have SO MANY. Looks like I'll be makig quite a few tomato tarts! I have a great cookbook researched and written at, and published by Rutgers University that focuses on all of the yummy things grown in New Jersey. One such recipe is a tomato tart with a basil crust. I also happen to have basil growing wild in my garden. So yeh...that's gonna happen! Stay tuned. I may parlay that into a Sunday stress buster. My nerves are so shot from the work today that I can't even bring myself to think about cooking dinner let alone making a pie crust and tart.

Pray for my sanity, folks. I worry they're walling it up with the ducts.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Independence Day

I started my 4th celebration a little earlier in the week. On Monday, I ordered--finally!--my long-dreamed upon kitchen gadget: the KitchenAid stand mixer. Amazingly, it arrived a mere 3 days after I placed my order...that's right, I had it in my grubby little hands when I got home from work on Wednesday.

Please meet Kitty the KitchenAid 5qt mixer. Isn't she just beautiful?

To christen her, I made a small batch of good old vanilla cupcakes to act as the canvas for my buttercream experimentation: roasted strawberry, as seen on Cookies and Cups, a food blog by a fellow Jersey girl!

It was surreal to just plop things into the mixer and then...stand there. My arm was like, "Wait...where's the hand mixer? I don't...I don't...have anything to do...?" AKA my upper body fitness gained by hand mixing all these years is about to atrophy. ha More reps at the gym, I suppose!

Cake batter came together in no time, and into the oven they went. While that was baking, I prepared the strawberries for roasting: sprinkle with some sugar and let them macerate while the cakes were baking up. Once the berries were roasted, I let them cool per the recipe, and then rather than dirty something else I'd have to clean (a blender), I just grabbed ye olde potato masher and smooshed the berries to puree them. (See, present me with an opportunity to use a machine and I still go for the elbow grease road. That said, I will never ever ever whip egg whites by hand. Nope nope nope.)

After reaching this point, I realized the frosting recipe was likely for 2 dozen cupcakes, so I decided to halve it, as I overfilled the cupcake papers and only got 9 cakes. But what to do with the extra puree...?

Duh...fill the cupcakes!

I then experienced the most relaxing buttercream making of my life: soft butter into the mixer's bowl, turn on mixer (using the GENIUS bowl-scraping paddle attachment that I've had since my bridal shower in 2011). Once that was creamed, dump the powdered sugar in the spout on the splatter guard, and enjoy not getting poofed with a cloud of sugar...UNHEARD OF! Lastly, I added in the strawberry puree and let that incorporate. The recipe noted that fruit buttercreams tend to get a bit curdled, but that is easily remedied by adding a bit more powdered sugar. I did that until it stiffened up to my liking, plopped it in a piping bag, and frosted the filled cupcakes.

End result: DELICIOUS. The roasted strawberries...out of this world. I'm already dreaming of doing lemon cupcakes with roasted blackberry frosting; lemon cupcakes with the strawberry frosting...oh dear, I could go on and on... But I'll stop myself and let you oogle the little darlings:

While I'm mentioning strawberries, here are some photos of the strawberry shortcakes I made at my dad's request for Father's Day. I baked the biscuits earlier in the day, and then made the strawberry filling and whipped cream just before serving. Recipe via The Candid Appetite. I shouldn't have to tell you there were no leftovers. ; )

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Da Roof

Well, our chimney has been fixed for about 2 weeks now, and for the first time in a long time we can rest easy when it rains.

It turned out to be a full day's worth of work for the gentlemen of St. John Chimney Sweeps, arriving at 8am and working on interior fixes--they added a new liner to the interior of our chimney/HVAC vent to seal it up and bring it to current code. That took about 3.5 hours between setting up and completing the actual work.

Then they spent about 4.5 hours working on the roof--removing the old flashing and old chimney cap and making the necessary replacements.

All told, nothing looks dramatically different to the common onlooker, but from our back yard, we can now admire the pretty new chimney cap and the rather charming copper flashing around the base of the chimney. As far as the interior work, they replaced a few vent tubes and pipes in the basement and the connections to other heat-drawing things like our water heater, but otherwise it's almost as if nothing happened at all.

Except we don't have a leak anymore! What we do have, however, is a guest room in need of some serious fixin.' Since we had tarped the attic floor where the water was collecting a few weeks before the chimney guys came out, the interior damage to the ceiling and wall in the guest room hasn't gotten any worse (the ceiling has actually stopped flaking). So that's on hold for a little while, but once our pipes are repaired*, getting the guest room sorted is our next task. Of course, that will mean first getting a contractor out to survey the damage and prepare an estimate and repair battle plan. Once we have that, we bring it to our insurance company and hope to have the repairs (minus, of course, our deductible) covered. Fingers crossed!

*I've got AJ Perri plumbing coming out to the house on Friday to look under the hood and see what the heck is going on. The major problem is really more of a nuisance currently, but has the potential to turn into a big old headache if we leave it much longer. It's the dreaded air hammering! It started out innocently enough, but now it's at the point where even when no appliances or faucets are actively drawing water, the pipes be like, "BRRRRR!" It's like frigging Inception for no reason. Maybe Leo DiCaprio is in there because his kick went awry. Most often, however, it'll happen when we run water elsewhere--the toilet flushing, turning on the shower, running the dishwasher or washing machine, or sometimes doing dishes in the kitchen. Anyway, I'm hoping the fix will be rather straightforward and also rather inexpensive! I am encouraged, however, that after this and the guest room we'll be back on the offensive for a while, having played an exhausting bout of defense for a few months. Then again, I guess that's just being an adult.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

IOU: 1 of Many

Goooood morning! I'm currently at home while the very fine men of St. John Chimney are making very necessary repairs to our chimney flue and flashing at the roofline.

