Friday, March 29, 2013

The Holland House

The new blog is, for the most part, ready. Can't say that I'm a huge fan of Wordpress yet, but I guess I'll learn. I will start posting stories on the new blog, but will continue to use Amy in Austin for certain things like product reviews and lunchbox posts. Feel free to add both links to your (second) favorite blog reader, now that Google is killing Reader (which makes me so, so sad).

Come over and visit The Holland House when you have a chance. You'll find posts about home improvement projects, animals, outings around town, travel, and life in general as we get ready to embark on married life together. Hope to see you soon!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Adventures in Fostering: Crate Training for Dogs

We still have our adorable foster dog Beckham, and I wanted to briefly visit a training technique that we've been using with him- crate training! Most people might associate crate training with puppies, as it's the best way to set boundaries and teach potty training. But those same skills sometimes need to be learned by older dogs too. Bringing home a new animal (especially when you already have 4 animals) means that you need to take precautions and keep everyone safe, so we rely on a crate to help us achieve that.

Not knowing much about Beckham before he made his way to us, there was no way that we would let him have free run of the house. Especially when we learned of his marking behavior indoors. So when we aren't home, or when we're in bed at night, Beckham gets to hang out in his extra large wire crate. For some dogs, this is a big adjustment. How you go about introducing the crate to a dog can make or break your success with it. We got pretty lucky with this guy, but I know from past experiences that it's not always that easy.

First things first- make the crate a comfortable place, and create positive associations with it. Throw some yummy, smelly treats in there and let the dog go in and out to get them. Put the dog in the crate for short time periods while you're home, so they can still see and hear you. (Dinner time is good because we can have uninterrupted meal time.) Give them a bone or dog puzzle to play with to keep them entertained. Practice leaving the house for 5-10 minutes, returning to let the dog out of the crate, and then spending a little time playing together afterwards. You don't want the dog to think of the crate as punishment, so it's important to build up the time slowly, and continue to make positive associations with it.

Neither one of us are licensed dog trainers, but we've learned a few things on our fostering journey that have helped with successfully having other animals in our house. This has been a key technique in teaching certain behaviors (and preventing other ones), and helping to keep everyone safe and out of trouble.

Here's Beckham enjoying his crate all on his own- the door is still open and he decided to take a nap in there. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

15th Annual Mighty Texas Dog Walk

Hello again. The new blog is still being tweaked, but I have a ton of things to write about and didn't want to wait any longer. The weather has been too nice, and we've had too much to do to really dedicate time to getting it perfect. But I promise we'll get to it soon.

In the meantime, I wanted to share a really fun event that I volunteered at this past Saturday- the 15th Annual Might Texas Dog Walk. Austin has many great events geared towards raising money for animals, but this is one of the biggest. Monies raised support Texas Service Dogs, many who have been pulled from the shelter. I'm more than happy to get behind that cause! The Austin Animal Center was provided a free booth, and I volunteered to man the morning shift. I was all ready for a morning in the sun (we've been having the most beautiful weather lately), but what do you know....winter decided to make one last appearance. It was windy and in the low 50's, but everyone still had a great time!

The event featured a big expo area with many great vendors and service providers giving away freebies. HEB had the largest booth, and I scored some free toys, food and treat samples. But there were also some really good grain-free food samples, poop picker-upper contraptions, more toys and lots of treats. I came home with a whole bag of goodies for our own little dog pack! But there were also vendors who were selling great items as well, and I was wishing I had remembered to grab my wallet. Aside from the booths, there was an agility course, and an area set aside  to break several world records like "Most dogs doing doga at once" and Most dogs wearing the same bandana". I was wishing that I had been able to see some of the activities that came after the actual walk- but I had an adoption event to get to, and I didn't want to keep Beckham (our foster) waiting.

"Swag" from the event.

If you didn't have the chance to go this year, I highly recommend it. You don't have to stay for the whole thing, but the money goes to a great cause and it's a fun environment for everyone. Just be sure to watch your feet and keep your dog safe.


The starting line for the 1 mile walk.

The Grand Marshall was Austin's newsman Jim Spencer and his adorable rescue dog! 

Dogs on the walk.

Agility Course

Dogs of all breeds, shapes and sizes. 

Vendors

I want to highlight two special stories from the day. The first picture is the infamous George Oscar Bleuth. Do yourself a favor and click here to read his incredible story. It's stories like this that make me so proud to be a volunteer for the homeless animal cause. This guy is amazing- and quick as all get out. I almost got run over trying to get his picture...he smelled treats in my pocket!

