staying busy

extra time at home these days has created extra opportunity to tend to things i’ve neglected.  these could be things i’ve wanted to do or, just as easily, things i have avoided.  either way, there is no time like the present, and i’ve tried to balance rest with productivity over the past several months.

this post includes snapshots of some crafts we’ve done, foods we’ve tried, or activities we have enjoyed.  with so many circumstances being less than desirable these days, it’s important to find that silver lining and focus on the things that can still bring a smile to your face.  🙂

first, no project can start off without the perfect beverage to set the mood, right?  right!  whether a summer fad, an old standby, or a new favorite, here are some of the tasty treats we’ve concocted recently.

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with thirsts quenched, phillip and i have tackled countless improvements and chores around the house.  one of the most labor-intensive yet rewarding has been the transformations in our yards.  over several weekends now, we’ve nursed our variety of rose bushes, mowed that grass, potted some impatients, moved some shrubs, laid out some pavers, and spread some mulch.  we also got to watch some birdies build a nest on our front door for their five chicks.  maybe we do have green thumbs!

and when it’s too hot to work outside, we take things inside to do stuff like paint mason jars to hold all our flours

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and turn a tired footrest into a charming stool

and clean up some silver from my grandparents

and craft a sign for our nephew’s playhouse

the first official craft in our craft room. 🙂

and hang up some frames.

might be time to change out that trio of pics, lol.

now, i think all that hard work deserves a reward, and you all know by now we are self-proclaimed foodies.  take a look at some of the eats we have treated ourselves to lately.  disclaimer:  none of it is healthy, lawlz.

if you’re interested in any of the recipes or locations mentioned above, you can easily find the link below.  and if there is an at-home must-try you think i just cannot live without, leave a comment to let me know!

mozzarella!

earlier this month i wanted to plan a little date night in for phillip and me and was inspired when my coworker sue told me about a creamery in pennsylvania that offers mozzarella-making kits and instructions.  no sooner were the words out of her mouth than i had placed my order for a pound of our very own curds.

you want to know the most interesting thing i learned about making mozzarella?  that once you have the curds, it really doesn’t take long at all!  rynn takes you through the mozz-making process step by step in an adorable online video you get access to once your curds arrive.  to echo her suggestion, i highly recommend pouring yourself a drink, kicking back, and simply watching the process first before diving in to make your own.  rynn is charming and entertaining and informative all at the same time and really does give you deep insight into cheese and, of course, mozzarella.

once we felt prepared, we inched our aprons and shred our curds and boiled our water and sprinkled our salt and got to work.  the process, again, really isn’t too difficult, and i ultimately think the most important step is getting your water hot enough.  i don’t know that ours was because our mozz balls were a little lumpy and not as smooth as i think they could have been.  however, it was still a fun time watching those curds clump together and then pulling them with the spoon for that picturesque waterfall effect.  i mean, i think they look pretty good for first-timers!

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so now that we had our fresh mozzarella available, how did we enjoy it?  well, we sliced up one of the balls and enjoyed it on its own, and some things just taste better when you make them yourself.  next up that night were individual pizzas with our lovely mozz plopped on top.  each bite was super cheesy and super delicious.  then, we paired the mozz with some fresh tomatoes, basil, and vinegar for a little caprese salad.  how gourmet!

if you like cooking and you like cheese, please order yourself some curds and join in on the fun.  it was a delightful evening in and almost makes me feel like i’m right in italy alongside the experts.  almost.  🙂

daily harvest

for several months now i have been reading an e-newsletter from a group called morning brew.  a free newsletter like this is, of course, to a degree supported by advertisements, and a sponsor they’ve had recently is daily harvest.  i’ve seen their commercials on tv and after several weeks finally gave in and ordered our first box.  yes, i am okay that i gave into the marketing overlords’ motives.  and yes, this is one of those times it was worth it.

why do i suggest giving daily harvest a try?  because they make it easy to get your daily dose of fruits and veggies.  because they have all sorts of smoothie options.  because everything really is ready within minutes.  because they also have bowls and lattes and flatbreads and soups and snack bites.  the reasons could go on and on.  phillip and i have our third box arriving this week, and we’ve loved just about everything we have tried.  wait, is this a daily harvest commercial?  i think it could be.  just look at all the yummy treats we’ve enjoyed!

