Friday, May 31, 2013

Foodie Pen Pals

I'm back with another round of Foodie Penpals from The Lean Green Bean. You might recall that I participated in the program last month for the first time, and was so pleased with my box that I decided to do it a second time. I'm so glad I did- I was thrilled with this month's box too!

This time around I was paired up with Jessi from What the Efff. She writes about family, food, and her fur babies- a kindred spirit to say the least. I think my favorite blog post so far is the one about homemade peanut butter dog treats. It's on my to-do list for sure. But most importantly, Jessi lives in Wisconsin, a part of the US that I don't even think I have flown over. I really know nothing about it other than that's where cheese curds come from (I think), which automatically makes it a cool place in my book.

Thankfully, Jessi included the most adorable card (that I believe she made) that gave me the run down on a part of Wisconsin known as Door County. They're famous for cherries, chocolate and coffee. Hello?! Add in the cheese, and I've got all four of my favorite food groups covered. The box contained a jar of Cherry De-Lite Salsa, a jar of MochaCocoa Cappucino Topping, a bag of Danielle Honey Banana Chips, and a jar of East Shore Dipping Mustard. I've never met this girl, yet she just gets me.

Foodie Penpal Wisconsin Treats

I opened the box just before cooking dinner, so I immediately sent Hank to the store to grab a pint of BlueBell vanilla ice cream. There was chocolate sauce that needed a vessel, stat! We enjoyed the treat for dessert, and I'm hoping to use the little bit that is left in some frosting for cupcakes this weekend. It was delicious, to say the least.

Next up was the bag of banana chips. I took them to the office the next day, thinking they would be a great little snack to munch on throughout the week. I opened them up mid morning, and they were gone 60 seconds later. These things are ridiculously good! I added the link because I'd really love to have more, but maybe I'll mix them up with trail mix so that I don't eat them all at once. They aren't the worst thing I could be binge eating, but that bag is probably not intended to be eaten all at once.

We busted open the salsa this past weekend with a bag of black bean chips. We eat a ton of salsa here in Texas, so I was a tad skeptical. I really loved the cherries though, and thought it added a great flavor. It was definitely on the sweeter side, but I would love to have another jar and make a great taco with it.

The last item in the box was the dipping mustard. I'm a huge fan of mustard and was excited to get this. I really wish I had taken the time to go get some fresh pretzels to eat it with, but I was too lazy to make the trip. Instead, I used it to dip baked chicken fingers that I threw together for an easy Friday night dinner. The dip was tasty and masked the chicken that I'm slowly starting to incorporate back into my diet.

All in all, it was another fun box, and I loved that she sent me such a great taste of Wisconsin. Thank you so much Jessi! I also sent a taste of Austin to Kristel, who lives in Richmond, VA and writes at Stirring Things Up. Ironically enough, she will be visiting Austin next week for the BlogHer Food Conference, so it was fun sharing ideas of things to do while she's in town. If you're interested in joining for next month, you must sign up by June 4th. Just click on the image below for more details.

The Lean Green Bean

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

INSTA+LATELY {link up}

I'm back for another Instalately link-up with Jenn. Our life lately has revolved around animals, food and home improvement projects. Nothing wildly exciting since the wedding, but we're perfectly alright with slowing down a bit!

Our animal herd

*We celebrated Maddie's birthday (and Marley's belated birthday) with a doggie cake from Bentley's Biscuits and Bones. All of the girls loved it! We've been feeling guilty about all the attention Brees gets, so it was a fun way to celebrate Maddie and Marley!
*Brees got her very own Saints jersey, and we hope she'll still fit into it come football season.
*Cat stand-off over the favorite chair. They love to fight over this spot.
*Brees and Marley after a long morning walk. They play hard, they sleep hard.

Healthy meals

*Back on the healthy lunch train with Curried Chicken Salad (made with non-fat greek yogurt!)
*Farmer's Market dinner with locally grown kale and brussels sprouts.
*Another healthy (low-carb) lunch with a frittata and salad.
*Biggest news- I ate chicken! Baked chicken strips with honey mustard dipping sauce. 

*Hank put together a new picnic table/umbrella for our patio and we hosted our first outdoor dinner.
*We finally have things growing in our yard! The top is a bell pepper that will eventually be red if it makes it, and the bottom is a golden cherry tomato. The plant has produced 2 so far. Hoping the dogs leave them alone this season so that we can actually enjoy some fresh produce from our own yard. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Memorial Weekend Recap

I hope that everyone had a fun, safe and memorable Memorial Day weekend! It certainly wouldn't be appropriate if I didn't recognize those who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving for our country. I'm so thankful for their service and all the freedoms that it brings us.

