Brunch Date: Overnight Stuffed French Toast & Roasted Sweet Potato Hashbrowns!

27 February 2013

This morning, I was lucky enough to have the most adorable friend date a girl could ask for.  I went to my friend Annie's house for brunch and a good heart to heart.  It was a perfect way to spend the morning.  Annie made a really yummy egg scramble with zucchini and mushrooms and  I made a pair of cute little stuffed french toast casseroles & roasted sweet potato hashbrowns!

The great thing about both of the dishes that I made are that they can be made the night before and put in the fridge so that you just need do do a quick warm up in the morning, so it doesn't take away from your sleeping in time.  The french toast was really amazing - warm and rich with a little bit of sweet...just the kind of thing I crave on a cold morning like this one.  And the hasbrowns were a really nice savory taste of winter to me.

3-4 slices of bread (I used a bagel because it is what I had on hand and it was perfect!)
3 tablespoons cream cheese
2 tablespoons jam (any kind that you'd like - I used strawberry)
1 teaspoon sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoon milk or cream 
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

Butter baking dish.  Tear bread into bite size pieces and fill the dish about 1/3 of the way with bread.  Pour about a tablespoon or so of the filling on top and then top with a dollop of jam.
Fill the rest of the dish with bread.
Whisk the egg with milk, vanilla, and cinnamon.  Pour the egg mixture over top and try to get all the bread moist.
At this point, you can stick it in the fridge to soak up the egg and give you a head start on tomorrow's breakfast or you could just bake it right away.
Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 25 minutes until the casseroles puff up a bit and seem firm.  Sprinkle with a little powdered sugar or maple syrup and serve

Recipe makes 3 ramekins, so feel free to double or triple up if you are making it for a crowd or in a baking dish!  It would easily work in a large baking dish, but I sort of love the little ramekins because I always love the presentation of getting your own special serving and it allowed me to make exactly what I needed for two!  This is also a pretty flexible recipe, you could use fresh fruit of any kind or a ricotta inste

2 sweet potatoes - peeled and chopped
1 red onion - chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons fresh chopped rosemary
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more or less depending on how much spice you like)
salt & pepper to taste

On a baking sheet lined with foil, combine all ingredients and mix well.   Arrange in a single layer.
Roast in a 425 degree oven for about 30-40 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.
At this point, I put the potatoes in the fridge overnight.  That part is optional.
In the morning, I just added a tablespoon of oil to hot pan and fried them up until they were warm and got a nice crust and color to them.

I served the potatoes with one of my favorite condiments that I don't often get to use - banana ketchup.  It is available at most asian markets and even some grocery stores and it is sort of like a simple sweet version of ketchup.  Of course, this is totally optional, but if you are feeling adventurous, give it a try because it is delicious!

I had an amazing morning & it made me feel so fortunate to have such wonderful friends in my life!

Scallop Desk Makeover

24 February 2013

I've been in the market for a new sewing table and I found this adorable little wooden desk at Goodwill for $15.  I was absolutely in love with the cute little scallop pattern on the drawers, but I really wanted to bring it out a little more and also make it match the craft room, so I set out for a makeover!

A few cans of white spray paint later...

The most challenging part was that the tabletop is made of a plastic vaneer, so it didn't take the spray paint very well and it was hard to get it to match up just right with the different material and undertone.  To compensate and glitz it up a bit to bring more gold, so I decided to play with a glitter treatment on the top.  I used a dry brush technique with Martha Stewart glitter paint in Florentine Gold.  I like that it looks a little like vintage formica.

I absolutely love it and I can't wait to get my sewing machine set up!

New Orleans Adventure!

21 February 2013

I just got back from an amazing trip to New Orleans!  It is a place I've dreamed of visiting for over a decade and I finally decided to just make it happen and I am so glad I did!

I arrived right after Mardi Gras, but the city was still covered in brightly covered beads. One thing that became very apparent to me within a few hours of being there was that this was a city that loved to celebrate.  No matter what scars it has endured in it's long history, New Orleans is a city of optimism & it was exactly where I needed to be at that moment.
Mardi Gras beads hanging in the trees
New Orleans was unlike anywhere else I've ever been.  It was like visiting a completely different country & it made learning about it's history that much more exciting to me. The architecture and elaborate detail made even the most residential neighborhoods seem intriguing & full of history and life.

I stayed with my amazing friend Maggie who is attending medical school there.  Not only did I get to have a really wonderful adventure full of new things, but I also got the chance to reunite with an old friend who I had been missing.  Maggie was an amazing tour guide & I learned a lot about the city in a short time with her help.