G.O.B.

This next picture is of two dogs from Lizzy's Hospice House. The mission of this organization is to provide a home to elderly/terminally ill animals in the shelter, so that they can live out their remaining time in a loving and compassionate environment instead of at the shelter. Pull out a tissue and visit their site here to read more. I donate to several animal related non-profits, and this one is next on my list.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Amy in Austin is Moving!

Exciting news....Amy in Austin is about to move to a new (and improved) blog site. My oh-so-talented Hank has been working to make it look exactly like I want it to, and I will start migrating my more favorite posts to the new blog over the weekend. Once the site is up and fully functional, I will share the new URL with you.

My intent with Amy in Austin was to produce a lifestyle blog that centered around fun things in Austin, and my life as a 30-something living in such a great city. Unlike my original dating blog, I never really felt comfortable or confident with the direction it was going. In fact, it really just felt like it was all over the place at times. I'm hoping that with the new title and format, it will encompass where my life is right now (or about to be)- life as a wife, mother to a ridiculous amount of animals, a novice baker and an occasional fitness enthusiast (I'm working to get back on track in that department).

I still plan to review fun places we go or things we do, but with the intent to make it a little more about "us", and not just about me. Both of us will have the chance to contribute to it, and I hope that friends and family will enjoy staying up to date on our sometimes mundane life. Animal stories, home improvement projects, lunch box ideas and the crazy foods that I subject Hank to on occasion. We'll hopefully have more travel stories, and who knows....there may one day be talk of a 2-legged child. I've virtually "met" some really fun people as a result of blogging, and I hope you will continue to follow me on a yet another new (but really exciting) adventure.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Lunch in a Box: Edamame Hummus

We eat a lot of hummus in our household. It's a relatively healthy snack and is easy to grab on the go, or fill up the extra space in my favorite lunchbox container. But store bought hummus often has more oil than we really need, so I try to make it at home so that I can control the ingredients. I'll be honest- it doesn't always taste as good. But I'm convinced that one day I'll find the perfect combination that does, and when I do, there's not a chance in hell I'll share it with you because that will be my ticket to getting rich I'll be more than happy to let you know.

I usually use garbanzo beans, or maybe cannellini beans, when making hummus. But I have not tried edamame until now.  I almost like the texture better using edamame, and the taste is phenomenal. I found a recipe on Oh She Glows, and tweaked it just a bit for my tastes.

Edamame Hummus
makes about 8- 1/4 cup servings

1 bag frozen edamame (thawed, or simmered in boiling water until thawed)
1 T tahini
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
juice of 1-2 lemons
salt and pepper to taste
dash (or 3) of Sriracha (depending on how much spice you like)
water for thinning (I used about 1/2 cup)


Throw everything in a food processor and hit the button. Process until it's as smooth as you can get it. I chose not to top mine off with any oil, because I'm getting married in 7 weeks and I seriously need to get this "shaping up" business taken care of soon. I don't think it needs it anyway, so save yourself the extra calories.



I packed the hummus with bell pepper sticks, and leftovers from dinner the night before (roasted tofu and brussels sprouts over brown rice). According to my Lose It app, a 1/4 cup serving has 67 calories, 2.9 grams of fat, and 5.5 grams of protein. My total lunch was around 340 calories (plus snacks of 1/2 a grapefruit and a clementine).

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Lunch in a Box: Farro Salad with Spinach and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

It's a plant strong week in our household! After 3 nights of baking sweets, and overindulging on Saturday, I was ready to get back to the basics. I <briefly> entertained the idea of adding chicken to our diet this week after tasting some really delicious kebobs on Saturday night, but when it came to pulling the trigger, I just couldn't do it. I'm so conflicted about eating meat when I know the conditions it's been raised in. So I pulled a 180 on Hank and went flat out vegan on my weekly HEB visit.

I decided to keep it really simple this week, and rather than pulling together a bunch of recipes, we're just eating a ton of fresh fruit and vegetables, and plenty of beans and whole grains. It really is as easy as it sounds when you throw out the notion that each meal has to have a certain amount of x,y,z. For example, on Sunday night we ate roasted okra and roasted spaghetti squash with an avocado "cream" sauce. Just put a bunch of clean food on your plate, and you really don't have to worry about a thing.

