Sunsets & Cactus

"We're the three best friends that anyone could have... 
We're the three best friends that anyone could have!"



Recognize that little jingle? It's from The Hangover, and was the first thing that came to mind when I started this post. I'm wrapping up a fun weekend in Tucson with two of my best friends and headed back home to Houston this evening. It's been an awesome chance for us to all hang out and spend some quality time together, and we've enjoyed getting to see so many cactus (or cacti, to be politically correct), beautiful mountains and sunsets.

This was our view last night from the ledge we hung out on as the sun set over the city:



More fun photos and a weekend recap to come later, 
hope you all had a wonderful weekend!

Web Surfing

While I'm out of town with girlfriends in Arizona, I wanted to leave you all with some weekend inspiration from the web. I've begun following some cool new blogs over the past couple weeks, and it's like a never ending rabbit hole of projects out there!!! So many creative people, even more unique craftiness, so little time to look at them all. So I thought I'd highlight some of my latest favorites here for you. Enjoy!










If you haven't already taken a gander, check out my "bling" post on my handmade necklaces.



Happy weekend!

My Recipes: Spice-rubbed Salmon

I really liked the smoky, spicy flavor that came through on this dish - especially considering it was concocted from all dried herbs, which don't tend to hold as strong a flavor as the real deal. It's pretty simply and straight forward, and I kept our dinner light by serving the salmon with steamed carrots and whole grain rice that I flavored with some salsa.


Though I got the idea out of a cook book and then altered it to meet my preferences, I'm including their measurements below. I just eyeball it and pour, but I know that doesn't always work for everyone. ;)

Ingredients
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp dried thyme
4-6 ounces fresh salmon (I chose wild sockeye salmon that comes without added hormones)
EVOO


Preheat your broiler. Combine all the seasonings into a bowl and mix thoroughly.


Place salmon on over-safe pan and drizzle lightly with extra virgin olive oil. Then spoon your seasoning mixture over salmon, crushing it down just a bit to embed the spices into the flesh. Broil eight minutes, or until the fish flakes easily with a fork.



*EXTRA:
The recipe I consulted from my Cooking Light cookbook had a cucumber relish recipe to be served with the salmon. I didn't make it but thought some of you might like to give it a try!

Ingredients
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups chopped cucumber
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/4 cup chopped onion
2 tbsp chopped fresh mint
1 tbsp capers
1 tbsp cider vinegar

Combine all ingredients and serve with fish.

Bling bling!

I love making jewelry, especially necklaces. It's something I haven't had a lot of time to do for awhile, but I'm finally getting back into it and really enjoying it. I pick up gems, stones and trinkets whenever I spy them on sale at local craft stores and compile everything for when I'm ready to create. Every once in awhile I'll make a bracelet, and I've yet to make any earrings, but mostly I go for the necklaces. It's an item that can totally make an outfit and they're super easy to customize for length, style and color. I think most of my creations tend to come out with a slightly rustic "bling" side to them - they're lots of fun!



This past Sunday, I headed over to my friend Lisa's house to make some while she and another gal tackled some sewing projects. Lisa, knowing my obsession with turquoise, was sweet to gift me with a string of turquoise rocks just ready and waiting for the perfect necklace! I had a cute cross that went with them, so I strung up this lil beauty in a flash:



Here are some other necklaces I've made lately, some of which are gifts for friends, and others for my own personal collection:







I'm really enjoying the process and am wondering if I could even start selling a few here and there. It's nearly rodeo season here in Houston and I know all the women go crazy with their bling, pulling out jeweled jeans, bracelets, necklaces and gem-encrusted cowboy hats like crazy. Think I could have a potential market there! Would you buy one?

Speaking of all that bling, I found a great to store these badboys. My mother-in-law gave me a sewing box a few years ago, which I recently discovered while unpacking all our boxes. It's held thread, needles and buttons since then but I've never filled it up because I don't have an awful lot of sewing supplies. And after we moved into our house just over a month ago, I've been dying to get all my jewelry organized so I can stop having to untangle a necklace every time I want to put one on. It's driving me crazy! 




Today, while sitting in my office, I was pondering some ways I could organize the lot when I looked over and spotted the wooden trinket. Then it hit me: why not fill it with jewelry? Perfect! All the little compartments are the perfect place to nestled my treasured handmade necklaces and tons of earrings for easy access and mess-free storage.



Inspired by my sister who's been making a lot of scrapbook-style cards lately, I sat down and made a few very simple ones of my own last night from some white card stock I had on hand and a couple cutouts and accessories. Instead of grabbing something store bought, I figured these would be a nice touch and a bit more personalized - even if they are pretty straight forward. It's the thought that counts!





What are your current creative projects? I'm also interested in any feedback on the necklaces you might have for me, as I'm not sure yet or not if I want to start hawking some to sell. What's your take?

