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December 23, 2011

A Little Holiday Poem

It's the night before Christmas Eve, and all the while,
I have been browsing Pinterest like it's going out of style.

via


Loki is nestled all snug on his superhero fleece bed,
while visions of belly scritches dance in his head.



I whipped up a crochet scarf in a flash,
set the timer to 45 minutes for a quick cleaning mad dash.



There's no sign of snow, making for an easy northward drive,
but there's magic in the air, and I'm feeling alive.



There are errands to run and laundry to do,
but there's one last thing I would like to share with you.





May your holidays be merry, may your new year be bright,
From our family to yours, have a blessed night.

December 9, 2011

Friday Round-Up

It's funny how the weeks seem to drag, but when Friday arrives, it feels like it was just last Friday, oh, yesterday! I guess that's better than feeling like an eternity has passed, right?

I promised myself before Thanksgiving that I would be done all my photo work by now so I could "enjoy" my holiday season, but of course, I have fallen behind a little bit and am finding that I'm happier with what I'm putting out there by pacing myself than placing deadlines over my head and racing to the finish line. My progress has been steady the past two weeks, and I am confident that by the time Christmas rolls around, I'll be home free. If you want to check out some of my latest work, you can find my photo blog here.

I am proud to report that these cookies have not completely vanished from our kitchen yet.

If you're looking for a new time-waster, check out my new favorite thing ever, Procatinator. My absolute favorite is this gem.

We got our first Christmas card yesterday! I was so excited, I put together my display frame tonight using a frame I got at Michael's, some baker's twine, and these fun little hanger paper clips. My one card looked lonely so I added a couple I got last year from my girl Liz at Flutter Letterpress.




Seriously gorgeous. I can't wait to see this all filled up. When the holiday season is over, I'll replace the cards with photographs. 

I also thought I'd share some pictures of my finished advent calendar. I love the ornaments, but I'm not terribly crazy about the hanging piece. Next year these might go on a small tree in the middle of our table.





There's not much going on this weekend in our gluten free household. Maybe a little more baking, and scouring some recipes for upcoming holiday gatherings we're going to.

Whatever you have planned, have a glorious weekend!

December 7, 2011

Gluten Free Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

As I mentioned in my Christmas Day post, I had my first successful attempt at gluten free baking this week! I am very excited to share this recipe with you, and hope you experience the same joy that I do every time you bite into one if these soft, delicious cookies.



Gluten Free Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Adapted from Quaker Oats Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Recipe

Ingredients:

1 stick + 6tbsp of butter, softened
3/4 c firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 c granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp organic vanilla
1 1/2 c King Arthur Gluten Free Multi-Purpose Flour
1/4 + 1/8 tsp xanthan gum ($13.99 at Whole Foods, goes a loooooong way for the price)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
3 c Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free Rolled Oats
2 c semi sweet chocolate chips (instead of raisins)

Preheat oven to 350F. Combine butter and sugar in a stand mixer (or bowl using handheld mixer) on medium speed until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well. In a separate bowl, sift flour, xantham gum, baking soda, cinnamon and salt together. Add to mixture and blend. Add oats and chocolate chips. Mix well, scraping sides of bowl with spatula to make sure it's evenly blended.

Line baking sheets with parchment paper, or leave pans ungreased. Drop generous teaspoons of cookie mix evenly spaced onto sheets. Bake for 8-10 minutes until golden brown. Cool and enjoy!

Prep time: 20 minutes. Yields 3-4 dozen, depending on size of cookie you like :)


Warning: the original recipe calls these cookies "vanishing" because they may simply vanish from your cookie jar, tin, or airtight storage container before your very eyes. Elves may appear in the middle of the night, or accompany your children home from school, and sneak a cookie into each pocket before going on their merry way. There is sadly no way of preventing this except to enjoy them while they last. 

December 6, 2011

Christmas Day

I am a lady who loves traditions. When I was little, my family had a few traditions that really made the Christmas season special. We made Quaker Oats oatmeal chocolate chip cookies with my Dad. We had the annual family yankee swap where blood, sweat and tears were usually shed for things like Billy Bass and a jumbo pack of toilet paper or beer. We went to the local tree farm in town and spent the morning hunting for the perfect tree, and would decorate it as a family once Dad made sure it was perfectly straight in the living room. We'd have at least three family viewings of Christmas Vacation, and my dad would always be busting a gut laughing by the end of Chevy Chase's famous rant.