On Friday, we took a swap tour. While we were there, we stopped at a little cute road side attaction in a tiny town called Abita Springs full of neat little art pieces and gaf taxidermy.  We also found a cute little farm stand with beautiful fresh local strawberries (in February!) on our way to our swamp adventure. Although it was winter, so we didn't get to see too many critters, it was an absolutely beautiful boat tour and I learned a lot about the ecosystem of the swamp and about the people who live there!

Abita Mystery House

Little alligator in the swamp 
Spanish moss hanging from the cypress trees in the swamp
I spent a day in the French Quarter wandering a bit aimlessly and it was perfect.   The French Quarter was unlike anything I had ever seen.  I also took a cemetery walking tour while I was there.  It was a really perfect way to spend a few hours and I learned a lot about the history of the city, a bit of the history of voodoo in it's culture, and   I suppose history is really all about the stories of the dead, so what better way to learn that in a cemetery?

French Quarter
Amazing jazz street musicians in the French Quarter
One of my favorite shops in the French Quarter was a little vintage cookbook shop called Kitchen Witch.  It was adorable and full of so many things that I just swooned over.
Marie Laveau's grave.
I also spent a day walking up Magazine Street & checking out the antique shops and then I took the 11 bus to the zoo to wander a bit and check out some baby alligators.

Baby gator at the zoo
I ate some really incredible food while I was there.  New Orleans has an awesome & unique food and I was determined to take advantage of it.  Some of my favorite things included: alligator and shrimp cheesecake & jambalaya from Jacques Imo's, po boys from Parkway, beignets from Cafe Beignet, alligator sausage at the French Market, & a turducken hot dog at Dat Dog.  Comfort food at it's finest.

Overall, New Orleans was a beautiful and unique experience.  Even just spending 4 days there, it's hard to sum it up into a single blog post.

This trip scratched one big thing off my bucketlist as well as 3 items from my 30 before 30 goals list and it was so gratifying to make the leap to give myself this adventure! AND it is hard to believe that even though I just got back from an amazing trip, I leave for Iceland in just over a week!  2013 is going to be a year of adventures and I can't wait for it!

52 Lists: Things that Make Me Feel Healthy

20 February 2013

This weeks list is all about being healthy.  I think I am still in a process of learning all the things that make me feel healthy as a person, but this was a really great reminder and chance to give it a bit of thought.  Just like many of the past lists so far, this is a great reminder of what I need to do a bit more of in my life!

Learn more about the 52 Lists Projects here.

Wedding Feature!

13 February 2013

Earlier this week, our wedding was featured on Offbeat Bride!   The feature is pretty exciting to me since that is a blog that was really inspiring to me during my planning process!   I thought it was about time that I shared a bit about some of the details of our big day even though it was was a few months ago.

Over the next few weeks, I will be highlighting some of the special details of my wedding and sharing a bit of DIY tutorials and budgeting tips, so stay tuned!

52 Lists: Ways in Which I Can Love Others

12 February 2013

This week's list is a little out of the box and challenging, but I really love the idea of it.  

As I am sitting down and thinking about my list, I think this one is becoming less of just a list and maybe more goal setting for all the things I want to do more of in my life.  It also inspires me to be more conscience about being on the lookout for new ways to express love.   

Interested in the 52 Lists Project?  Click here!

Chocolate Blog Hop

Psst...I am participating in the Wit & Wonder Chocolate Blog Hop to spread a little Valentine blog lovin' & you should too!  Click the link above to share your blog and find some other new blogs to love!

Strawberry-Rose & Lavender-Honey French Macarons

11 February 2013

Very few things are cuter than a little perfect french macaron.  They are colorful little melt in your mouth magic.

Macarons are a recipe that I've gazed at from time to time dreaming of how adorable they would be on a platter to bring to a party, but I have always been too intimidated to try them.  Since I've decided that this year should be a year of adventure, I want to try to get out of my comfort zone with the food that I make as well.  It turns out, it wasn't really that hard!

Macarons are time consuming and require a few basic techniques, but they really are not as hard as I had always imagined.  And even though a few did not get the perfect little "feet" & I had a few cracked shells, they were still delicious!

I know it seems lot of steps, but give it a try - you will be so glad you did!

Macarons are really versitile, once you get the basic recipe down, you can make up whatever flavor combinations your heart desires.  I chose to go with some pretty floral flavors to match the pink and purple for Valentine's Day gifts, but you can just use a bit of just anything you like.  The filling is also up to you.  I like the buttercream, but you can just add jam, nutella, caramel, lemon curd...the possibilites are endless!

