Beautiful Spring Day & Cherry Blossom Nails!

29 March 2013

I am absolutely in love with this time of year because the gorgeous cherry blossom trees are in full bloom and the neighborhoods are speckled with pretty hues of pink.  This weekend, I had a lovely brunch with a friend and then we decided to take in a bit of spring cheer Portland style by checking out the blooms at Waterfront Park!

I was so inspired by all the loveliness, that I decided to to paint up some pretty cherry blossom nails!

I used:
Hard As Nails Xtreme Wear - Mint Sorbet & Bubblegum Pink
LA Colors Art Deco Detail Striper - Black
OPI - Aphrodite's Pink Nightie
Dotting tool for the blossoms

Cookie Dough Cupcakes!

27 March 2013

I told my friend Annie that I would make her any cupcake she wanted for her birthday  & she decided she wanted cookie dough. It seemed a little out of the box, but it was a challenge & I like that!

I wanted to include actual cookie dough somehow, so I scoured the web and found out that eggless cookie dough is a synch to make and will probably be a new staple in my freezer.  The eggless cookie dough fills the center & makes these cupcakes over the top decadent.

There are 3 basic parts to these cupcakes: cake, filling, and frosting. I did each of these parts over a couple of days so that it wasn't so stressful the day of and it gave me a little time for adjustment.  It also gives your dough plenty of time to chill.

Basic Vanilla Cupcake
makes about 24 cupcakes

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla

Cream butter & sugar in a mixer until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes on medium-high.  
Add eggs one at a time, beat for 30 seconds between each.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt and add to the mixture. 
Add the milk and vanilla, mix to combine.
Scoop into cupcake papers about half to two-thirds full & bake in a 350 degree oven for 20-25 minutes until a knife or toothpick comes out clean.
Note: you could also add chocolate chips to this batter for a chocolate boost, but I think the chips in the center were just perfect.

Eggless Cookie Dough Filling
Makes quite a bit more than you need for the cupcakes, so you will have extra for late night cravings.

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 cups flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup chocolate chips

Cream butter with brown and white sugar in the mixer. Slowly add the flour.  Add salt, milk, and vanilla extract until well combined. Finally, add the chocolate chips and fold them in by hand. Put the batter in the fridge to chill for at least an hour or up to a day or so before you assemble the cupcakes. When the dough is chilled, it makes it super easy to just roll it into small balls to put inside the cupcakes.

Cookie Dough Frosting
Note: this recipe contains uncooked flour, which may seem a bit odd, but it is necessary to get a good dough flavor, but you can leave it out for a beautiful & simple brown sugar frosting.

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 tablespoons milk

Cream brown sugar with butter. Sift the flour & confectioners sugar togeter and add slowly. Add salt, milk, and vanilla extract and mix well. For a thinner frosting, you can just add a bit more milk.

Cut cone shaped pieces out of the center of each cupcake.  Add a ball of chilled cookie dough to the center & frost each cupcake.  Add mini chocolate chips over top.

YUM!  This cupcakes are really dense & heavy to hold up to the cookie dough flavor, but they are pretty amazing and they really do taste like cookie dough!

52 Lists: Things that Feel Like Home

26 March 2013

This week's list is about home. It's a concept I have struggled with a lot in the past decade. Growing up, home was obvious & constant, never questioned - it was the little tan house in Levittown, PA & it was where my family was.

When I was 18, I moved to northern New Jersey for about a year with a boyfriend but I don't think that really ever became home, it was just a place that I lived.

Then we made the giant leap 3,000 miles away from everything I thought was my home when we moved to Oregon. It took a few years, but eventually Portland started to really feel like home.  I've lived in 8 different houses/apartments over the past 11 years & that has made it a little bit hard to feel really comfortable with house in the same way that I used to when I was little, but it has also taught me about change and how home isn't always one physical place.