"We're gonna have the hap-hap-happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tapdanced with Danny F*!#ing Kaye!"


I have it on good authority that they're watching it right now. Great memories. :)

I think of these little things that made the season special for me as a kid, and I want the same for Sean and I. These little traditions bring comfort year after year. We look forward to them. They bring us closer together. So I've been putting thought into what we can do now, before we have kids, to celebrate together, just the two of us. That brought me to yesterday: Christmas Day (not to be confused with Christmas Day).


Sean was coming off 11 days in a row of work this past weekend, and we'd traveled home for a brief visit to celebrate my niece's 3rd birthday. I realized last week that I need to finish up some vacation days before they disappear into thin air, and what better way to spend a day off than to take a Monday off with my husband? Thus, Christmas Day was born.

I had grand plans to rain Christmas down over our apartment, with mugs of cocoa, freshly baked cookies, a tree decorated and carols ringing over Lastfm on the Xbox. And I am proud to say, it was a success.


Our tree, though fake and a bit scraggly looking, sparkles magically and fills me with a feeling that days to come will be calm and bright. Even when Loki tries to knock the shiny little balls off.




I have been feeling craftier lately, and one idea I had that I loved as a kid was having an Advent Calendar. My family's Advent calendar was a hanging red banner with a tree made out of felt, with little velcro characters and objects for each day that were added to the tree one by one. It was a fun way to visually countdown to Christmas, a little something to do each morning. By Christmas morning, the calendar was fully decorated and looked marvelous. So I decided to give myself a little project this year and make one for us, a one of a kind calendar to use for years to come. I used a little Sculpey clay, ribbon, gold pen and a sheet of aluminum from Home Depot, and finished my Advent calendar. We now have 25 homemade ornaments hung with care, so we can keep track of the days until St. Nicholas is here.








We took a mid-afternoon break from the holiday cheer to go see the Muppet movie. Color me hormonal, but I spent the entire movie wiping tears from my eyes. I love those characters so much. 'Specially this one.



In past years I have been guilty of doing all the decorating by myself, usually on a day Sean is working a 12hr shift, mostly out of sheer excitement to get everything set up. But this year I wanted it to be something we do together. New apartment, new traditions! You can be darn sure that our tree decorating will be a family event going forward. We make a good team.



And the cookies....oh, the cookies. A tradition I stole from my dad. Each year, there was the great cookie baking day, where we tackled the Quaker Oats Oatmeal Raisin cookie recipe found inside the cover of the oat canister. But with a twist....Substitute raisins for chocolate chips!






I tried my hand at gluten free baking from scratch, and well, it was amazing. Recipe coming soon!

Although the rain outside and warmer temperatures are less than white and Christmasy, I am happy that our little "Christmas Day" was a success. I think I'll have to take the first Monday of December off from now on so we can have our little celebration.

I don't think Loki would mind one bit.


November 29, 2011

Getting Stuff Done

via

This week I am working my booty off to get my photo work done so I can relax into the Christmas season and enjoy every last morsel of cheer. I have a Thanksgiving "recap" to write and a few fun little Christmas craft projects planned to share with you. I also have a to-do list for the apartment that could make Santa weep tears of hot cocoa. But one thing at a time and it'll all get done. And if it doesn't get done, it wasn't worth doing in the first place.

For now, I'm pouring a cup of hot peppermint tea and listening to my "White Christmas" station on Pandora. If you're a fan of the more classic, "oldie" holiday tunes, you can't go wrong with this station. It's marvelous.

The above illustration is a print by Mary Kate McDevitt. She has a sweet etsy shop and I already purchased this print from her over the summer. I love etsy; there is so much variety, it always feels like a treasure hunt. And it feels good to buy stuff that is handmade, designed with care, not mass-produced. Do you shop etsy? What are your favorite shops?

