Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Last Bits of Break

I've already posted about the most important parts of my break...my lovely time with Dan roaming the city, working on my garden, trying out a new recipe...



As I head back to school, here are a few shots of the "in between times" of my spring break. It was such a great time of refreshment, and I'm excited to throw myself back into school. There's nothing left standing between me and the end of my first year as a teacher!



In no particular order...

Lovely tulips from Trader Joe's. 


Little dog doesn't want to me to do yoga. She'd rather usurp my mat. 


Easter baskets from my mama! I was unreasonably excited about these. 


Quizzo Night at Earth Bread Brewery in Mt. Airy. 


We spent lots of time here...my favorite spot. 


Dapper little dog. 


Huzzah, I passed. *eyeroll* I'm now certified to administer the PSSA, even though my grade doesn't take it. Oy. 


Any small moments in your life lately? 

Dirt, Sweat, and Other Good Things

I've been excited for this year's garden since...about last August. This was for several reasons. Mostly, I really enjoyed having a garden, since I love being outside in general, and it's a pretty productive hobby. My in-laws (whose yard I use for my green things) collected enough vegetables for several salads and (if I remember correctly) some tomato sauce.



I've already got a few seedlings started indoors, but I wanted to improve my garden plot. I enlarged it last fall, but I wanted to replace the crappy mesh fence that the previous owners left, and install a gate so it's not such a nuisance to get in and out.



Somehow I don't have any good "before" shots of the whole garden...just shots of my plants and the inside. But this is the stuff the old fence was made of:




Two tiers of icky plastic mesh fence, and no gate.



Here's my "after"...






Dan and his dad spent quite a while helping me with this. I chose all the supplies, and they cut/hammered the poles down enough to fit the new wire fencing. I was especially excited about the new gate. It's actually a piece of fence we adapted for a gate by only staking one side into the ground. On the other side, we (and by "we" I mean Dan and Dean) lopped off the little staking posts so the fence could swing freely and pretend to be a gate.





It's super cute and classy, which I knew would make Dottie happy, since she loves nice-looking stuff like this.




As I said, I enlarged the garden itself, and I spent a good chunk of my time yesterday adding fresh composted dirt and turning everything over, getting ready to plant as soon as the Last Frost Date rolls around. 




Huzzah!


Of course, little dog had a great time too. She spent the whole afternoon running and playing.



Now it all comes down to April 20th...last frost, and I'm back out there, planting my seedlings and getting things growing!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Roasted Sweet Potato Risotto

Holy mother, this meal was something to write about. For oh so many reasons!



I love risotto. I discovered it in high school when I was working for a catering business, but I had no idea how to make it. Since then I've enjoyed it at a couple restaurants (hello, The House, San Francisco!) but never tried to create it myself.



And now I know why.



It takes freaking for-EV-er. Seriously.



(In case you don't know, risotto is a creamy Italian rice dish. It takes a special kind of rice called Arborio, so don't make it out of your regular white rice like I was going to! It gets its creaminess from soaking up a ton of hot liquid over the course of about half your earthly life. You can add tons of flavors like mushroom, asparagus, or like I did, sweet potato.)



Since it's spring break (woohoo!) and I had the time, I decided to carpe this diem and make some risotto. I picked this recipe from the marvelous Ms. Jessica at How Sweet It Is and got busy.



I followed her recipe almost exactly, so I'm not going to give you a blow-by-blow, just a couple notes:


  • I took my time with this, so it took me probably 2 - 2 1/2 hours total, including all the potato roasting, chopping, and other prep. 
  • It takes absolutely forever to just do the rice. I seriously stood over the stove stirring risotto for about 75 minutes. I thought I was getting carpal tunnel and I was bored out of my mind. That being said, it's kind of awesome to see the rice soaking up all the liquid (over a quart of liquid people, I needed an extra half can of broth). 
  • Holy flavor batman, don't skimp on good ingredients for this baby. Good parmesan and bacon. And roast those potatoes in ALL the spices. Your taste buds will thank you. 

Since this is vegetarian dish and there are no such meatless meals in my household, I made this with some chicken. I seared the chicken in half butter, half olive oil (about a tablespoon of each) and sprinkled with salt and paprika. Placed it in a glass dish with some bacon crumbles and all the juices, and baked it low and slow (about 300) for about a half hour. It came out smoky and tender and quite yummy. 