This list made me feel a little nostalgic and today I to really want to immerse myself in a sense of home, so I collected some visual reminders.

And now, I will also have this song stuck in my head all day...

You Remind Me Of Home by Ben Gibbard on Grooveshark

What is on your list?

The Perfect Bahn Mi Sandwich

22 March 2013

I could probably eat bahn mi every day of my life. There is something magical about a simple sandwich covered in sweet, crunchy pickles, refreshing cilantro, and sirracha.

There are three parts to this recipe and each of them are quite simple to make at home!  It might seem like a lot to do, but they are all very quick and easy...and so worth it!

I use a sort of traditional Korean bulgogi sauce for the meat and a similar marinade is available premade at many asian markets if you'd prefer.  You could also just use a teriyaki sauce if you like that better.  I guess you could also skip the sriracha mayo and use regular old mayonaise instead, but I really think you would be missing out!

Enough talk, let's get to the magic making...

Bulgogi Meat:
1 pound thinly sliced beef, pork, or short ribs - you can use just about anything that you like as long as it is sliced very thin (or use tofu or tempeh for a veggie version!)
⅓ cup of soy sauce
3 tablespoons white sugar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
¼ of a medium yellow onion, chopped
2 green onions, finely sliced into small pieces
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
¼ teaspoon of red pepper flakes
2 pinches of black pepper
¼ teaspoon of ginger, finely minced

Mix all marinade ingredients together and thoroughly coat meat.  Let sit for at least 1 hour or overnight. 
Cook meat in a skillet over medium high heat.  The meat will cook quickly, so keep and eye on it and flip until fully cooked

Picked Vegetables
3/4 cup carrots, shredded or cut in small matchsticks
1/2 cup daikon radish, shredded or cut in small matchsticks the same size as carrots
2 tablespoons unseasoned rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

Mix vinegar, water, sugar, & salt in a small saucepan and heat until sugar dissolves.  Let cool.  Pour over vegetables and cover.  Leave in the refrigerator for 30 minutes up to overnight.

Sriracha Mayo
3 tablespoons mayonaise
1-3 teaspoons sriracha
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon salt

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl.  Add the sriracha to your own heat preference - just add it slowly and taste along the way.  If it gets too hot, you can dilute it with some more mayo.  I always make 2-3 times as much and keep it in a mason jar in the fridge because it is amazing on so many things (my favorites are sushi & sweet potato fries).

Assemble all 3 ingredients on a roll and add some cilantro - and BAM!  The perfect sandwich!

My Favorite Garden Planning Resources

20 March 2013

Happy first day of spring!

The sun has been making an appearance in Portland lately and the daffodils and cherry blossoms are starting to bloom and today is officially spring!  That means it is about time that I start really planning out my garden for the next few months of spring and summer planting.  I can't wait to get back in the garden and start grilling up fresh veggies from the yard!  Before all that can happen, there is a lot of planning, so I figured today would be a perfect day to share 5 of my very favorite tools and resources to plan my garden.

The plan for this spring/summer!
Growveg Garden Layout Tool
I like to do my planning using a neat tool a found last year called growveg.  It's a really neat tool that helps you set up your perfect garden by putting in the measurements of each of your beds or containers and aligning them however you'd like.  Then, you simply choose the plant you would like to put in the garden and it automatically shows you how much space that particular plant needs.  It really takes the geometry and guesswork out of garden and creates a a very visual guide for your garden.  
I also like that it lets you save your plans form year to year and offers crop rotation ideas, has the option of sending you email reminders for planting, and that each plant has helpful growing information right on the application.  It has been a really helpful tool for me.