(poster print by illustrator Mary Kate McDevitt)

November 23, 2011

Gratitude and Nuzzlefests

How is tomorrow Thanksgiving? It seriously snuck up on me this year, like a devious turkey popping out of the bushes. Even more frightening is the fact that we're ready. After 3 grocery store trips and one massive refrigerator clean-out, we're ready. Last week was crazy. It left me exhausted and dealing with a rollercoaster of emotions. My car was in the shop getting a new transmission, Sean's car died on us on a rainy Wednesday night and needed a new battery. Needless to say, I am completely looking forward to the long holiday weekend ahead.

Having An Attitude of Gratitude

Lately I've been envying people who can just go home, have dinner, and sit and relax, read a book, knit, or do whatever they want. It's not easy trying to start up your own business when you're still working a 9-5. Not easy at all. But I love it, and we soldier through. We do what we can and make the best of the situation, even if it's less than ideal at the moment. I am thankful for Sean and his love and support. He knows that my photography makes me happy and fulfills me, and he's willing to give up time with me in the evening so I can make it happen. He's seriously a rock star of a husband. I am reminded of this constantly.



With the crazy schedules and traveling every other weekend, we jumped on an opportunity to have an adventurous date night last week. A friend of ours posted on Facebook that he had 2 tickets to the Jets-Patriots game last weekend. After hemming and hawing for about 10 seconds, we decided to go for it. It was Sean's first Patriots game, we had amazing seats, and although we were completely surrounded by incredibly frightening, drunk, and angry Jets fans, we had an amazing time. And the Patriots won. Bam! It was worth every penny we spent for a night out together.

Some little things that made me happy lately are:

Setting the timer on the stove for 45 minutes when I get home from work and power-cleaning the apartment. I can get a lot done when I set my mind to it!

Being able to laugh with Sean over the ridiculousness of car repairs.

Our dinner date last Tuesday night, going out for Indian food, sharing a bottle of red wine, and cooling our burnt taste buds with ice cream.

Snuggles with my kitty. He has been crawling into my arms almost every time I sit down at the computer and we have little nuzzlefests. We're gross, I know.

Watching this video of parents getting an amazing surprise at a Bruins' game. It is probably the best video I have seen all year.



My Thanksgiving Menu

Sean and I will be celebrating Thanksgiving together in Connecticut this year since he has to work, so I will be cooking up a storm tomorrow for us to enjoy when he gets home from his shift. I often have conflicted feelings about not being able to spend holidays like this with our families. It seems so easy for some people. But I also grew up with my dad, a firefighter of 35 years, working on holidays, and learning that it's not about just being all together for one day, it's about doing what you can, when you can, to make the time you do have together count. If that means having Thanksgiving dinner at 7pm, or on Saturday, or celebrating a family Christmas in January, it's what we do.

Tomorrow I'll be making:
And for dessert I am making my very first ever pie! All-American apple pie with vanilla ice cream. I am so excited to make it. I confess, however, that I'm using a pre-made frozen GF pie crust, which can be found at Whole Foods in the GF freezer section. Please don't flame me. Most of you know by now that baking is not my forte.

Fill in the Blanks

I have another installment of fill-in-the-blank Friday, courtesy of Lauren at the little things we do. I know it's Wednesday, but I answered these last week and then never posted them, so here you go! As always, feel free to play along in the comments or on your own blog!

1. A nervous habit I have is fidgeting. I am a toe-tapping, knee shaking, head-bobbling fidgeter.

2. Something that makes me sad is the number of people trying their hardest to accomplish life goals, and how hard it can be. Finding a partner, finding a job, trying to get pregnant, trying to pay off debt. We're all struggling with something and it's not easy.

3. Today I am thankful for my home and warmth. I woke up chilly this morning due to the temperature drop, and was reminded that there are people who do not have a warm bed, a roof over their heads, or the option to get up and turn up the heat if they need to. I am blessed, indeed.

4. My favorite room in the house/apartment is the kitchen/living room. They are open to each other and I love that it's a cozy space that encourages interaction, even if we're not physically in the same "room".

5. I can't stand people that cannot find one positive thing to talk about once in a while. The world is not so terrible.

6. If I had an extra $100 to spend today on whatever I wanted, I would spend it on frames so I can hang up the photos I recently had printed.