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if you’d like to get your own box delivered and begin your healthier-eating routine, let me know.  i’ll shoot that referral link your way.  😉

quarantine calories

i feel like most folks are doing a handful of things with their time these days:  working (if lucky enough to do so), cleaning, hobby-ing, childcaring, and eating.  among all those things, the last one might be the most fun.

over the past two weeks, we’ve been hosting phillip’s sister natalie and her doggie wyatt, and as a household of individuals who love food, we have been fortunate to support some local businesses and adventure into some new recipes together.  today’s post includes mouthwatering photos of all our eats.  get ready to drool!

nat and wyatt.

our first stop after picking up natalie and wyatt from the airport was zaxby’s.  natalie doesn’t have zaxby’s up in nyc, so it was definitely a homecoming meal.  oh, and in case you want a pro tip, check out this recipe to make your own zax sauce.  it’s super easy and worth the minimal effort, i promise.

hhhnnnggg, homemade zax sauce.

the next night, phillip and natalie were together to celebrate their 32nd birthday!  aw, it made my heart so happy.  we started with a specially delivered dinner from alessio’s restaurant & pizzeria in norcross.  from the lasagna and garlic knots to the tortellini cardinal and the chicken francese, it was quite a feast, and i don’t doubt we’ll go dine in once we can.  and, no birthday is complete without a cake!  thank you, publix, for the fudge and strawberry filled chocolate cake with buttercream frosting.  🙂

the mornings were definitely prime opportunities for some tasty treats over the past several days.  from whipped coffee (i promise this trend is worth the work)…

to avocado toast…

to simply done donuts

to dirty horchata

to mimosas…

cheers!

and finally chrissy teigen’s banana bread.  it was some good eatin’.

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we didn’t leave dinner out at all.  we became kroger recipe experts, first with their arugula, goat cheese, and olive pasta salad.  i couldn’t keep natalie away from it, lol!  on Easter sunday we also tried out and really enjoyed their pork & peach tacos with ginger brown rice.

alongside the tacos we chowed down on my favorite corn dip.  i don’t know where on earth i got this recipe, but i’m glad i have it.

our tex-mex dinner that day had been preceded by a monkey bread breakfast and a deviled egg snack.  om nom nom.

in addition to trying out several kroger recipes, we also busted out the blue apron cards and loved the pork burgers with potato wedges and beef and rice bowls.

beef rice bowl and those pickled radishes. yum.

at some point over the past several days, i also whipped up this spicy pasta salad by ree drummond.  anything with gouda in it just makes my heart sing.

the evening was, of course, always an opportunity to nosh and also spend some of our hard-earned dollars at the nearby establishments.  we had mcdonald’s on our anniversary, freddy’s on thursday just because it was thursday, noodles from lon u on friday because we were craving pad thai, and marco’s pizza on saturday because who doesn’t love some ‘za.

and of all the sweet treats we had for dessert, i think phillip’s homemade ice cream sundaes were my favorite.  ❤

so, have you discovered any tasty recipes you’d like to share?  or have a local restaurant you think we just must try?  let us know and, above all else, stay safe.

p.s. i realize that many people out there are not currently in a position to splurge on food and groceries or even acquire the essentials.  if anyone out there needs a helping hand, i hope we can either assist or that you are able to find what you need right when you need it.  let’s keep everyone in mind these days, especially those severely impacted by everything that surrounds us.

and she made pasta

i’m sure many of us are trying to occupy our suddenly copious amounts of free time, and i am no exception, especially since i have a week of pto coming up.  i’ve already done a little tidying and organizing, but the other night i got a flash of inspiration to make my own pasta dough.  sure, why not!

with flour in the pantry and eggs in the fridge, i set off to follow this recipe by gemma stafford.  i’d perused a few sites before settling on her approach, and i’d be lying if i said her charming smile and accent weren’t a couple of the deciding factors.

i grabbed my ingredients and cleared off the counter and got to work at about 10:30 on friday night.  i’m not in charge of when inspiration strikes!  i just answer when it calls.  🙂

the kneading itself wasn’t particularly difficult, but it did take some patience and those few splashes of water like gemma recommends.  i also should have probably let the eggs come to room temperature, but i was flying by the seat of my pants here and couldn’t wait.

the dough did come together nicely, don’t you think?  once all wrapped up, it sat overnight in the fridge.

now, when it came to rolling out the dough and getting it prepped for cooking, i definitely should have let the dough rest out of the fridge for a bit.  the first half that i rolled out was a bit tough and had me breaking a sweat!  the second half was more pliable and, i think, ended up thinner than the first.  this is called the “living and learning” process.  i lived it and i learned for next time.

i will say it was extremely satisfying to cut up the dough into noodles once it was ready.  look at that happy little pile!