The rose-strawberry and lavender-honey were both really beautiful combinations.  They were sweet (lavender honey is definitely a bit sweeter to get that honey flavor), but I think they were both really well balanced with the floral and freshness.

Basic Macaron:

3 large egg whites at room temperature
2/3 cup almond meal or ground almonds

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon of either rose water or crushed lavender flowers
Food coloring (optional)

You may also want to print out a guide like this one. It's not necessary but I found it really helpful. You could also just draw circles on the back of the parchment paper.

 1. Preheat the oven to 280º and position two racks in the lower section of the oven. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
 2.  Sift the almond meal-powdered sugar mixture through a mesh sieve.
Place egg whites in the your mixer bowl begin to beat on medium (Kitchenaid - 4 or 5). When the eggs start getting frothy, gradually add the sugar one tablespoon at a time.
 3.  Continue to beat the egg white mixture until glossy and stiff peaks form. Add your flavor and color and continue to mix. You want to get a good stiff peak, but be careful not to overmix (your merigue will start to get lumpy if you've overmixed). When you add color, you should make it a little more vivid then you'd like your end result to be because the color will change during baking.

 4.  This is the hard part: Gently add half of the sifted almond mixture to the meringue. With a gentle hand, fold the mixture together using a spatula. Lift from the bottom and go around the sides and back into the middle, turning the bowl as you go. Once you have those mostly mixed, you can add the other half and keep going. The mixing process is where you want to take your time because it will make or break the macarons. You want to get the mix well incorporated so that it's smooth and gooey, but you do not want to overmix and loose the air of your merigues. The end result will be like molten lava. This will take about 50 fold and look like this:

 5.  Pour the batter into a pastry bag with a round tip. (Hint: use a big cup or vase to wrap the top of the bag around and hold your bag open as you fill). You could also use a ziploc bag & cut a small hole in the corner.
 6.  Pipe 1" rounds onto your parchment covered baking sheets.

 7.  Using just a bit of water, wet your fingertips (be sure there is not too much water because it could cause damage to your macaroon) and you can lightly tap down the peaks that form when piping - this step is optional.
 8.  Tap your baking sheet hard against the counter 2 or 3 times (don't skip this step, it's important to make those little feet I told you about form). Then let your macarons sit out uncovered for 30 minutes to let a very thin, smooth crust form. You will know they are ready when they no longer stick to your finger when you touch them.

 9.  Bake for about 15-18 minutes. The exact bake time will depend on your color, your oven, and the size of your macarons, so keep a close eye on them and give them a turn if your oven is a little uneven. They are ready as soon as they no longer stick to the parchment.
 10.  Let them cool and fill with your choice of filling. They are even better the next day once they have had some time to fully cool and set.

Basic Buttercream Filling:

1 stick of butter (8 tablespoons) at room temperature
2-3 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted

2 tablespoons of honey -or- 3 tablespoons of strawberry puree (any kind of jam would work too)

Cream butter in the mixer and add flavoring of your choice. Slowly add in sugar and mix until smooth. If your frosting is too thick, you can add milk 1 tablespoon at a time until you get the consistency that you like.

I really hope you give these a try!  They are so worth it!  I am excited to keep trying this recipe and get my technique down.

30 Before 30 Goals

09 February 2013

I was really inspired by Jen & Brian's posts of both their 30 before 30 goals.  Since I love a list and I am also facing the last year of my twenties, I figured I might as well make a few of my own.

It turns out, 29 is the year of adventure for me.  I am relearning what really makes me happy after too many years of being overly influenced by others and by a corporate focused culture.  I think 29 is about finding out who I am as a person and indulging in the little things that make me who I am rather than focusing on trying to be something that I think I should be.  I have just about 10 months to make these things a reality.

1. See New Orleans
2. Eat an authentic New Orleans poboy (& also try either crawfish or alligator)
3. Go on a swap tour
4. Travel outside of the US
5. See the Northern Lights
6. Soak in the Blue Lagoon
7. Say "yes" to new adventures and experiences
8. Find a new job that makes me happy and leaves room for a work/life balance
9. Continue writing this blog
10. Refinish my new desk
11. Try more recipes that intimidate me
12. Get another tattoo
13. Get my craft room fully organized
14. Make an effort to declutter my life
15. Work on connecting more with my sister
16. Be better about keeping in touch with people & sending mail
17. Grow at least one new thing in the garden that I've never tried before
18. Finish an embroidery project
19. Pay off all my outstanding medical debts
20. Design and create a ton of custom jar labels for all the canned goods I have made
21. Continue doing the 52 Lists Project
22. Attend GeekGirlCon 2013
23. Keep working on maintaining my savings account balance
24. Visit Vancouver, B.C.
25. Go bungee jumping
26. Express my gratitude for the people in my life more often
27. Start an Etsy shop for some of my thrifting finds
28. Volunteer more often & take on more fosters
29. Be less afraid of the unknown
30. Plan an awesome 30th birthday party