7. The last person I hung out with was my friend Katie! I stopped by her place in Rhode Island on my way home last Saturday and we got lunch and caught up. I am so thankful for our friendship. We worked together for a year when we both moved down here to Connecticut. She moved home after that year, but we've gotten closer and she's an amazing woman and friend. She is always there to listen and give advice, and she's just a joy to be around. I was so excited to meet her adorable new pup, Kipper! Kip's a rescue pup, and they also have Ruby (a.k.a. "Big Rubes") and Nanny (a.k.a. "Nanny Bananny", not pictured). I love this family. LOVE.

What are you plans for the holiday weekend? Are you going to decorate for Christmas? Watch football? Brave the stores at 3am for a flat screen? What's on your Thanksgiving menu? Whatever you do this weekend, enjoy it!

From our family to yours, I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving!

November 7, 2011

Knit One, Purl Two

It's been so long since I picked up knitting needles or a crochet hook. It feels like ages. I donated most of the yarn I had last year to my sister since she can whip up a woven creation in no time, and for a while my materials had been sitting in the back of my closet, untouched, collecting dust. But...I got the itch. And I blame Pinterest.

If you've never heard of Pinterest, it's a highly addictive visual idea board where you "pin" pictures of things that you see that you like, ranging from recipes to crafts to photography to things you'd like to bookmark to purchase at a later date. Like Facebook sharing, you can Like, Comment, or Share people's pins, follow people's boards, and browse what is popular in the pinning world.

So in the world of Pinterest I started seeing more and more cute scarves and crafts that I am dying to try. Here's the problem: I never graduated beyond knitting and purling. I never made anything more than scarves. And now I want to make everything! Well, not everything, but definitely this. And this. And probably at least one of each of this and this.

Sadly, this is all I have to show for right now.


 10 rows of knitting and purling that I just realized I already screwed up.

That should keep me busy through the long, cold winter, right? I can't even talk about driving home from work in the dark today. I can't. I already miss the sun.

Do you have any crafty hobbies you enjoy? Are you working on any fun projects? I would love to hear!

For now, I leave you with a sleepy kitty.

November 4, 2011

Merrily We Roll Into the Weekend

Have you had a good week? I have been a bit of a crazy person on an emotional rollercoaster, but overall I have enjoyed this week. I feel like I'm finally getting into a groove of updating and not writing novels for blog posts. Would you agree? Sometimes novels are good, but there's a time and place for tangents, and off I go on one again...

I am heading to Boston early in the morning to shoot a wedding, and the weather is looking to be - well, I'm not going to say it after last weekend's craziness. Mother Nature is a saucy minx lately, and I would hate to jinx the forecast. But I am excited for my couple and the location. It'll be an amazing day!

Sunset in Darien, CT 11/4/11

Here are some fill in the blanks courtesy of Lauren at the little things we do to send you into the weekend...As always, feel free to answer these in the comments or on your own blog! 

1. My favorite thing about this week was/is getting to spend real quality time with Sean, Loki, and some friends.

2. Colder weather makes me wish we had a cozy, crackling fireplace.

3. Three things that make me terribly happy as of late are flannel, my husband, and my photos.

4. If I could only wear one kind of shoe for the rest of my life, I'd choose flats. They're comfy and can be casual or dressy.

5. My personality type is friendly extrovert with homebody tendencies.

6. I have a serious problem resisting a second cup of coffee. I am trying to wean myself off that dependency.

7. My favorite color to wear is blue! However, I usually wear a lot of black, gray and brown, with pops of color.

November 3, 2011

Extended Family

Living away from our families can be hard, some days. It seems to get harder around the holidays, when I'm feeling more sentimental, missing the traditions I grew up with. It makes me appreciate the time we do spend at home that much more, especially on the random in between days where something reminds me of my brother's sense of humor, or I catch a whiff of salty sea air or the smell of the first snow falling on crunchy leaves. There are lonely days. It's easier with Loki keeping me company, but there are days or nights when I just wish more than anything that we were a short drive away from Mom and Dad's and I could just stop in for dinner or a quick visit. Or just a Saturday morning cup of coffee.

