Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Craft-Impaired

I'm what you would call 'craft-impaired'. Try as I might, my glitter never falls nicely, my rhinestones are a little off, and my stitching isn't necessarily pretty. Passable-yes. Pretty-no.

I attempt crafts- I'm just one of those unfortunate individuals who's project doesn't quite turn out. It's not horrible, it's not admirable, it just 'is'.

So imagine the twinge of jealously I felt when I walked into one of the local knitting shops only to discover that not only can these people knit yarn, but they can apparently KNIT METAL:


Truly, I'm more impressed than jealous...and by "more impressed" I mean "totally desperate to own all of these". Seriously, how cool are those? I'd say especially cool, considering they're locally handmade. 

Maybe someday I'll be cool enough to learn to make these myself...

HA! Who am I kidding? I can barely put my earrings in somedays, let alone knit up an entire a bracelet. What I really mean is: 

Maybe someday I'll be cool enough to ship one of these off to a lucky blog reader- provided there actually ARE any blog readers. 




Monday, July 30, 2012

The Mysterious Mexican Bakery

I did a lot of cooking and baking over the weekend. A LOT. Call it a coping mechanism, call it a stress reducer, call it whatever....I'm sick of recipes right now. I would love to post all of the nummy things I made and give out step-by-step guidance to the perfect venison roast stew, buffalo chicken, iced coffee and breakfast muffins...but I won't. Seven loads in the dishwasher plus infinitely pruny fingers from hand-washing has left me exhausted with the cooking world. At least for this evening...

So. I present to you...............................The Mysterious Mexican Bakery. It's a thrilling tale. Nestles in the downtown of a small town in Minnesota, there sits a bakery. There is no signage, no store front, one can hardly see into the windows- and yet! there are tasty things inside.


Instead of launching into a paragraph in which I describe how I'm drooling over each sugar crystal above, let me give you a little background as to how I came to frequent TMMB. When I was still fresh and green at my job, one of my fellow co-workers extended the branch of awkward office friendship (that has since become less awkward, more friendship) and asked if I would like to join her for a quick walk downtown. 

Side note--for those of you working office jobs I sincerely suggest taking a 10-15 minute jaunt around the block as a mid-morning break. It's a great way to perk up! But I'm sure you all knew that already, because this is the age of health, fitness, and denial about the McDonald's lunch.

Anyway. Back to the tale. 

As we were strolling along the streets, my co-worker suggested that we stop into 'the bakery that our boss likes'. Well. If the boss likes it, I suppose it's my duty to visit a bakery. Sometimes my job is so taxing...

On a completely unrelated note, I feel like my skirts might be getting a little tighter. No clear reason as to why. But again, back to the tale:

We ducked inside a very small shop that I never would have taken as a bakery. From the outside, I would have guessed vacant office space- though I say that mostly because I couldn't see through the windows and there was no signage anywhere to indicate the tasty treasures inside. Boy was I wrong. Cases and cases of sugary, golden pastries. Some filled with a wonderfully spiced cream, some dotted with candies and nuts, some glistening with eggs wash straight out of the oven. It was beautiful. 

And now, on random and unpredictable occasions, the office will feel the craving. The craving for cinnamon churros. For sugar dusted crossed buns. For Tres Leches cake. And off we go to The Mysterious Mexican Bakery (still with no signage or storefront) where $5.00 will buy you 5,000 calories. 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Simple Success- Cinnamon Sugar Breakfast Bread


I was skeptical when I found this recipe. Quick breads have always been touch and go with me- some work, some fail spectacularly. Quick bread success has, for me, been hard to come by. But this simple recipe was fool-proof through and through. It only took minutes to mix up and pop in the oven, and after 45 minutes of the tortuously delicious smell of cinnamon and sugar wafting through the air, I was glad that it only took minutes to scarf down two pieces of this simple, successful quick bread.

Cinnamon Sugar Breakfast Bread
1/3 cup sugar
2-4 tsp of cinnamon

2 cups flour
1 TB baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup milk
1/3 cup oil

Preheat the oven to 350. Mix together the 1/3 cup sugar and 2-4 tsp of cinnamon (amount based on taste). Set aside.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Add the egg, vanilla, milk, and oil and mix only until all the dry ingredients are wet.

In a greased loaf pan, pour in 1/2 of the batter. Sprinkle the cinnamon/sugar mix, then top with the remaining batter. Sprinkle with additional cinnamon/sugar if desired.

Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan and placing on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container, ziploc, or aluminum foil.