I found the recipe for the Farro Salad on the Cooking Canuk blog, and used it for our lunches on Monday/Tuesday. I had spinach that needed to be used, fresh basil sitting on the counter, and sun-dried tomatoes in the freezer (you never know when they will come in handy), so it was a piece of cake to throw together. I used the whole bag of farro and it made about 5 1-cup servings (perfect for 2 girl, and 2 guy portions).
I modified the dressing and only used 1 Tb of olive oil.
Spread out over 4 servings, it keeps the calorie/fat count down.




I rounded out the meal with leftover roasted spaghetti squash from the night before, and a clementine (on Tuesday I switched the fruit to grapes). The squash is topped with a little dollop of cilantro chutney that gives a good spicy flavor to the squash. This is one of Hank's favorite condiments and comes in handy on many occasions.

Check out the blog post for the actual recipe, and give it a try. I found it tasty and filling, and think it would be good warm or cold (I heated mine up). And please feel free to share any easy, go-to things you like to pack in your lunch.

Adventures in Fostering: Meet Beckham

It was an exciting evening in our household- we brought home our newest foster dog, Beckham!  Hank and I have been considering a new foster for a few weeks, and came across this sweet, scared dog just shaking away in his kennel when we went back to visit the shelter on Sunday. After walking him around a bit (he's a dream on the leash) and spending a little time with him, we felt that his calm temperament would be a good fit in our house.

Unfortunately, he came in as a stray and had not yet been neutered, so we <sadly> left him at the shelter overnight so that his surgery could be taken care of on Monday, and then be picked up after work. All we knew about him was that he was 3, male, and picked up as a stray. But later in the day, his age was updated to 7, and then 8 (after a more thorough medical evaluation). We had a mild panic attack, because we try to foster dogs who might need a little bit of work, but are still highly adoptable. The age thing caused us to think about it for a bit, but we decided he was just too sweet and deserved so much better than his current situation. We weren't going to discriminate for that!

When I picked him up yesterday, I also learned (and had already assumed given his current condition) that he is heartworm positive. Most people freak out only because they don't know a whole lot about it. But it's treatable, and not the end of the world by any means. It just means that someone hasn't been taking good care of Beckham, and he needs some meds to get that cleared up. Even given his age, I have no doubt that once he's scrubbed clean and given a little extra TLC, he will make someone a very lucky pet friend. Check out this cute video of him leaving the shelter:

video


Beckham is a toy Spaniel/Collie mix. Those breeds are known for having fun and loyal personalities. With his age, he is past the puppy antics, but still has good energy. We're limiting his activity because of his surgery, but I wouldn't put it past him being able to go for a little jog next week. He's so easy on the leash, and pretty calm in the house- he would make a great pet for just about anyone!

So how do we make fostering work for our household? If you know anything about us, you know we already have 4 permanent animals- 2 small dogs and 2 cats. We are careful in choosing a foster- a friendly temperament is usually the number one thing we look for as our primary concern is making sure that everyone is safe and happy. Here are the first few important steps for a smooth entry into a new home:

1. Setting up the dogs/animals for a successful meet and greet. Give everyone time to sniff and get acclimated, and introduce the dogs separately before allowing everyone to be together. The more positive associations you can make, the better. For our dogs, that means good smelly treats, and lots of them!

Everyone is sniffing (and thankfully getting along).

2. Keep a close eye when you allow the dog into the home. For us, this was a first introduction to cats (we had no idea what Beckham's previous experiences have been) and again I wanted to make sure everyone was safe. But we also had to keep an eye on potty behaviors. He did all his business outside, but he did mark once or twice while exploring the house. This will be one of the first things we work on with him.

3. Give the dog a safe place to be. They should not have full run of the house (at least for awhile) and need to learn that it's ok to chill out in their own space. We borrowed a large wire crate from some friends, and set it up in our living room. We made it comfy, and put a nice chewing bone in there. While we ate dinner, this is were Beckham was so that we could have a relaxing meal, and still have him close to us. He also spent the night in the crate (which we moved to our bedroom), and after a little bit of whining, he fell fast asleep for the entire night.



We're excited to have this little guy with us, and I'll keep posting the things we do to get him as adoptable as can be.