We are, however, blessed. We are blessed with close friends who live nearby and in our assorted late 20s, both married and single, no kids (yet). We have become each other's family.

We share Sunday dinners. We play games. We enjoy beverages. We laugh.



When hurricanes strike, we cook lasagna on the grill.



With no kids to take trick or treating, we eat pizza and watch Ghostbusters.

Our families extend beyond blood relationships. These are people who have become a solid part of the foundation in our lives. They are irreplaceable.

And it makes it just a bit easier on those days when I am missing home, when I want nothing more than to curl up on the puffy green couch with my mom, that there's someone nearby whose couch I can curl up on, enjoy a glass of wine, and find the same comfort of family and familiarity.

November 2, 2011

Simplify

written November 1

If you're anything like me, the moment it is November 1, Halloween is over (regardless of whether or not your town postponed trick or treating due to snow - what??) and the holiday season is upon us. I'm not saying my Christmas tree is up and Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby are crooning over the Xbox - I know, I know, a crackly old turntable would be so much more romantic - but there's just this feeling in the air. It's a feeling that makes me think of sparkles and snow and crackly fires and ribbons and sitting around a table feasting and laughing. Thanksgiving is 3 short weeks away, and the promise of time spent with family, eating food and being all sorts of jolly, it just gets me feeling all warm and full of happy, mushy feelings.

This past weekend's snowstorm may have made these feeling even more apparent. As I adventured all over town on Saturday shooting a wedding, it was pretty clear that October-fall as we know it is over. October-fall and November-fall are completely different seasons as far as I'm concerned. One is all about pumpkin spice, foliage and the slightly brisk feeling in the air. The other is colder, crisper, the first real need for winter hats and coats and gloves. High school football games and marching bands with instruments frozen to fingertips. Pumpkin spice is traded for peppermint hot cocoa.

Today just feels different.

There is much to plan and look forward to, but it's also a great time of year to reflect and slow down. It's easy to get caught up in the "I need to shop" and "I need to prepare for 20 people to invade my house this weekend". Just slow down. Take a deep breath. Let the cold air fill you with energy. Snuggle into that sweater a little tighter. The first thing I asked myself this morning was How can it possibly already be November? That's what happens when life starts getting away from you. I am gripping as tight as I can to each day, to savor each feeling and experience of the season. The smell of the yarn that my grandmother crocheted into a winter hat for me in high school, after 8 months of being stored in a plastic tub. Wriggling into my fingers into my wool mittens...I am holding onto these things so tight.

My mantra going forward is simplify. One day, one moment at a time. I constantly find myself focusing so hard on the future that I miss the now.

There is no time like the present.

October 24, 2011

Gluten Free Harvest Risotto

You know what's awesome? Those first chilly nights of fall that beg for flannel pjs and the windows to be opened just a crack. Pumpkins adorning front stoops and hot apple crisp topped with a hearty scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.  There is so much to love about fall. Football, sweaters, snuggling under a quilt with a mug of hot cider and the sound of crunchy leaves crackling as they scrape across the ground outside. That's what's awesome.

It's a time to start slowing down the pace, and to prepare for the colder months of the year. We add layers of clothing and meals get a little bit thicker and comforting. The days grow shorter and we start yawning a little bit earlier in the evening... And of course as I type this, Loki is tweaking out like a sugar-high ninja that was just electrocuted. Does he smell a squirrel outside? Did he take too many naps today? We will never know. 

We were long overdue for a good risotto and I got it in my head last week that I wanted to make one that tasted "like fall". A little earthy, a little spicy...We are trying to make meals that are healthier but equally delicious. What would be full of flavor that tastes like fall? How about garlic, onion, mushrooms and sweet potato? And a touch of nutmeg? Done. Here's my Gluten Free Harvest Risotto.

Oh, and it's vegetarian. :)

Ingredients (serves 2-4)

1 cup of arborio rice
4-5 cups of vegetable stock (low sodium)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
3 fresh cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 yellow onion, well chopped
1 cup of baby bella mushrooms, well chopped
1/2 cup of white cooking wine
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into chunks
2 tbsp creme fraiche
salt and pepper
ground nutmeg
dried rosemary

Instructions

Bring a small pot of water to a boil, and place sweet potato in pot. Cook until potato is soft and easily pierced with a fork.