Since I've got a handful of hours with not much I can do (at least until they move the work outside--at the moment, they're in and out of the basement), I have finally uploaded and organized the bunch of photos I need in order to do some posting on here.

I'll slowly work my way forward, but for now here are recaps of St. Patrick's Day and Easter.

St. Patrick's Day fell right during spring break at the U, which was awesome. St. Paddy's is my Thanksgiving, my Super Bowl, of cookery. I love the chance to try out a new and authentic Irish recipe or two, and so leading up to the Big Day, I spent a few hours faceplanted in my handful of Irish cookbooks, including my latest edition, Clodagh McKenna's new book, Clodagh's Irish Kitchen. While my holiday menu was rather simple (it was just me and John--we weren't hosting this year), because I planned to make everything fresh, it still meant about 9 hours on my feet in the kitchen. Thank goodness for those kitchen Crocs John bought me for Christmas: life savers!

The menu was thus:
Guinness beef pie
Sticky whiskey carrots
Brown Bread
Chocolate Guinness cake for dessert

The feast itself was DELICIOUS and plentiful--both John and I enjoyed the leftovers as lunches for the rest of the week! I'm pretty proud, too, of how lovely it all looked laid out on the table. Like a danged magazine feature:

It was nice to spend more time on savories than on sweets for a change. I'm a baker at heart, but I'm finding more confidence in my cookery as well, and it's fun to sort of let loose where exact measurements aren't as important.

St. Paddy's dessert was probably my favorite, though--the cake was incredibly rich (let's not talk about the quantity of butter...just don't think about it...) and delicious, and of course we enjoyed that, too, the rest of the week! The cake lends itself to look like the top of a perfectly poured pint of Guinness anyway, but I chose to add one small detail: a little shamrock that nodded to the foam art you sometimes see on beer heads. What do you think:

Pretty legit, right?

Easter was an easy affair, as we all headed to John's grandparents' down on the SoJo coast. All we were responsible for were dessert and wine. Well, it turned out no one drinks wine, so John and I each had a glass of the white and just brought the rest of the bottle (and the unopened bottle of red) home for later enjoyment.

For Easter desserts, I almost always err on the side of lemon flavors. It just says, "Yay, spring is here!" to me, and it's also one of John's grandpa's favorite flavors, so I really can't go wrong.

Since the recipe was simple: subtle lemon cupcakes with a tangy-sweet lemon frosting, I decided to mess around a bit with decoration. I bought super fun cupcake papers and tried a new frosting technique (though it's far easier than my usual piping, so not really sure I can brag about it!) and added little sugar icing flowers. They were a huge hit!

I like to keep my decorations just enough to be special but not so much that they become cumbersome to eat. I haven't used fondant yet, and likely won't because A) I don't think it tastes good and B) it often makes things a little hard to eat.

I think for now I'm on the right track. Everyone keeps telling me I should totally do this for a living, and oh how I'd like to. But I worry it'd become a chore and then I wouldn't love it as much. I am doing some more small-batch orders for friends, which is really the best: I get to try new things, make lovelies that I know will be appreciated and enjoyed, and also I don't have to eat them all myself. haha Cuz let's be honest...I can certainly spare the calories!

I'm finally underway with laundry nook improvements, so I'll have a post on that soon, and once the chimney is under control, I can also talk about that with a nice lead-in to what the hell we're going to do about the interior water damage in our guest room.

For now, I'm sipping coffee and listening to the banging and clanging of industry in my basement. (And hoping they're done soon so I can let Hamlet out of the guest room, where I've had to sequester him while the guys are in and out. #mommyguilt


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

I'd feel bad about my absence if people actually read this...haha

Hello, faithful readers? Anyone out there? Even if not, this is really just a good exercise for me to keep writing in any capacity I can.

I've got a handful of cookery things to share: St. Patrick's Day, my mom's birthday, Easter, and a cake I made for my boss' birthday at work. Coming up I have my wonderful husband's birthday and a few bridal showers I'm baking for.

On the homefront, when the sting has lessened (and maybe after we win the lottery), I'll share the chronicles of our leaking chimney and our water-damaged guest room. Once we've got that all repaired and shored up, I can FINALLY finish the space. Probably just in time to love it, get pregnant, and have to make it a nursery. Well, forget that--it'll just be a very mature nursery from the get-go. We're thinking of a nautical theme for the guest room, and what future-hypothetical baby wouldn't love to be in a metaphorical ocean surrounded by water pals? I daresay NO baby wouldn't love that! (Were those almost-double negatives confusing?)

Also on the homefront will be more gardening--finally whipping the curb appeal into shape (good news already--the irises I transplanted last year are sprouting up, so I'm hopeful they'll soon lend some gorgeous violet color to the landscape!), and an interior project to make the laundry nook a little safer for Hammy (long story) and a little more functional for me (short story).

And someday when I'm feeling particularly compelled, I'll even tell you all about my sprained back, physical therapy journey, and how I was well enough to run a pretty strong beginning-of-season 5K 2 weeks after the injury.

So lots on the horizon, I'm just a little overwhelmed at finding time to sit down here and do the creative writing I need to in order to make these posts happen. Also, organizing photos. That needs to happen, too.

Stay tuned. I promise I'll be back!