Guys? It was totally worth it. I loved every sweet-potatoey bite. And as my foodie (snort) husband said, "everything tastes like bacon, so I think it's great!" 


Yes, there is a conspicuous lack of green. I'd add a good salad or green beans, but I was totally done and starving at this point, so we just ate!


What's the most complicated thing you've ever made? 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Trip That Wasn't

In my previous post, I shared our upcoming trip to Washington DC. It's one of our favorite cities to visit, largely because it's such a beautiful place to walk around and just look at cool stuff! Dan and I are both history nuts, so looking at old stuff really gets us going. 



However, we woke up on Monday to snow. Like, a lot of it. And from all the weather information we could find, it was doing the same thing in DC. Ick.



We dallied around--we wanted to leave late on purpose, to miss traffic. It meant we'd have less time in the city, but this trip was more about the "because we can" than because we had some crazy agenda. We tossed our stuff in the car, left a note for Sister (who was house-/dog-sitting for us) and headed out. Less than an hour into our journey, we hit a solid block of traffic. 



Seriously, we spent about 30 minutes going less than a mile down the turnpike. We hadn't even made it to I95 yet. 



We listened to the traffic report, considered our options, and decided to spend the day in Philly instead! 



I called the hotel and cancelled our reservations. Thankfully, because we were paying for it with rewards points, we didn't lose any money and our certificate is still valid for another hotel, another time. 



Here's a few snapshots of what we did in Philly...


First stop, Museum of Natural Sciences. I was super psyched to take these pictures, because my class just finished studying dinosaurs and now I can give them some real-life scale! 

Dan was a good sport.  


Dino femurs. 


Sorry for my weird-looking hand, but this is the size of a T-rex tooth. 


This made us laugh--scientists constructed this image and all kinds of theories about this dino just from the bones pictured above. 


Their little write-up about it. Ridiculous. 



After the dinosaurs, we looked at some information about diatoms (that we're pretty sure our friend Jonathan helped to study and catalogue) and some dioramas of animals from various parts of the world, we got to the butterfly exhibit. I think this was Dan's favorite part, he was pretty into it. 


Aren't they pretty? 


Feeding on rotten bananas. I got a pretty good shot of one butterfly with his proboscis out, pretty excited to show that to my students too! 


This dude's a moth. Moths rest with their wings open, they're nocturnal, and their antennae are furry instead of smooth (my dad actually taught me that forever ago, but it stuck and it's still correct!).


I forget the name of this butterfly, but that's some impressive camouflage. 



Next stop, (late) lunch. Dan found this awesome place just a few blocks away called Famous 4th Street Delicatessen. Holy moly, it was fabulous. 

Pickles! 


And the best part...hot pastrami on rye with cole slaw and Russian dressing! This gal was in heaven.



After lunch we decided to head home. I took a little nap (yay spring break!) and then we ran some errands together, including grabbing Jurassic Park from the library. So fun! 



Overall it was such a great day. We were relaxed and really thankful we made the decision we did--it was just what we needed! 




Thursday, March 21, 2013

Currently...

...avoiding cleaning my apartment.



We're having friends over for dinner tomorrow night, and I'm really looking forward to it. I'm making a taco bar, we all get along really well, and they have two elementary-aged girls that actually get along with Dan! They play this iPad game called Ticket to Ride.



So far I've avoided any tickets to ride, except the Beatles song.



Anyway, the only thing I'm not looking forward to is the housecleaning that must precede the fun. I'm not going crazy; we're good friends with these folks and I'm not worried about a pile of mail in the hallway. However, the general sweeping-vaccuuming-wiping-bathroom-counters must be done.



Annnnd by no means will I stop procrastinating until I absolutely must.



So in other news, I'm also currently:


Watching: Homeland. Is anyone else out there into this show? I'm not that enthralled by Claire Danes, I think her character is totally annoying and obnoxious and (as my awesome sister put it) cray-cray. BUT. Damian Lewis is incredibly attractive to me, and he's also the hero of Band of Brothers, Dick Winters. So I'm basically in love with him, and he's an amazing actor. So intense. Plus, he's actually British and he pulls off the most convincing middle-America accent.



Planning: on cooking sososo many amazing things next week over spring break. I've got mushroom risotto, beef stroganoff, and chicken parmesan on the menu. I'll definitely take pictures.