We enjoyed a very low-key weekend, and pretty much stayed in our little corner of Austin. After running in the rain on Saturday morning and eating breakfast tacos with friends, we didn't do a single thing but lay on the couch and be lazy. We were long over due for doing nothing, and soaked up every minute! Sunday was a little bit more of the same, though we did take Brees to Petsmart to sign her up for Puppy Basics class, and also to hit the local farmer's market. But we hit the pool in the afternoon so that we could rest from our excursions.

Sunday night we went to the The Oasis to watch The Brew play. They're a local latin/jazz band and I never get tired of seeing them. There was a huge crowd with a ton of great people watching, so that kept us pretty entertained for the evening. It's a shame that such an amazing venue doesn't have better food. Every time we end up eating there, we always wish we didn't. There's nothing creative or good about their menu! Our other regret was that we didn't get up to participate in the free salsa class that took place while the band was on a break. Next time....

On Monday we went on an hour long trail hike/jog on the trail system in our neighborhood. We have so much green space, and never really take advantage of it. With the recent rain, it was a little bit muddy. But it also meant that the creeks were full and running. It was just beautiful, and I'm looking forward to hiking on more of them. It was nice to get out and do something active, and I we really enjoyed all of the quality time that we got to spend together.

We rounded out the weekend with a delicious (and healthy!) dinner at my parent's house. The weather was just nice enough for us to sit outside and enjoy their pretty yard. My mom had come across a new food blog called Iowa Girl Eats that had some really great looking recipes, including a section with 20 Great Memorial Day Recipes. So our menu included Key West Lime Chicken with Mango Salsa, and Cauliflower Rice. Yes- you read that right. Cauliflower rice. This low carb girl was loving it, and it really tasted great! Since we're now eliminating rice from our diet, this will definitely become a weekly staple. Hank and I took ingredients to make an easy Grilled Mexican Corn side dish, and then we rounded out the meal with strawberry shortcake skewers and a yummy yogurt/cream cheese cheese dip.

Grilled Mexican Corn

Key West Lime Chicken and Cauliflower Rice

Fun outdoor table setting.

Red, white and blue dessert!

Lunch in a Box: Curried Chicken Salad

After a year of minimal meat eating, I appear to be recovering from a severe aversion to chicken. I'm taking baby steps and slowly introducing it back into my diet. So far, so good. The timing is pretty perfect considering how hard I'm trying to lower my carb intake. Making low fat dishes with chicken is a really good substitute for some of the carb heavy vegetarian meals that I had come to rely on. I still have strong feelings about not eating meat, but it appears that this is the best thing for me right now, so I'm not going to fight it.

I was really excited about my lunch when I put it together this morning. I made the chicken salad on Saturday and had already tried it out and loved it. You can do a lot with it, but I went simple and just put a dollop on top of a bed of spinach- no dressing needed (though I did add a spoonful of mango chutney on top)! Just add a few spinach leaves to each bit of salad, and you've got a really healthy bite on your fork.

For this lunch, I added a few cherry tomatoes to round out the salad, and included a side of homemade cilantro jalapeƱo hummus with veggie sticks for dipping. I also fixed two snacks for the day- a 1/2 cup of 1% cottage cheese with a 1/2 cup of strawberry slices, and a 1/4 cup of Women's Vitality Nut Mix from the bulk section at HEB. My overall carb intake (according to my handy LoseIt app) is just 36% for the day- below my 40% daily goal. So far I haven't felt the least bit hungry after a green smoothie and a scrambled egg for breakfast. And we're eating vegetarian for dinner (tofu, kale and brussels sprouts), so I feel like I'm getting a good variety of food throughout the day.

Amy in Austin: Curried Chicken Salad

The chicken salad was pretty easy to make, and is easy to adjust the spices to suit your tastes. I love curry, so it's not possible to overdo it in my opinion. But I definitely recommend using the turmeric powder. It has anti-inflammatory properties, and helps reduce the risk of cancer and diabetes, helps maintain mental health, and also halts fat cell expansion- fighting weight gain! I have started using it as much as I can recently, and love the mild taste of it. You should know by now that when I experiment with a recipe, I rarely remember the exact measurements of what I use. Be sure to taste as you go and make this dish work for you!