i boiled up a big ‘ole pot of salted water and cooked the noodles for only about two minutes.  remember, because it’s fresh pasta, it doesn’t need too long.  per gemma’s recommendation, i topped our bowls with butter, pepper, and a healthy showering of freshly grated parmesan cheese.  my review?  it was a delicious saturday afternoon snack.  the pasta really was divine, and i can imagine with a homemade sauce on top it would be that much more enjoyable.  sometimes it’s the simplest things in life that bring a smile to your face.

bon appetit!

dining in duluth

with our recent move to duluth, one should not be surprised that phillip and i have started exploring the nearby food scene.  your typical chain restaurants are easily accessible, but we like to try and keep it local when the opportunity presents itself.  here’s a quick overview of the spots we’ve tried so far!

one of the firsts was sara donuts, which was recommended to us by our friends bank and liz.  it’s quite close by, so one morning after my eye appointment i stopped in for a couple coffees and picked out a little sampler.  the traditional glazed donut was pretty solid, but i think i liked the chocolate glazed cake donut better.  i believe my response to the first bite was “ooh, yum.”  i saved the sausage roll for last, to which i commented “yep, that’s good, too.”  you can bet we’ll be regulars at sara’s soon enough.

keeping with the breakfast theme, valentino’s bakery was a fun adventure into authentic venezuelan cuisine.  i wasn’t really sure what we were ordering, so the customer in front of us helped translate so that i could make some choices.  first was a cute box of assorted cookies, and then we tried the cachito, which basically was a tastier version of a hot pocket.  we did eat up just about everything, and i’d like to go back and try the pressed sandwiches some day.

only one more breakfast stop (for now), and i promise we’ll move on.  the maple street biscuit company was our first visit to downtown duluth, and we met our friends grant and tabri there for a sunday brunch.  we started with an order of biscuits for the table, which were deliciously buttery and extra tasty with a dollop of jam.  phillip and i split the grit bowl, which unfortunately looked better than it tasted.  from what i know, tabri enjoyed his picks, and i know grant liked his firebird biscuit sandwich, which might be what i get next time.

bizkits for everyone!

as for good lunch spots, i don’t think you could go wrong with either armando’s caribe (another recommendation from bank and liz) or armando’s taqueria.  the former is a sit-down spot with delicious cuban sandwiches while the latter is a bit more fast-casual with a nice variety of street tacos.  i wouldn’t recommend the tamales (not much flavor) but know phillip would love to tell you about the cow stomach taco he tried!

tacos from the taqueria.

if you’re lazy like we sometimes are, you can order a gyro plate from opa! to be delivered right to your house with doordash.  phillip and i both liked the gyros, which were busting at the seams with creamy tzatziki sauce and meat.  however, we agreed this meal would be better at the restaurant, fresh from the kitchen.  guess we’ll just have to go there!

our first fancier dinner out was at roma italiano ristorante.  it’s an intimate spot with friendly service and delicious dinner rolls.  you know we love our carbs!  phillip started with a cup of wedding soup, perfect on a winter night, while i scarfed down a wedge salad.  our entrees included the fettucine alfredo with grilled chicken and spaghetti with meatballs and marinara.  although maybe not my first choice for italian in our city, i wouldn’t complain if someone suggested it for a meal.

now, i believe i may have saved the best for last.  i don’t know what drew us there, but one night after a workout, phillip and i wandered into the halal guys.  why do i suggest it is the best of what we’ve had so far?  it could be because phillip ate his queso and lamb filled burrito so quickly i couldn’t even get a picture of it!  i myself munched on french fries with the white dipping sauce along with my falafel platter.  although the healthier choice, i’ll admit i was a little jealous of phillip’s burrito – i only hope it is not a limited time item so that i can go back and try it also!

so, there we have it.  our first batch of duluth eats in our first couple of months.  if you have any other must-try (or don’t-try) spots in our new neighborhood, please let us know!

a new year’s adventure

first things first – i’ve had my blog for 5 years!  and it is time to pick back up in this new decade with a fresh, new post.  here’s to great things in 2020 for us all.  🙂

somewhat on a whim, my mom and i decided to have a mother-daughter roadtrip after she spent the Christmas holiday with my younger brother clark up in washington, dc.  as you will find, this trip was just as much about our appetites as it was our time together, and i wouldn’t change a thing about it!

day one was a drive from the nation’s capital to norfolk, va.  for many reasons, it is a sentimental spot for my mother, and seeing as how i had never been, it was the perfect first stop on our trip.  during our drive south on i-64 we caught up on anything and everything and solved all the world’s problems at once.  if only someone would ask for our opinion, lol!