Excited about: spring break in general, but especially our upcoming little baby trip to Washington DC. We've been a couple times together, and it's definitely one of my favorite cities on the East coast. I'm hoping to go to the Museum of Natural History (yay dinosaurs!) and an Evensong service at the National Cathedral. And a nice dinner out. Anyone know any good restaurants?



Observing: (I needed another word for watching...) my itty bitty seedlings. About a week and a half ago I started peas, peppers, lavender, and California poppies indoors. I even made little greenhouses for them with aluminum pans with plastic lids. So far they're doing well, and I'm psyched! I can't wait for spring to really come so I can get back into the dirt.



Mourning: the fact that I missed the free water ice at Rita's on the first day of spring. Bummer.



Annnd, since we're close, happy early Friday!! I hope you have an awesome weekend and (if you're like me) have an awesomer spring break.


Sunday, March 17, 2013

How Great a Debtor!

I'm constantly awed by the concept of grace. The grace extended to me by my Heavenly Father, the grace offered to me by others, and the grace that grudgingly flows out of my own broken being through the power of the Holy Spirit.



(Make no mistake, if you are offered grace by me, it's the Lord's doing. I am such an ungracious person so much of the time.)



Perhaps that's why this post by author, speaker, and pastor's wife Jen Hatmaker was so meaningful to me.



I am in constant need of grace. I constantly need to give more grace to others. Please Lord, make it happen.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Unsavory Truth

Guys, I have a confession to make.



Cooking is not always fun for me.



I know, I can hear your gasps of astonishment across the interwebs.



See, I married a smart, hardworking, talented man with lots of great qualities and abilities. He can change the oil in your car like nobody's business, he singlehandedly refinished our hardwood floors, and he just built this contraption that will spin the yeast for his homebrewed beer.



He does not, however, cook. Like, ever.



(That's not entirely true...he makes a mean French toast.)



But the day-in, day-out cooking falls to me. And as I've discussed in (most of) my other food-related posts, I really like cooking for the most part. But some days, it's just not that enjoyable.



Take taco pie night.



We love tacos, and The Girl Who Ate Everything has this awesome looking recipe for quesadilla pie. I decided to tweak it, add some veggies and salsa, and call it taco pie. Great idea, right?





It started off fine, I was pretty chill, and nothing too crazy.




But I wasn't feeling particularly enthusiastic about cooking in general, and things just started to go downhill. I was running out of horizontal space due to some life stuff on the table, and the aforementioned spinning contraption on the other counter. And I have a pretty small kitchen to begin with, so random crap taking up my cooking space leads to stressed Becster+hyperventilating pretty quickly.



Yeah, I hyperventilate when there's clutter. What, is that weird?



Anyway, I didn't have a couple things the recipe called for, and I improvised a little bit, but I wasn't happy about it.




BTW, if you haven't tried TJ's Taco Seasoning, I recommend it. It's great for people like me who vaguely dream of cutting out MSG and preservatives, but just don't bother to make their own seasonings and dressings. The ingredients? Straight up spices. 


But you know what happened? Dinner turned out, we ate it and were satisfied. Lesson? Cooking dinner doesn't always have to be some grand meditative affair. Sometimes it's just a matter of gritting your teeth and putting something edible together, because that's how life goes. At the end of the day, we have full bellies and plenty to give thanks for.




Wednesday, March 13, 2013

School Days

I haven't updated about school lately, but here's a few of the things that have been keeping me so busy--too busy to blog as often as I wish!



Fresh and lovely writing domain posters. I was kind of proud of these, I took my time designing them and made sure they were bright, colorful, and appealing. 


Alliteration Anchor Chart. Yeah, my artistic skills are being stretched every day. 


Our New Years Goals...made into a mobile. For funsies. 


This cracked me up to no end. We were working on fact versus fiction, and the instructions were to color boxes with factual statements red, and fictional statements blue. Over half of my students colored this red. 


Paper towel roll butterflies, made with our kindergarten buddy class. 


So cute!


This was formerly our Star Student wall, but now that all of my students have been Stars, I turned it into a Showcase. Each student can pin any piece of work they are particularly proud of in their spot. 



Spring bulletin board with "ripped" style flowers. 


More flowers. 


Contraction Flap Books. On the outside...


...and on the inside! The kids had fun with this, same work as a worksheet but way more fun. 