I would highly recommend heating up and topping with butter for a tasty breakfast treat!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Butternut Squash Soup



I was strolling through the produce section at the grocery store yesterday when something caught my eye. Butternut Squash. I adore butternut squash. I never used to. I used to think it was just another of those random vegetables that happened to look lovely as a table decoration. However, all of that changed when I ordered a Butternut Squash and Lobster Ravioli on a whim.

There was an excellent Italian restaurant in the tiny town I went to college in. This restaurant was one of those small luxuries afforded to those of use who chose to seek higher education off in the boonies. I had a friend who waitressed there, and one night she brought over this mystical ravioli. Once she opened that take-away box, I was suddenly seduced by the scent of butternut squash, cream, and sage. Next time I was able to go out to eat, I went straight to this restaurant, ordered the ravioli, and fell in love with butternut squash.

Since that dining experience many years ago, I've been meaning to try my hand with butternut squash. I figured that the perfect first step would be butternut squash soup. After reviewing countless recipes, I decided to say 'the hell with it' and make up my own.

Butternut Squash Soup
1 squash
3 cloves garlic, roughly minced
1 TB Butter
1 TB Bacon Grease (or butter/olive oil- but bacon makes everything better!)
2 tsp dried sage
1 tsp basil
1/2 tsp onion powder
liberal sprinkle of kosher salt
pinch of cayenne
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup whole milk or 1/2 and 1/2

Begin by scooping out the seeds and such, then chopping the squash into 1 inch cubes. Set aside.

Heat butter and bacon grease in a large skillet. Add garlic and sage and cook for a few minutes. Be careful not to burn the garlic!


 
mmmm, garlicky goodness

Add the squash to the pan, stirring to coat. Sprinkle with kosher salt, pepper, basil, and onion powder. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. 




Next, add in 4 cups of chicken broth and a pinch of cayenne. Bring the pan to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes, or until squash shows no resistance to a fork.

In small batches, puree the broth/squash until smooth. Add 1 cup of whole milk or 1/2 and 1/2 if a richer taste is desired, or omit if calories are being considered. Give a final taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.




























Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Microwave Minute Magic



Don't get me wrong- I'm a big fan of baking. From scratch, buttered-and-floured pan, cooling rack baking. It's therapeutic. Last fall I baked to help ease my heart- I baked to get through a difficult senior semester - I baked to grow a friendship. Baking- it's part of me. But sometimes, I'm just too tired at the end of the day to whip out the KitchenAid and bring the butter to room temp. 

Enter Microwave Minute Magic. 

I've seen a huge amount of recipes lately for microwave cakes, cookies, and brownies. I decided to test out the brownie. Obviously it's not the same as a brownie tenderly crafted from hand-chopped chocolate, but in a pinch this brownie is definitively passable. 

1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup brown sugar or white sugar
2 TB cocoa powder
pinch salt
2 TB canola or vegetable oil
2 TB water, milk, or coffee (USE COFFEE! - honestly, coffee should always be used in chocolate baking)

In a microwave safe mug, mix together the dry ingredients until thoroughly combined, then add the liquid. You'll end up with a very thick paste- that's a good thing. Go with it. 

Place the mug in the microwave for 1-2 minutes. I have a very small, weakling of a microwave, so I would suggest checking the brownie in 30 second increments- just poke your fork along the side to check and see if it's cooked all the way down.   

Let cool for a few minutes before eating. I *highly* recommend topping with vanilla ice-cream (and perhaps a drizzle of caramel...) as it is a little bit rich. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Something Refreshing



It's so humid out...the kind of humid where I'm sweating anytime I poke my head outside. It's also hot out...the kind of hot where I'm fairly certain I'll suffocate from the heat whenever I have to get into my car. I've been trying tons of things to stay cool:


Cold showers
Sitting in front of the air conditioner
Having a cold drink
Sitting in front of the air conditioner

What a variety! I must say, all of these things have worked out splendidly. Last night I indulged in a little Monday night happy-hour. It was still relentlessly hot and humid, but the sun was starting to sink and I figured it would be a great time to sit outside on the pub deck and enjoy a cold one. I tried something new last night and I'm pretty sure I love it. I say 'pretty sure' because it's odd, it's different, and I still don't expect the taste every time I take a sip: Schell's Shocked Radler 

(photo taken by Chad Aldrich)

For those of you unaware, a Radler is a German-style beer concoction usually comprised of a 50/50 or so mix of beer and lemonade, soda or juice. I first had one of these tasty things in Deutschland itself! 50/50 Beer and Lemonade....it was delicious. Everyone looked at me like I was a crazy person when I'd ask for the same mix in an American bar. After explaining what it was, everyone wondered why I didn't just go for one of the conveniently bottled Shady's that so many breweries have taken up. Granted, I do enjoy these brews, but they seem a little 'off' compared to a hand-mixed Radler.