Curry Chicken Salad:

1 T olive oil (or other mild oil- like canola or hemp)
juice of 2 limes
3 skinless, boneless chicken breasts (preferably organic and free range)
1-1/2 cups of 0% fat greek yogurt (I used Oikos for this, but also love Fage)
1-2 T apple cider vinegar

3+ T curry powder (you will use some to season chicken first)
1 T turmeric

1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup slivered almonds

salt and pepper to taste

1- Pour oil and lime juice into a baking dish, then coat chicken breasts. Sprinkle both sides with a little bit of curry powder. Bake at 350 for 25ish minutes- until done.

2- While chicken is cooking, mix yogurt, vinegar, and spices in a large bowl. Taste and make adjustments.

3- Once the chicken has baked and cooled, shred it using two forks and add to the yogurt mix. Stir to mix well, and then add the raisins, celery and almonds. Taste again and make any necessary adjustments.

4- Store in an airtight container. Makes about 6-8 servings.

Texas Women Bloggers

Friday, May 24, 2013

If I Won The Lottery

Glad to know I'm not the only one who sat around dreaming up what I would do had I won the ridiculous Powerball recently. Hank and I have talked about this on multiple car trips, but I'm sure given the actual opportunity, we would probably freak out and not do anything at all. So I'm putting our plan in writing should we ever need to use it.

Thanks to Hang On Honey, Tiny Joys, and Perfectly Imperfect Jenn for hosting such a fun link up on this holiday weekend Friday!

First things first- grown up responsibilities (i.e. student loan debt):

Let's face it. So many of us face this burden, and it downright sucks. I paid off my first student loan last year, and I'm oh so close to getting the second one knocked out. But I'd also lump in my sibling's debts, and a college fund for all nieces and nephews. We'd also likely give both sets of parents a chunk of change for retirement and old-folks homes (nice ones!) because we aren't wiping any butts when they get old. :) (We love you guys, we really do- but I'm sure you understand we're only willing to go so far).

I think it also goes without saying that we'd created a charitable fund that would contribute annually to several of our favorite charities. We already donate regularly to a few, and would be thrilled to help out at a much higher level.

Now lets get on to the fun stuff! I introduce to you the Baker-Holland Hotel.

Last spring we took the scenic route home from a trip to visit Hank's family in Oklahoma. It was so much fun driving through small towns that I'd never seen before. We rolled into Mineral Wells and were surprised to see this tall building on the horizon. It looked old and deserted, but totally fascinating. We detoured off the main road, and were thrilled to come upon this little gem:

In its heyday, it was known as the Baker Hotel, and was a tourist destination for socializing and interesting spa treatments with Mineral Well's crazy water. You could tell from the grounds that it was once a thing of beauty, and we could not help but think what it could be turned into now. A complete renovation would likely be $100 million plus, so we'd have to win some serious cash to accomplish this. But given the opportunity, I can't help but think how much we would enjoy such a crazy project. Between Hank's design expertise, and my hospitality interests, we'd make a stellar team. If you're as interested in old, deserted (and possibly haunted) buildings, click on this link for a really great photo tour

Of course, no lottery win would be complete without travel. We'd likely create a specific investment fund that would pay for annual trips with its earnings. There are so many places we'd love to see, that it would probably take the rest of our lives to do it all. Plus, you have to make room for one beach and one ski trip a year. That's what rich people do, right?!

And if we decide we're too lazy to purchase a renovate an entire hotel, we can always revert to a back-up plan, buying a house like this on Lake Austin. Ending each day with happy hour on the deck overlooking the lake doesn't sound too shabby to me.

So there you have it, our wild and crazy dreams should we ever win the lottery. What would you do?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Home Improvement: Fixing up the backyard

Now that the dust has settled and life has returned back to normal, our focus has shifted back to our ever-growing list of home improvement projects. We received way more wedding gifts than we ever expected and want to make sure they get put to good use. A few of our favorite things include some really fun melamine dishes from Pottery Barn- perfect for outdoor entertaining. The only problem is that we really don't have a great area for entertaining in our back yard. We've worked really hard on the beds and herb garden, but that's about it.