In the meantime, heat the olive oil and butter in a pan over medium heat, and add garlic and onion. Cook until onions soften and garlic is browned. Add your arborio rice and mix well with garlic and onions until rice starts to lightly brown. Add your cooking wine, and season with salt and pepper. Mix well and allow to reduce down. Lower heat to medium-low. Add vegetable stock, one cup at a time. Keep stirring rice and allow the stock to reduce before adding the next cup.

Drain the water from your sweet potato and using a hand mixer, food processor or immersion blender, puree the sweet potato. Add in the creme fraiche, season with salt and pepper, and add a healthy pinch of nutmeg and rosemary. Mix again for about 30 seconds or until well blended.

As your rice starts to expand and soften, mix in your mushrooms. Add your last cup(s) of stock and allow to reduce. Remove from heat and carefully  mix in your sweet potato puree. There may be a few chunks of sweet potato that didn't get blended - that's fine! Embrace the chunks!




Serve warm with a light sprinkle of nutmeg. Enjoy!

October 21, 2011

Thoughts of Fall

Another Friday, another week gone by and with fall finally well underway, I am happy to be regularly sporting sweaters, scarves and boots. Can I just say that the crisp cool air gives me life?? Fall is why I could never live anywhere other than New England. There's truly nothing like it.



I have another fill-in-the-blank for you, courtesy of Lauren at the little things we do. Feel free to share your fill in the blanks in the comments or on your own blog!

1. Nothing says fall like the smell of nutmeg and decaying leaves.

2. My favorite autumnal tradition is going to our friend's Oktoberfest to ring in the season.

3. My favorite fall treat is a tossup between pumpkin chocolate chip cookies and my Sunday crock pot meals.

4. Fall makes me think of my birthday, which always feels like more of a new year than January 1. That's probably because I still associate "new years" with the start of the school year.

5. Autumn free form word association, go! color, change, pumpkin, spice, warmth, football, memories, joy

6. My go-to outfit in the fall is usually a dress or big sweater, leggings or tights and boots. And always a scarf. I wear scarves every day for 6 months out of the year.

7. My favorite fall holiday is Thanksgiving! It's one of the few holidays that keeps it real. It's simply about sharing a meal with loved ones and acknowledging what you're thankful for. It's also the day Sean proposed to me, and will always hold a very special place in my heart as "our holiday".

October 19, 2011

A New Take on Taco Tuesday

Tuesdays used to be my favorite as a kid. It meant tacos for lunch. And there was something really appealing in the crunchy neon yellow shell, the orange fatty grease dripping out the bottom, that made me salivate as I stood in the lunch line, gripping a crumpled up $2 in my fist.

It's fun to recreate those meals as an adult. Sean and I enjoy a nice beefy taco every now and then. I even went so far as to make my own taco seasoning when we weren't exactly sure if the seasoning we bought was reliable. I came to realize, however, quite how unhealthy this meal is. We like to go big or go home. So taco night would mean corn tortillas piled high with seasoned ground beef, cheese, salsa (from a jar), maybe guacamole, sour cream, and maybe some lettuce if we could fit any in before doing the taco juggling act of trying to get the majority of it in your mouth without spilling it all over your lap.

Last night I wanted something spicy and comforting, but without the calories. A few simple substitutions gave us a similar meal, but a little easier on our stomachs.

Pan-seared chicken tenderloins, seasoned in salt, pepper, cayenne, paprika, celery seed and garlic powder. Add in some sliced bell peppers and onions and a touch of olive oil.


Black beans, heated and seasoned with chili pepper.

Fresh salsa

Fat-free sour cream

Goya corn arepas, heated up on both sides in a pan


Simply build your own and enjoy. Just as messy as a taco, but perhaps a bit easier on the calories. A little bit of sour cream goes a long way and gives you the hint of dairy you might want, minus a pile of melty cheese. Or you can skip the arepa and enjoy it over a bed of crispy lettuce or rice!