The Schell's Shocked Radler is a mix of grapefruit juice and a lighter ale (I'm assuming, but don't quote me...). It's light, it's smooth, it's not overly sweet/tart/hoppy/beery...it's just a simply refreshing beverage. Try one!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Silky Summer Legs


Holy Cow. I can't even begin to describe to you how smooth my legs are. I honestly can't stop touching them. After seeing this shaving sugar scrub on Pinterest, I decided I should give it a whirl. Having soft, smooth skin is one of those things in life that I strive for. I lotion, I exfoliate, I massage- anything to have deliciously touchable skin. This sugar scrub makes every attempt before look like child's play. Here's what you do:


Combine 1 1/4 cup sugar, 1/2 cup oil (I used olive, but use whatever!) and 3 Tablespoons lemon juice.


Hop in the tub and let your legs soak for a few minutes. Shave.

Massage the sugar scrub onto one of your legs for about a minute. Rinse, then shave again. Pay attention to your razor head, because it's about to get all sorts of gunky. Exfoliating with the scrub loosens up all the dead skin and dirt, and the 2nd shave will get all of that nastiness off your legs. Once you're done shaving, rub the scrub on once more, then rinse and repeat on other leg. Go ahead and apply a little bit of lotion afterwards if desired, though I would recommend against anything with shimmer, tanner, or fragrance.


I won't lie to ya- I used this scrub on my entire body, anywhere that I could reach. I was a little worried that exfoliating, shaving, and exfoliating again would cause a lot of irritation (especially since I have fairly sensitiv skin) but my legs have never felt better- no itch, no burn, no bumps...just silky smooth skin.


Saturday, July 14, 2012

DIY Tortilla Chips

I have come to accept that I might be one of the most uncoordinated grocery shoppers ever. I buy cereal but not milk, lunch-meat but not bread...you get the picture. My latest grocery adventure yield a huge, delicious jar of my favorite store-bought salsa (ma's homemade will always be the best!) with no chips. This proved problematic when a salsa craving set in late at night. I was in my pjs, sans-makeup, with greasy post-workout hair....I was not about to go to the store. So, I improvised.



Grab some tortillas. I only had flour ones on hand, but I would definitely recommend corn. Spray both sides of your tortilla with cooking spray. Then, attempt to cut the tortilla into typical chip shapes. I failed miserable at this....I was hell-bent on getting that nice triangle shape, but apparently geometrical planning is not my strong suite. As a result, I ended up with a hodgepodge of shapes. Kind of embarrassing, actually....

Anyway.


Toss those babies on a cookie sheet and throw 'em in a 400 degree oven for about 10 minutes. While they're in there, go ahead and grab yourself a lime. Truthfully, the only reason I used lime is because I had one, lonely lime left after and evening of gin & tonics, and I just couldn't bear to see it go to waste.
Juice the lime, then grab a bit of salt. 

                                                                                                                                           

Don't worry about the cinnamon and the sugar in the background....we'll get to that later, though I'm sure you can already tell what's going to happen.

Take out your par-baked chippies, brush them with some of the lime juice and sprinkle on the salt. I don't like my chips too terribly salty, so I use just a tiny pinch per chip. In fact, my fear of over-salting means that I scatter salt sporadically, so most of it ends up on the cookie sheet anyway. See below for proof.


Stick the chips back in the oven for another 4-5 minutes, or until a nice, golden-brown thing starts happening.

Or, if lime and salt aren't your cup of tea, grab some cinnamon and sugar. When you take the chips out after 10 minutes, brush with melted butter and sprinkle with the C/S mix, preferably coating both sides for maximum enjoyment.  Bake for another 4-5 minutes, watching carefully so the sugar doesn't burn. Trust me on this one.



Churro Chips! I thought about making some sort of dip for these but A. they're already pretty tasty just by themselves and B. it was already 11 p.m.

Store chips in an airtight container and enjoy!







Thursday, July 12, 2012

This one goes out to all my sustainable fashionistas..

Check out this amazing magazine mini-dress I found the other day:


First, let me apologize for the blurry picture. I was trying to balance an ice-coffee in one hand and taking a picture on a touch phone with only one thumb can be kind of difficult. But people, we're not here to focus on my sub-par picture taking abilities. We're here for the dress, and by-golly have the folks at The Rare Pair in Northfield really outdone themselves with this creation. I WISH I could wear this. 