Winter Canning: Tarragon & Champagne Mustard

08 February 2013

Just because it is winter, it doesn't mean that there are not plenty of things worth breaking your canning pot out for!  This mustard is really simple to make any time of year.  It has a beautiful earthy flavor with a bit of that mustard spicy kick that you'd expect, but the tarragon adds a really lovely soft note of freshness and mellows out the mustard.  Champagne vinegar also adds just a bit of sweetness to mellow out the spice of the mustard.

4 tablespoons mustard seeds
10 tablespoons champagne vinegar
2 cups mustard powder
1 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons virgin olive oil
8 tablespoons of chopped fresh tarragon

The night before, put the mustard seeds and vinegar in a bowl and allow them to soak overnight.

The next day, just combine you seeds & vinegar along with mustard powder, sugar, and salt in a food processor or blender.  Blend until smooth and then slowly add your oil as it continues to blend.  Move your mixture into a bowl and use a spoon to mix in the chopped tarragon.  Ladle into sterilized jars and process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.

Makes about 18oz (1.25 pints).  I made this recipe in cute little quarter pint jars and got exactly 5 jars.  This is a recipe that you could very easily double or triple as long as your food processor can handle it.  Also, if you are not a fan of tarragon, you could substitute another herb (I think rosemary would also be lovely, but since it is significantly more powerful, I would recommend using less).

I admit, I am not the world's biggest mustard fan, but this mustard is really unique and full of flavor without being too spicy.  It absolutely makes a boring ham sandwich into a really special meal.

52 Lists : Gratitude

05 February 2013

This list is a perfect theme for me.  I've been wanting to write about gratitude a lot lately and wasn't sure how to do it.  Recently, I have learned that for me, gratitude is really the cornerstone of my happiness.  I have spent a lot of time in my life feeling sad and letting myself get really wrapped up in negative feelings and missing out on really appreciating the beauty in my life.  Part of being wrapped up in negativity is also that we often also forget to appreciate the things we have and express our gratitude to those in our life that mean the most.  I think I have ruined a lot of really wonderful relationships because of this.

I've made a commitment to myself to not only be more grateful for the small, beautiful parts of my life, but to also make a greater effort to document and share that gratitude.  I keep a gratitude journal on my phone and write down at least 3 things I'm grateful for each day.  I think that awareness has done wonders for my life.

Given that gratitude is such a huge theme in my life lately, I feel like this week's list could have gone on and on, but lists like this are really just the start of something bigger.

Interested in the 52 Lists Project?  Click here!

A Beautiful Saturday: Pyrex Museum

04 February 2013

I recently found out that the Pacific Northwest was hiding a gem - a Pyrex Museum!  Since I'm an avid pyrex collector & part of my yearly goal is to have more adventures, I jumped on the chance to grab a friend and take the three hour road trip up to Bremerton, WA to check it out!

The Pyrex Museum is a little space in the back of an art gallery.  The owner was really wonderful and shared some stories with us about some of the pieces on display.  They had a huge collection of patterns that I had only seen online and in books, so it was pretty amazing to see it all so carefully displayed!

While in Bremerton, we stopped at a pretty random place for lunch called "Kate's Jersey Subs" & I was really excited to find that they had pork roll on the menu.  In case you don't know, pork roll (Taylor Ham) is a meat product that is only found in New Jersey & Philadelphia.  It is something I grew up with and it is one of the things I often really miss from the east coast (so much so that I may hav, so getting to indulge in a food of my childhood really made our Saturday adventure so much sweeter!

After a few stops at a thrift store or two, we left Bremerton and headed to Bellevue, WA to see an exhibit of one of my absolute favorite artists.  On the way to Bellevue, we stopped at an estate sale and score this beautiful set of "snowflake blue" Pyrex that I had just been coveting at the museum, so it seemed like a fitting a perfect score for the day.

The Bellevue Arts museum had a really wonderful exhibit of Nikki McClure art.  I had seen her work on display before, but the museum did fabulous job of curating not just an amazing assortment of her paper cuts throughout the years, but also a look at her process and tools and a compilation of music that inspired her.  It was really beautiful.

It was a perfect Saturday of adventure & inspiration!
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