Fun new Pottery Barn dishes

A month or so ago, Hank built a small deck off our back door that I really wanted as a place to put iron rocking chairs that belonged to my grandparents. I've had them for years, and have always enjoyed sitting in them. We had no real covered areas in the yard, so building the deck off the back door, in what little shade we had, seemed to make sense. I would be losing one of the few good beds for planting vegetables, but felt it was worth it to have a new sitting area.

Before- digging out the old landscape timbers that were an ugly, rotting eye sore.

After- pretty new deck! We have since added pots of flowers.

This deck still didn't really solve our "entertaining area" problem though, which is where this weekend came into play. Armed with some cash from a wedding gift, and a coupon to World Market, we picked up a picnic table and a pretty turquoise umbrella for shade. I knew building an actual pergola to cover our concrete patio was not very likely, so the umbrella is an inexpensive (and portable) solution that will certainly work! Hank put it all together this weekend just in time to have guests over for dinner on Sunday night. We're really happy with how it turned out! Now I just need to finish it off with some more potted plants, and maybe some fun lanterns hanging down from the umbrella.

Before- the pidly old, way too small table that I gave away to neighbors.

After- the awesome new picnic table that will eventually be stained to match our new deck.

The table is set for dinner, complete with a water bottle that we took with us from Hotel San Jose, where we stayed on our wedding night.

Marley is ready for her guests to arrive! Nothing beats new people who feed her table scraps.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Wedding Reception

For our wedding reception, we wanted to keep with the "Austin" theme, and didn't have to search far for a reception venue. Our only requirements were a private space and minimal fuss. We also wanted brunch- and that was the only thing that made our search the slightest bit difficult. Not everyone serves brunch on Saturday, and some of the few places that do didn't have the space we were looking for. Luckily Lambert's was able to accommodate us and made the planning process fairly easy.

They have a second story space that was the perfect size for our expected group, and allowed us the privacy we were looking for. Given the black and white damask wall behind the bar, we knew we wouldn't have to do much decorating as it already had a lot of character. We also knew the food would not disappoint! It's ironic that we had our reception in a BBQ restaurant, given that we really don't eat meat. But our goal was a southern brunch, and Lambert's pulled through. We planned a menu that included migas, biscuits and gravy, jicama slaw, brisket hash, green chili cheese grits and mac and cheese. It was a carb fest to say the least, and it was all absolutely delicious!!

After wrapping up pictures at the ceremony site, Hank and I finally made our way to the reception. It took about fifteen minutes (and no less than 3 people) to get my dress bustled, and then we finally got to join everyone upstairs. We grabbed a drink, mingled with some friends, and then grabbed a plate of food so that everyone else could eat. I didn't want the reception to be very planned. Other than eating, drinking and chatting- the only other "activity" was cutting and eating the cake.

We opted not to do a traditional wedding cake, and instead ordered 3 Chantilly cakes from Whole Foods, and 2 Dutch Chocolate Cakes from Sweetish Hill Bakery. Including delivery fees, we got all 5 cakes for $200. A total bargain if you ask me. Plus- they were both delicious!! We ended up having 1 of each cake leftover and enjoyed eating them the week after the wedding.

The only real decor that we did were table arrangements made by Verbena Floral. I chose yellow and white because it really popped with the black and white wall, and I wanted a "sunny" vibe for the reception. LuAnn from Verbena was nothing short of amazing to work with. When my mom and I met with her, she completely understood the look we were going for, and was so easy to work with from start to finish. Her team was also instrumental in helping get the cake table put together in a very short time period. Please- pretty please- consider her for any floral needs that you have. She is wonderful!

There was plenty of time to say hello and chat with all our guests, and before we knew it the reception was wrapping up. Some of our guests headed across the street to the W for the post-wedding Kentucky Derby part, and we stayed behind to close out the check and help get everything packed up. I cannot say enough nice things about the 3 girls from Lambert's who were working our reception. Not only did they take great care of us throughout the party, but they also were a tremendous help in getting everything packed up- including dumping water from all the flower vases. They really helped make the day feel effortless.

I also cannot think the lovely and oh-so-talented Melanie from Melanie Wright Photography for capturing such fun and beautiful images. There hasn't been a day yet that I don't click through all of our photos, and I cannot wait to start choosing ones that we will frame for our home and my office. She really outdid herself!