I think my favorite part about this is that the magazine sections over the bust are pictures of fabulously voluptuous and glamorous women. Also- the cute little flower belt? How adorable is that?!

Do you think that people would try to 'read' you if you wore this out in public? Better hope there aren't any interesting articles on your backside, or things might get pretty awkward...

-visit The Rare Pair at www.rarepair.wordpress.com or by stopping in Downtown Northfield, MN!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Another Day at the Cabin

My fabulous, wonderful, amazing Auntie M. and her family just arrived from D.C. this past weekend. Naturally, the best way to celebrate this type of news was with a day on the lake...



We tubed, we jet-skied, we sunbathed, we read the latest gossip magazines in hopes of finding out exactly WHY Katie Holmes decided to escape from Tom Cruise. (Note, no satisfying answer was to be found.)


Then, we all spent a considerable amount of time answering Zachy's questions. A 6 year old mind will never run out of things to ponder. I guarantee it. Doesn't he look like he's giving Aunt J the business in this picture? I promise he's not- Zachy's one of the happiest little dudes around. Inquisitive? Yes. A tough guy? No. 


That's Prancer- she's quite the boat dog. I confess that I was a little terrified that she was going to fly off into the lake, but Aunt J has her trained up pretty well. She stood sentry when we all decided to jump in the lake mid-boat ride, and held her post until we navigated the boat safely back to shore. What a salty sea dog! 

While all the fun and sun was fabulous, the resulting sunburn has me in a world of hurt. If you'll excuse me, I think it's time for another round of aloe. Oofta. 


Saturday, July 7, 2012

A Note on Love

Sometimes things happen that leave us without strength, without answers, without an easy way....and it's okay. When things like that happen, all you really have left is love. Hope can wax and wane, courage will falter, and even faith can be shaken.

So love. Love big-ly, love fully, love unconditionally. Love without question, without expectation, without restraint.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

July the Fourth

My family has a tradition of going out to our cabin every 4th of July. This year was the first time in five years that I've been able to make it out. Five years. Five 4th's with no boating, no tubing, no potlucking....it's a wonder I've survived.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Summertime Dip- a Pinterest Recipe

I've seen this dip recipe every now and then on Pinterest. Each time I see the ingredient list, my mouth starts to water just a little bit and I start to crave...In honor of the 4th of July, I've decided to give in to temptation and finally test out this Summertime Dip. There's always a little risk with Pinterest recipes- sometimes the simplest ones turn out horrible, and you wonder how you could have been so deceived with so few ingredients. I assure you that that is not the case with this recipe.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Sushi Vibes

Can I just say that I love the town I work and live in? Aside from all of it's other stellar qualities (which will be revealed in due time) I have to say that I'm totally in love with the sushi selection in my neck of the woods. Granted, I've had sushi fresh from the East Coast- they make a mean 'octopus taco' as my dear Auntie M calls it. However, I think my local sushi joints are pretty darn impressive for Southern Minnesota. Case in point? The Sashimi Cocktail at Tokyo Grill in Northfield-




Isn't it puuurdy? The martini glass changed colors and made me have all sorts of conflicting feelings about raw fish protocol- Do you try to drink it? Do you just watch the pretty lights? Why didn't I order that? How cold is that fish? Can fish look 'refreshing'?

Ahem.

Sorry.

Anyway- the point is, I'm fortunate enough to have my small town boutique vibe and big city palate all nestled together in one lovely town. Now if you'll excuse me, I find I've developed a sudden hankering for Spicy Tuna...

The What and Why of it All

I get Minnesota Nice, I really do. Hell- I STRIVE to be MN Nice on a daily basis. Is it difficult? Ya. Do I sometimes get the short end of the stick? Sure. Do I sometimes want to abandon the smile and simply scream? You betcha. 

However, I've come to realize that if I can hold the frustration at bay and instead force myself to be as charming, as friendly, as *nice* as possible, the situations that make me want to pull my hair out often resolve themselves in an anti-climatic and, dare I say, satisfying manner. And if not, there's always wine. Additionally (in the interest of preserving my liver) there is now also blogging. No- this will not be a blog dedicated to passive-aggressive rantings. I have enough stress surrounding me daily- I don't need to spend time typing it all out and spreading it around the internet. Instead, I'd like to fill this blog with happy things: musings, recipes, tips and tricks, pictures- a hodgepodge of happiness that takes place here in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.