Not exactly made for gardening, but spreadsheets and I are BFFs.  I like to create a spreadsheet to go with my plan so that I can do research and decide on the varieties I want to plant and then transform it into a to do list or mark off what I have already planted.    I really like GoogleDrive for simple sheets like this because it is so easy to access and update on my phone while I am out shopping.  I keep a pretty simple list of all the things I want to plant and which varieties (I say this is simple, but I am a nerd and do a ton of research to pick each variety), then I research and fill in the planting dates for each plant (see below), note if I plan to do seeds or starts, and the location that I will be planting it.
Once you have all the information in place, you can sort your plants any way you want.  I like that I can quickly sort by date and get a perfectly tailored calendar of "to do" lists for each month.  To do this sort in GoogleDrive: select all of your columns and rows with data, left click & select "sort range", in the drop down called "sort by" select the column that has your dates in it, and click ok.  Presto!

Planting Schedule Chart
A garden planting schedule is crucial to making sure you have healthy plants.  If you put them in too soon, they could die in the frost or have stunted growth, too late and they might not have time to produce.  The Vegetable Garden website has a great chart for all of the zones in the US.  You can also often find a chart like this at a local nursery.  I am really fond of the Portland Nursery Veggie Calendar & I use it constantly.

Frost Date Guide
Knowing your "last frost date" is really important to know because it tells you when your plants are safe from danger of being killed off by dipping air & soil temperatures   This tool not only tells you when the average last frost date will be based on your zipcode, but it goes a little more in detail to tell you how far you might be able to push the growing season if you are feeling a little risky and tells you when certain temps are likely to happen so that you can make sure all of your cool and warm crops go in at the right time.

Plant Encyclopedia
When trying to decide which plants or varieties you want to grow, there are a lot of things you need to know: how big will they get?  are they very productive?  is it right for my climate? what kind of soil or sun does it need?  All of these questions can be answered in one place - the mygarden plant encyclopedia.   I really love that this houses so much information in one place so that I am no longer digging through 7 different guides to get all the details that I need.  You can even use the search to just browse the plants that are compatible with your unique situation by setting the soil type, light time, heat, or even flower color.

This may seem like a lot of work, but the extra time to organize before the season starts just gives me time to be fully in the process of getting dirty & having fun with the garden once it's time to get started and it helps make sure that I will have a better chance of successful healthy plants.

What kind of tools or planning are you doing for your garden this year?

52 Lists: Essentials

19 March 2013

This week list is about essentials...the things that we can't live without. I tried to look at the more broad picture when considering my essentials and that wasn't something I've done much before.  It's a great challenge to see what is most important to me I suppose.

This week's list is also a good reminder that I have not completed my spring cleanse goal for last week, so I suppose I am off to tackle the baking cabinet today! 

Easy Chicken Tikka Marsla in the Slow Cooker

17 March 2013

I have a confession - I am madly in love with my slow cooker!

I have always had a slow cooker around, but I never used it much except when I make batches of apple butter in the fall.  A few months ago, I decided to upgrade to slow cooker with an auto timer (scored at a thrift store for just $7!) and it is the best $7 I have ever spent!

I am also pretty in love with Indian food.  It is one of the things that I crave often, so I've been working on making it at home and this is one of my very favorite new recipes.  It is really simple to make - it just seems like a lot of ingredients because of the spices!  The spices are also pretty forgiving, so don't fret!

Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Marsala
Makes 3-4 servings
Adapted from Table for Two

2 large chicken breasts
1 medium onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced or grated
1 15oz can of tomato puree
1 cup plain greek yogurt (or stained regular yogurt)
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon Garam masala
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 tablespoon cumin
1/2  tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon. salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1-2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (depending on how spicy you like it)
3/4 cup heavy cream
2  tablespoon cornstarch

Chopped parsley or cilantro, for topping

Place everything except cream & cornstarch into the crockpot.  Throughly mix and coat the chicken using a spatula.  Cover & cook for 8 hours on low (or 4 hours on high).
Once cooked, mix heavy cream and cornstarch in a bowl and whisk to create a slurry.  Mix your slurry mixture into the crockpot & cook for an additional 20-30 minutes.  You could skip the slurry and just add cream, but the mix will add body and thicken the sauce beautifully.
Serve over rice and add chopped cilantro or parsley to top.