So that's school lately. I've been gaining enough confidence to branch out and design some of my own lessons, including an author's study with my leveled reading group. It's fun to be able to do all the cool stuff because I'm not as bogged down in the practical aspects. Baby steps, baby! 





Saturday, March 9, 2013

An Epic Bake

So, if you know me in person at all, you'll know that I'm kiiind of a huge klutz.



Not the cute kind, not the kind that stumbles over a crack in the sidewalk but her boyfriend catches her elbow and she shakes her flowy hair back with an adorable blush and an "oops!"



No, I'm the kind who trips over the crack in the sidewalk, and if I manage to not fall flat on my face, I stumble forward about six feet in a wild attempt to stay upright and probably bump into the person in front of me (who I may or may not know).



I also drop things, run into things, lose my grip, slip, fall, everything else.



(Maybe that's part of the reason why I love Jennifer Lawrence so much...anyone who falls on her face at the Oscars is going to be near and dear to my heart.)



My clumsiness is particularly dangerous in the kitchen, where sharp knives and hot objects are regularly in play. I've burned myself more times than I can count, and sliced off the veryvery tips of fingers (I can't believe I haven't needed stitches yet) and dropping things is just part of the deal.



So today, I decided to bake some cookies. I'm always on the search for the perfect chocolate chip cookie, and I decided to give this version from Sweet Savory Life a try.



I was given a Kitchen Aid Mixer as a wedding gift, and I love using it. I've managed to get by over the last four years with relatively few mishaps (although once I did knock it over and chip a shelf...). But today when I cracked an egg into the cookie dough, half of the eggshell fell into the mixer.



0_0



This has never happened before.



I screeched, yanked out the cord, and thanked my lucky stars that it was on the slowest setting. I proceeded to spend several minutes picking out pieces of eggshell from my cookies.



Crisis averted, I continued on with my recipe.



A few minutes later, I checked the recipe for the next step and was pleased to see that it called for both baking powder and soda. I love me a thick, chewy cookie.



I spooned the baking powder into the mixer, then picked up the baking soda. And dropped it.



But I caught it!



Upside down.



Seriously about half of the boxed spilled out, coating the front of my jeans and creating a nice white floor for me to imprint with my socks.



More than one bad word may have issued from my mouth.



I heaved a great sigh and finished the recipe.



And you know what?



The sons-o'-guns were worth it.


(I used one bag of chocolate chunks, and half a bag of chips.)



Thick, chewy, full of chocolate. Crunchy bottoms and gooey middles. Heavenly. Go make some. Preferably without dropping eggshells in the dough and baking soda on the floor. 




First Friday Festivities

N.B. This post is about a week late due to report cards. Yes, again. It happens three times...two down, one to go!



Dan was away on a business trip at the end of last week, so Sister and I had some extra fun together.


One of our (collective "our"...everyone I know is in on this) favorite spots in the area is Elcy's Cafe. It's a great little coffeehouse spot, the whole nine yards. Delicious coffee--most of fair trade/organic and all locally roasted--great breakfast sandwiches and lunch foods (seriously, all of their lunch sandwiches are delicious, and they have great salads too!), and an awesome vibe with fun, friendly staff.


Plus we're friends with the owners, so...we're biased.



(But I wasn't paid or perked to say any of that...I just love Elcy's that much).



Anyway, they're trying to get First Friday's off the ground, and I'm a big fan. Especially when they have food like they did last Friday.


(Forgot to take pictures of the appetizer...I had a house salad, and Sister had corn chowder with pesto and bacon...holy moly it was delicious!)


Roasted Filet with Mushroom Madeira Sauce with Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Roasted Veggies. 


Annnd Maple Mustard Salmon with the same potatoes and veggies. 

While we dined on these fabulous meals, we were serenaded by a local musician, a friendly fellow by the name of Dave. It was awesome. 

Oh yeah, and since we're regulars, the staff comped us some wine (it's BYOB, but we didn't bring anything). 


Sister enjoying her meal. 


This was as far as we got...it was so much food! Totally worth every bite. 


Until dessert came, of course! 


Confession: I took about three pictures (with my iPhone of course, haha) and Sister was making fun of me, but this was one my favorite. 



So, if you're ever in the area and want a place to chill out, drink some delicious coffee, or grab a snack with some friends, check out Elcy's Cafe