Beckham





Monday, March 11, 2013

In the Kitchen: Onesie Sugar Cookies

I mentioned in my last post that we hosted a baby shower for a friend on Saturday. I made Petit Fours to serve at the party, but wanted to try something out from the Decorating Cookies book that I got for Christmas. I found the most adorable Onesie sugar cookies, and knew they would make perfect party favors.

Now- I will take NO credit for being creative. That's what my mom and sister are for. What I excel at is execution. Give me the idea, and I'll make it happen. I was not thrilled with the dough recipe from this book, and will be on the search for another one next time I decide to make cookies. But the royal icing recipe was perfect, and the book has some really great tips for decorating. I learned a ton just reading through the first section.

Luckily my friend Shelly agreed to come over to help me on Friday night. I had already spent most of Wednesday and Thursday getting the baking part out of the way, but the bulk of the work was for night #3. I would have been up until 3 in the morning if it wasn't for her help, and I am so grateful. We've taken a cake decorating class before, and we both love anything to do with baking, so it was a lot of fun drinking wine and having some girl talk while absolutely destroying the kitchen. The end result was  perfect, and I'm looking forward to trying my hand at other themed decorations.

My sister-in-law took some fabulous pictures from the party and posted them on her blog. Feel free to hop on over to this post to take a look. If I say so myself, the girls in my family can throw one heck of a party. I thought everything turned out great and it seemed like everyone had a good time!

Day 2- white flooding is done.

3 different designs in colors to match the party theme.

Cookies for miles. 


The finished product.


Saturday, March 9, 2013

In the Kitchen: Petit Fours

Petit Fours are the devil. They tempt you with their delicate shapes and frosting, and the moist, delicious inside. They trick you into thinking that you just might be able to make them. And you can, but you'll pay a price. I only wish I had the pictures to show you.

Today I am co-hosting a baby shower for my friend Katie. Each host has their assignment- invitations/decor, gift, drinks, snacks. Being the "baker" of the group, I agreed to making the sweets. And since I'm always up for a good challenge, I thought this would be time to make Petit Fours. It's an afternoon shower, and they seemed like the perfect sweet treat to have with a cucumber sandwich and a glass of champagne punch.

I spent almost two weeks researching recipes and techniques. I shopped for all the tools. I even made a test cake to make sure the recipe I picked would be suitable for this project. (God bless Bakerella- you just can't go wrong using her recipes.) The one thing I was not able to do though was practice the art of "dipping". I had been sick all week, and lost steam on Sunday after making the cake. So I went into it blind last night when I finally got to that step.

There are no pictures to document this process. In hindsight, I'm disappointed that I didn't at least enlist Hank to take some of the carnage. There was no way I could have stopped to do so. There was too much icing on my fingers, and too much grumpy on my face. These little delicate takes are so tedious and time consuming to make, that you just can't stop to take pictures.

But I will share my hits and misses in case you are crazy enough decide to make them on your own.

Things you should definitely do first:

1. Watch the video from this Sprinkle Bakes post. It's misleading in that the jaunty little music and quick recap of the process make it LOOK like this is no big deal to pull off. But it's very helpful to see how to make the poured fondant, and how she dips and then pours them. I did not use her cake recipe, so the first part of the video is irrelevant.

2. Read in full the Petit Four post on Vegan Yum Yum. No- I did not make vegan cake, but Bakerella referenced this site in HER petit four post, and it was very helpful. The pictures for quartering, then halving the cake was spot on. (She uses the same poured fondant recipe as Sprinkle Bakes- this one seems to be pretty standard.)

3. Use the Cream Cheese Pound Cake recipe from Bakerella. It is hands-down the most delicious cake. Moist, but dense enough to stand up to this process. I think using a traditional white cake would have made them fall apart.

Things that I learned AFTER the entire process:

1. The Bakerella recipe calls for 1 cup of milk, but she mentions that she ended up not using it for the jelly roll/petit four experiment. I used 1/2 cup of milk and it was the perfect amount. Without it, I found the batter was too difficult to spread, and made for very uneven cakes.

2. While round cakes may be prettier, I think they are much harder to evenly ice. Should I lose my mind enough to do this again, I'll stick with square petit fours.

3. It will take you 2-3 days to make these. I baked the cake on Thursday, did all the slicing, jellying, and marzipan topping, and let it refrigerate overnight. I took it out in the afternoon to come closer to room temperature on Friday, and then went through the dipping process Friday evening (with the support of a dear friend who was kind enough to spend her Friday evening helping me.) We made the fondant flowers on Friday evening and then I attached them on Saturday morning. I would suggest making the flowers the same night as the cake so they could be added after icing them.