Iceland Part 3: The Golden Circle

15 March 2013

This is my last Iceland post, I promise!  Our final big adventure was the Golden Circle.

The Golden Circle is a popular tourist route just over the mountains outside of Reykjavik.  We decided to take a tour bus out to see some of the famously beautiful nature of Iceland.   We had a really wonderful tour guide who was able to fill our 5 hour adventure with plenty of education about Iceland's history, geology, culture, and mythology.  Not only did we get to see some amazing sites, but we also learned so much about the country along the way!

Pretty lava swirls in Þingvellir
Our first stop was at Þingvellir National Park. Þingvellir is both historically and geographically fascinating as well as being beautiful. It's a spot right between the North American & Eurasian contential plates and as they drift apart, beautiful lava feilds and faults form. This is also the site of the first Icelandic parliment over a thousand years ago.  It was really a breathtaking view & it was also pretty amazing to feel like you are in such a special place.

A view over Þingvellir

Our next stop was the Gullfoss waterfall. It was beathtakingly beautiful and massive with multiple teirs of white and blue rushing water.  Some of the water had even frozen in spots and created pretty icicles   I have never seen anything like it!

Bryan & I at Gullfoss

We then stopped in the Haukadalur Valley to see some active geysers. It was a pretty amazing site to see these bubbling springs and sprays of water.

Next was the Faxi Waterfall. It was much smaller than Gullfoss, but just as beautiful!

The last stop on the tour was the Kerið volcano crater. It was this amazing vivid lake in the middle of a lava field It almost felt like we were looking into a beautiful place in a distant planet.

If you get a chance to go to Iceland, I hope you get a chance to do the Golden Circle!  It was well worth the trip!

Iceland Part 2 : Akeyureri

14 March 2013

After a short 45 minute flight from Reykjavik, we landed in Akureyri to spend a few days.  Akureyri is the second largest city in Iceland (although the entire country of Iceland only has about 1/2 of the population of Seattle, WA, so by American standards it is still quite a tiny city) and it's on the north coast of the country.  Our main goal for Akureyri was to catch a glimpse of the northern lights since it's closer to the Arctic Circle.

Akureyrarkirkja (The church of Akureyri)
A view from the harbor over the Atlantic Ocean

We arrived on a Sunday, so many of the shops downtown were closed, but we look a bit of a stroll around town to take in the city.

That night, we took our northern lights tour!  I have been dreaming of seeing the northern lights for as long as I can remember and it was really my one huge reason for wanting to visit Iceland.  We boarded a bus and were taken out a few minutes outside of town into a dark farm street.  Our tour guide told us there was a storm moving in, but we were lucky enough to catch a beautiful light show!  Sadly, my photos didn't turn out very well despite all my reseach and little tripod...I didn't anticpate how much more difficult it would be with the frigid cold wind.  Regardless, it was a beautiful once in a lifetime experience for me and a big check off one of my top bucketlist items!

My husband is braving the blizzard

The next day, the storm our guide had mentioned hit the city...and it hit hard.  It was a full blown blizzard, complete with 90 mph winds!  All the roads out of town and the tours were canceled, so our plans to visit the Godafoss waterfall & geothermal Lake Myvatn were out of the question.  Instead, we spent a day cozied up in our hotel watching bad TV.  It was a bit of a bummer, but I was just so happy that we were able to see the northern lights the night before and we still had lots of time once we got back to Reykjavik.

The next day, we said goodbye to Akureyri & returned to Reykjavik for 4 more days of Icelandic adventures & a tour of the Golden Circle!

52 Lists: Places I Want to Go & Spring Cleansing!

12 March 2013

I missed a week last week with our trip, so I am catching up on the 52 Lists with a double entry!