Verbena Floral Table Arrangements
Sunny table flowers
View into reception
Wedding Cake Table
Cake table
Cutting the cake
Wedding Guest Book Table
Guest book
Georgia keeping busy with Hello Kitty!
Amy and Hank marquee sign
Love the sign they put up for us!
My lovely brother and sister in law

Lambert's Wedding Reception

Monday, May 13, 2013

Wedding Ceremony

Our entire wedding day was absolute perfection. When we started thinking about what we really wanted for our special day, the most important things were that it be meaningful, intimate, and very "Austin". We got exactly those things, and so much more! 

The day started off with hair and makeup at the Hyatt, where I had spent the night with girlfriends. The amazingly talented Nancy (owner of The Hills Salon & Spa) paid us an early morning visit and made my hair and makeup look beautiful. My parents and sister in law joined us at the hotel to help me finish getting ready, and then I rode with them to the ceremony site. My sister and two girlfriends Jackie and Allison were a huge help by leaving early to check on the reception site to make sure everything had been delivered and set-up. Could not have made the day without their help!

A beautiful Austin morning. We were so lucky with how nice the weather was.

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.
Nancy B making me look fabulous.
The dress!
Mom helping get the flower on my dress.
Riding the elevator down, and I swear it stopped on every floor.
Carrying my Nana's purse- so glad to have a part of her with me on such a special day.

After making our way to Zilker Park, my dad and I hopped on the pedicab and rode up to Lou Neff Point. We picked this spot for several reasons- it's beautiful, it's where my grandfather used to take me to feed the ducks as a kid, and it's also a spot that Hank and I run by just about every week. It overlooks downtown, and it has that intimate feel that we wanted. It's also a public space that cannot be rented, so we knew we ran the risk of having anything come up that could interfere with the ceremony.

We were in luck though. Hank got down there early, and with the help of my brother and the pedicab, they transported a few chairs and flowers to the spot and got everything set up. I knew the people of Austin would be kind enough to allow us time to get married there without much fuss, and they did not disappoint. Sure- we had plenty of spectators, but who can blame them? I would have stopped if I had seen a wedding going on as well. It was fun riding on the trail and hearing "Oh look- it's a bride!" as we passed by all the runners and walkers.

My adorable niece Georgia met us just outside the point (I was hidden out of Hank's sight) and she made her way up the aisle to kick off the ceremony. There was also a guitar player singing "Can't Help Falling in Love" as I walked towards Hank. The second that I locked eyes with him, I just about lost it. I tried so hard not to cry, but only succeeded in a partial ugly-cry face. My lips kept quivering and my eyes were all teary. There's just no way to describe that moment when you see the man you are about to make such a big commitment to. It was wonderful!

My brother Blake performed the ceremony, and every little bit of it was so personal. We wanted someone who really knew us, and were so glad that he accepted our request to get ordained online so he could perform the ceremony. We worked on the ceremony together, but he had a section for the things that he wanted to say to us as a couple. My favorite part was lyrics he incorporated from the Coldplay song "Strawberry Swing" (so appropriate given how much we love them).

The sky could be blue, could be gray
Without you I just slide away
The sky could be blue, I don't mind
Without you it's a waste of time
It's such a perfect day

One of the funniest memories of the ceremony is when I noticed that everyone was still standing after we had said a prayer and Blake had started his section of the ceremony. I finally whispered to Blake to tell everyone to sit down, and then laughed at our audience, telling them they were making me nervous. I think they were thankful that I noticed though!

After Blake's part, Hank and I each read our own vows to each other. We had no idea what the other would say, but I loved how they balanced the other out. We each referenced similar things, but also had our own unique promises to the other. Then we exchanged rings, and before we knew it, Blake was announcing us husband and wife. As soon as the ceremony was over, we walked towards the water to feed the ducks and to mingle with our friends and family. My aunt had made the most adorable duck food bags to coordinate with our black, yellow and white theme, and we had fun grabbing those and feeding the ducks and pigeons who swam up to grab some snacks.

Sign pointing towards the ceremony.
Hank making sure everyone was where they were supposed to be.
The view from Lou Neff Point.
Georgia being silly before the ceremony.
Walking to the ceremony.
Saying a prayer.
Reading our vows to each other. 

First Kiss!

My fabulous photographer is still working on editing and uploading most of the family pictures, but these are a few of my favorite images from after the ceremony.

Georgia and her flowers.
Hugging Georgia after the ceremony.
My new lovely in-laws.
One of my dearest friends flew all the way down from Connecticut just for the wedding! 
My parents.
Duck food bags.
Can't hit the trail without our matching yellow running shoes.