it ended up being quite a drive with lots of traffic and roadwork, so by the time we arrived in mermaid city, we were a hungry pair.  we dumped our luggage at the hotel and had a mostly forgettable dinner at guy fieri’s smokehouse.  even though there admittedly were generous lumps of crab meat atop our waffle fries, the best part may have been watching people trying to ride the mechanical bull.  that’s always good entertainment.  thankfully, dessert on the other hand was a bit better with a sweet treat from the fudgery, which my mom remembers from when she tended bar at a nearby waterside restaurant.  isn’t it neat how we can recall things like that?

after a good night of rest, the next day we started with some breakfast at yorgos bageldashery.  it had glowing reviews on yelp, and since i love a good bagel, we decided to give it a try.  it turns out we have taste just as good as the locals, as they were swarming the place right upon our arrival.  we chatted it up with another patron in line who recommended the chicken salad, so we split some of that along side a couple of bagels.  mom had a pumpernickel bagel with olive spread (an ode to her mother florence) while i enjoyed a classic plain bagel with veggie cream cheese.

while we waited on the bagels, we dug into the chicken salad first.  was it tasty?  yes, but when you come from alabama and georgia, your chicken salad tastebuds are a little different.  i don’t think we would order it again, but everyone does chicken salad differently, and theirs was all their own.

mom loved her bagel, especially because there was an abundance of olives, both green and black!  my bagel was also delicious.  i think i would have gone with a different spread (and maybe doubled up on the cream cheese because we all know i love cream cheese) but still ate up every bite of mine.

fueled up with full bellies, our tour of norfolk continued as my mom drove us past a couple of houses her parents owned when they lived there.  we even found the church where my parents married nearly 35 years ago now.  even though the town may not be exactly as she remembered, it was still fun to be with her as she took a trip down memory lane.

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chestnut flour – who knew

over the past couple of years i have investigated (and tried my fair share of) gluten-free baking recipes.  it is not out of necessity but rather curiosity, as gluten-free treats tend to have a lackluster reputation.  the good news is that gluten-free baking has come a long way, and the most creative bakers out there are getting inventive with alternative baking ingredients so that the gluten-free brownie you see in the bakery’s case doesn’t taste like cardboard.

my coworker george recommended i check out the book alternative baker, as his wife swears by its recipes.  i quickly placed my order on amazon and once in my eager hands, i started at the beginning to read all about the author’s outlook on alternative ingredient baking and how to use the book.  alanna taylor-tobin presents her recipes in a welcoming manner and includes charming backstories to each which, to no surprise, i just love reading.  i have put my own baking skills to the test with near perfect success on several recipes, and although i’d like to take the credit, i must give it to alanna.  she has meticulously tested different ingredients in different amounts over and over again to ensure that the recipes in this book will make anyone come across like a seasoned baker.  and besides the fact that they taste incredible, my treats have always come out looking exactly like her pictures.  exactly.  i mean it!  there might be nothing more satisfying, at least today.  🙂

in a recent baking mood, i came across a recipe for loaded chocolate chip cookies that required chestnut flour.  i looked high and low at the local grocer for chestnut flour with no luck and then resorted to calling the specialty food stores in town.  still, no chestnut flour to be found anywhere in the greater atlanta area.  not ready to give up, i went back to the recipe, which actually referenced two suggested brands of chestnut flour.  next thing i knew, i was in contact with sandy bole from ladd hill orchards in sherwood, oregon who so kindly helped me order one pound of chestnut flour.

with the primary ingredient in hand (thank you again, sandy), phillip and i got to work toasting pecans and chopping chocolate and sifting flour.  the dough came together nicely, don’t you think?

nothing better than cookie dough.

we patiently waited 15-18 minutes, rotating the cookie sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through baking.  the smells from the oven were cozy and warm as the cookies baked to perfection.  once slightly cooled, we took a gooey bike, taking in the rich chocolate, tart cherries, crunchy pecans, and nutty chestnut flour.  here is one of the best parts about these cookies (and most everything in this cookbook), unless you tell someone they are gluten-free, they should have no idea because the quality, flavors, and combination of ingredients is so thoughtful and delicious they have no reason to believe otherwise.  the bonus?  you learn about new options, and if you are not learning, you are not growing.  🙂

so, here is what you need to take away from this post:

  1. gluten-free baking is not scary or difficult.  with the right ingredients, you’ll be a booming success.
  2. this cookbook is incredible.  please.  go order it.  now.
  3. for all your chestnut product needs, give ladd hill orchards a ring.  they couldn’t be kinder.  tell  them alanna taylor-tobin and kelsey davis sent you.

next up from the cookbook?  i’ll try my hand at some rich chestnut brownies and am betting they’ll be a hit at book club this month.

the classic city

a couple of weekends ago phillip and i had the wonderful opportunity to return to my college town of athens, ga.  the occasion, yes, did revolve around georgia football, but we made the most of the weekend by visiting some places home to my fondest memories while i was in school.

we had driven in town friday night to soak up every minute of athens we could, and since we hadn’t stopped for dinner on our drive in, the first order of business was some food at none other than the famous keba.  we both ordered double lamb sandwiches with fries as the side, and i think it was the quietest meal we’d had in a while because we were enjoying it all so much!  keba did have a location in atlanta for a bit (with the great taste of the original), but it shut down and i’ve of course been craving it ever since.  it was a perfect start to what would become a pretty perfect weekend.

pure joy.

we cleared our table and drove over to nathan and samantha’s house.  i’ve known nathan since college when, as freshmen, we met in the redcoat marching band.  he and samantha have lived in athens for several years now and always are kind to open their home to friends and family.  it’s not often we get to see them, so it was a special treat to catch up on life and football and everything in between.  we did plenty of that especially the next morning over coffee and bagels (which we brought from emerald city in east atlanta) before nathan, phillip, and i drove to campus to join in on the gameday experience.  it was an extra special occasion because it was our homecoming weekend against kentucky, and even though it rained nonstop all day, the bulldog nation still showed up nicely to support the team.

nathan had redcoat duties, so phillip and i donned our ponchos and took a sloshy walk through north campus.  as i imagine many graduates do when they are visiting their old stomping grounds, i pointed out to phillip all the different buildings and where i had class and which lobbies were the best for napping.  the rain couldn’t keep our cheery demeanor down, especially once we arrived at the arch, because taking a picture under the arch is always something to smile about.  🙂

hungry for a bite, we shuffled into the taco stand.  now, i did not do a lot of downtown eating when i was in college, but one spot i frequented was the taco stand, especially when my younger brother clark visited, as it was his absolute favorite spot in town.  phillip and i lucked out with a couple of stools at the bar, so we de-layered, ordered chips and salsa and a couple of beers, and enjoyed the gameday atmosphere.

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stuffed cheez-it pizza for the win

earlier this week my older brother kyle sent kari and me a link to a story about pizza hut’s new stuffed cheez-it pizza with the comment “another marketing campaign tailor made for kels!”  well, it couldn’t be more true.  after rapid-reading the article, i fired back the message “i know what i’m having for dinner on tuesday!”  so, when tuesday night did roll around, phillip and i parked in the exclusive pizza hut parking spots to give into the hype.

we enthusiastically ordered the pepperoni stuffed cheez-it pizza and were thankful the cashier was kind and did not laugh too much at the unusual amount of excitement we were showing.  i mean, just look at this face!  cheez-its and pizza – what more could we want?!

phillip and i patiently waited in those bright red chairs, our expectations nearly through the roof.  we had just finished a tornado class at orangetheory and were eager to undo our workout.  about ten minutes later, our order was up, and i squeaked when i saw how cute the box was.  i guess sometimes in life it’s good that simple things can excite us so much.  🙂

we sat down and opened the box to reveal four fresh, piping hot cheez-it pockets.  don’t they look just like the crackers themselves?  the answer is “yes.”

the cheez-its were honestly a little smaller than i expected them to be, and a single order like this is really more of a snack or a side item probably meant to be ordered with something else.  these pictures give you an idea of the scale/size.

phillip and i each started with a bite of just the square, no marinara dipping sauce quite yet.  we chomped, we chewed, we thoughtfully savored, and in the end we decided that pizza hut had truly capture the cheez-it essence.  it isn’t too much cheez-it, it isn’t too much pizza.  it’s an excellent combination of the two.  the edges were crispy but not burned, and bites closer to the center were warm and gooey.

although quite delicious on their own, they are even better with a dollop of the marinara sauce.  it really completes the bite and brings everything together.  as we finished up, we were extremely tempted to order more, as i easily could have eaten a whole box on my own.  somehow we refrained, which was difficult seeing as how i do not know how i’ve been living up until now without these stuffed cheez-it pizza bites in my life.  the good news is that i can definitely have them again.  the bad news it they’re only around for a limited time, so you better hurry and order yourself some before we beat you to it!