The first one is full of places I want to go.  This year so far has been full of adventures and kicking huge items off my bucket list and into reality and it just makes me even more hungry for adventures and immersing myself in wonderful new experiences!  There is still a huge wide world to see and I want to see as much as possible, so this is really just a small glimpse.
The second list is all about cleansing for spring.  What a wonderful thing to think about!  We've had a few really beautiful days in Portland lately and the birds seem to be chirping and I know that it is almost time for the cherry blossoms to bloom, so it has me really excited for spring.  Before it comes though, I do think that taking the time to cleanse my life a bit and get all the loose ends tied up will really help me to enjoy and relish in the season!  I think I will start with that baking cabinet reorganization that I've been meaning to do for months!

Iceland Part 1: Reykjavik & the Blue Lagoon

11 March 2013

My trip to Iceland was amazing! The trip was our honeymoon & given to us thanks to the generosity of all of our friends and family and we are so grateful to all of them for giving us the chance to have such an incredible experience!

We arrived in the capital city of Reykjavik early Saturday morning and we were really jetlagged, but after a dip in the geothermal spa at the hotel, we decided to try to explore the city a bit. We started with the flea market - Kolaportið. I found some amazing vintage Iceland postcards to bring home & learned a bit about the city's fashion.  We also walked up the main shopping street of Laugavegur before just about passing out from exhaustion.

The next day, we took a short domestic flight up to the nothern city of Akeryri for a few days...more on that later!
Hallgrímskirkja - the tallest church in Iceland
A view of the city from the top of Hallgrímskirkja
Reykjavik harbor

Stjórnarráðið - once the city's first prison, now the home of the prime minister of Iceland
Tuesday morning, we said goodbye to Akureyri & took a short flight back in Reykjavik. We wanted to soak up some of history and culture that the city had to offer, so we spent Tuesday touring the city via public transit and checking out the museums. Our favorite museum was the National Museum of Iceland, where we learned about the history of Iceland and it's evolution from viking settlements to a united nation. We also stopped at the The Icelandic Phallological Museum which was really odd, but we figured we had to check it out & I guess we learned more about male reproductive organs than we ever thought we would.

The next day, the same blizzard that plagued us in the north followed us down to Reykjavik.  It was another full-blown white-out blizzard and all the roads out of town were closed as well as all the tours being canceled.  We had planned on taking a rental car down to the south shore this day, but instead we   spent some time indoors and visited the Pearlan.  The Pearlan is a beautiful dome building at the top of hill that overlooks the city.  We hear it has beautiful views of the city, but we only got to see wind gusts of white snow.  We still had a great meal and then visited the Saga Museum   The museum takes you through the great sagas of Iceland with amazingly realistic silicone sculptures and audio guides.   It wasn't how we planned on spending the day, but it ended up being pretty wonderful.

Viking swords at the National Museum of Iceland (Þjóðminjasafn Íslands)
Amazingly detailed silicon statues at the Saga Museum depicting early life of Icelanders.
On Thursday, the snow cleared and we were able to take a beautiful tour of the Golden Circle (stay tuned for more on that in part 3!).   After the Golden Circle, we had a very cute night at the hotel complete with a presentation of Icelandic bedtime stories & hot chocolate.  It was pretty darling and we learned about the importance of written word in the Icelandic culture.

Friday was a late afternoon flight back to Portland, so we decided to take the first part of our day to see the Blue Lagoon for a relaxing soak before we headed back to the states.  The Blue Lagoon was lovely.  It comes with a pretty pricey admission fee, but it was really beautiful and unique - a perfect way to end our trip.

A beautiful (and very cold!) day at the Blue Lagoon

We are in Iceland!

03 March 2013

We are in Iceland!  It is beautiful here & I am looking forward to all of the exciting adventures we have planned for this trip.  Tonight, we are taking a tour to hopefully see the northern lights and then tomorrow we will be heading out to see waterfalls and soak in a natural geothermal spa!  More details & photos when return next week!
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