4. Know that you are going to make a ridiculous mess, and that every ounce of your patience will be tested. Pour a glass of wine (or 3), put on some music, have a friend there to support you. It's not an easy process. Use the ugliest cakes first to get the hang of dipping, and save the most even/pretty ones for last when you think you finally have the hang of it.

5. The poured fondant was pretty spot on, but I found that adding about a tablespoon or two of water after it has gone through the food processor, made for a smoother dip. And yes- you need to be near the microwave. You want the fondant warm- it makes it so much easier to work with.

Here is my final result. I'm hoping to have some prettier pictures from the shower itself, and I'll share those on my next post when I show you the decorated sugar cookies that I was making at the same time as these. Yes, I'm crazy.

Blue and green flowers to match the party theme.


Not quite perfect, but at least I know they taste amazing. That's all that counts in the end, right?


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

if, then

At the recent Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon, a man from Austin suffered a heart attack and died in the first few minutes of the race. I did not know him or his family. I've been removed from triathlon for almost a year. But that doesn't mean my heart doesn't hurt for this family and their huge loss.

A Facebook friend and co-worker shared this article written by Kristen Armstrong and posted on the Runner's World website. I think it could hit home with any one of us- we will all have to face an if, then moment at any given time. It is a beautifully written story of a Bible Study group and their work to cover this topic. And now they will be supporting one of their own as she faces this tragedy.

Take a few minutes to read it, and think about it. There is no way you can ever be prepared for a moment like this. But we have to know and accept that it comes. It put everything into perspective for me in an instant. It doesn't mean you can't stress about first world problems. Heck- that has been my life the past two months trying to plan a wedding that makes everyone happy.

Life goes on, and we live each day as normal. But it helps to keep in mind that at any given second, it could shatter for that one thing that changes life forever. Be nice to one another, and make each day count.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Out and About: Walton's Fancy and Staple

It feels like ages ago since I attended this fun baby shower, but better late than never! My sister and a few college friends hosted a lovely "Tea-Party" themed shower for our friend Karolyn at Walton's Fancy and Staple. Owned by none other than Sandra Bullock, it was no surprise that this bakery/deli/floral shop all rolled into one was nothing short of divine. Housed in an old building (circa 1895), the nostalgic feel of the building easily matches the old-fashioned current name. Exposed brick, old beams, and vintage branding all give it a rustic, elegant look that was just perfect for the theme of the party. And since the expected baby was conceived in Ireland, guests were encouraged to wear fascinators to pay homage to their trip. Imagine having a casual brunch and seeing 9 lovely ladies show up looking like this?


Upon arriving, we were seated at a table already set with pedestals of goodies, and flaky quiches at each setting. The food was divine. The quiche was so tasty, and the tea sandwiches, tarts and scones were all so fresh and delicious. It was hard not to eat everything in sight! There was also plenty of champagne, tea, and coffee. With 3 pregnant girls at the table, there had to be options. And leave it to the girls to think of all the details! Even the teacups gave nod to the theme of the shower.







After eating and chatting, it was time to open presents. I usually don't enjoy baby showers, and the present portion is always the worst. But Karolyn got some of the cutest items, and I'm glad that people got creative with fun, memorable items. No one is going to remember who gave you a baby thermometer and lotion. I much prefer creative gifts! Cute onesies and a fabulous ottoman for the nursery were stand out gifts in my opinion!


BYOB



After all of the gift opening, socializing, game playing and champagne drinking was done, we headed outside for a few pictures. How can you resist photo opps as good as this?





Sister shot. My second little niece/nephew is growing in that cute little belly, and I can't wait to meet it!

So back to Walton's Fancy and Staple, this is the perfect place for all sorts of celebrations, even if it's just stopping in for a casual weekend breakfast. You can pick up some fresh flowers, a few snacks for an impromptu party, or you can have them help you host one there. I was so impressed with this adorable place and I'm looking forward to a breakfast date there soon.


**A big thank you to the wonderful Shanna of Because Shanna Said So for taking such great pictures as always!**

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Allergies got the best of me

I've had several posts that I've wanted to write, but allergies got a stranglehold on my head and I just barely made it through the past week. I'm doing my best to rest up this weekend (and rest my voice, since it decided to disappear on Friday), and hopefully I'll emerge on Monday feeling good as new.