Weekend Update

I think the husband and I are still getting used to have so many weekends at home these days, since that's never been the case before. Prior to moving to Scotland for a year, we were constantly on the go or headed out of town. I mean, constantly... like every weekend. It was rare when we were actually home on a Friday through Sunday. Then when we moved to Scotland, we were traveling to new countries each month and scattered road trips and events in between our trips. We definitely had more "free" weekends, but it certainly feels different when it's spent going to the pub, touring a distillery or traipsing through castle ruins versus cleaning up the garage or mowing the lawn!

At the Glenfiddich distillery in August, 2009.

Once we'd returned to the States this past August, our weekends were spent driving to Dallas to spend much awaited time with our families, in addition to various events and welcome home parties we were delighted to be a part of. Then the holidays hit, and we were swamped with Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years festivities (but no complaints here!). Now that things have settled down a bit, we're literally basking the glow of "home life." Because the last thing on Earth that we would label ourselves is homebodies, but for once, it's kinda nice to experience a bit of that. Staying in town and having fun sans an eight-hour round trip trek to Dallas is a novel idea and then some. ;)

All that to say this past weekend was another one of those spent close to home. On Saturday, we picked up some chair railing from Home Depot at long last. It's for my office, which is slowly but surely coming together and looking fantastic! I can't wait to share pictures and keep thinking I'll be done with it soon, but I'm actually having to work in it instead of on it a lot lately, so eventually it will be ready for its grand reveal. We did bring home the chair railing and painted it, then the husband went to work nail gunning it into the wall. I grimaced and squinted my eyes shut every time he airshot one of those babies into the railing... as if closing my eyes would help avoid any wayward puncture wounds in nearby hands and feet! He just finished off the caulking Sunday night and it looks really good. 



Saturday evening we celebrated a friend's 30th birthday party with a beer-themed shindig his sweet girlfriend put together for him. Everyone (well, almost everyone) wore their favorite beer shirts or apparel, carted their favorite brew to the party and sampled the birthday boy's home brewed ales on tap for the event. His girlfriend also makes her own wine, so they are a match made in heaven. I didn't have a beer shirt, but I did proudly sip my Tecate from a kilt koozie I picked up in Scotland. It got a lot of comments!




After church on Sunday, and a big bowl of fresh chili that had been simmering away in the crock pot, I headed over to my friend Lisa's house for craft time. She and some other girls had the grand idea of getting together for "sewing parties," which involve wine, Champagne, munchies and inspiration all grouped together with gals who want to work on their projects in a creative atmosphere. I didn't have any sewing projects on hand, but I did bring all my jewelry supplies to make some necklaces that had been on the agenda for awhile. I was pretty happy with how they turned out! Stay tuned for a post on that tomorrow...

It was a typical around-the-house relaxing weekend. We ended it with a yummy dinner at our friend's house (the folks we lived with for four months while searching for a home post-Scotland!). Now I'm gearing up for another good weekend, this one not so close to home though as I'm packing up to visit my bestie in Arizona! Another of my best friends is meeting me there so the three of us are looking forward to some shenanigans out in Tucson. I am beyond excited to finally see her and thrilled we could all get together, it will be FUN!

Me, Medley & Jessica in July, 2009 at mine and the husband's going away party for Scotland.

There's something to be said about having wonderful and cherished friends in your life. Even when distance separates us and our life paths change, those kinds of friendships are the treasured constants to our every day.

My Recipes: "Leftover" Spaghetti Chicken Soup

This recipe was a total toss together and it turned out pretty delish - and absolutely perfect for a cold-weather day! See, I was so swamped with work earlier this week that I hadn't gotten to the grocery store and was literally running out of food in the house. I'd scrounged up some chicken from the freezer and defrosted it, I had a huge bag of leftover spaghetti cooked the day before and a big bag of carrots. I was trying to figure out what the heck I could make with all that when it hit me: chicken noodle soup, but with spaghetti! I'd never made this before, I usually do stews and chilis, so it was a welcome deviation from the usual and a great way to put my ingredients to work. But it's also good for any other day in between, so enjoy!



Ingredients
1/2 box spaghetti, cooked (I used whole grain)
12 cups liquid (I used 32 oz. organic chicken brother, and the rest water)
2-3 cups baby carrots
Dried basil
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper
1 packet Lipton onion soup mix
2 chicken breasts, cooked and chopped
Half an onion, chopped



First, I heated a skillet and tossed in a spoonful of coconut oil to cook my chicken. (Coconut oil are those "healthy" fats you hear about, and it's known to increase your immune system, digestion and metabolism. It's also known to fight cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and improve bone strength. You can even use it to condition your hair or skin! Now that's an amazing product! See more here.)


While the chicken was cooking, I brought a pot of 4 cups chicken broth (a 32 oz. box) and 8 cups of water to a boil. Then I dumped in my carrots and onions to get them tenderizing. I then removed my browned chicken and cut it up into bite-sized pieces.


Next, I took a pair of scissors and cut up the spaghetti I already had cooked.


Once the carrots started getting slightly tender, but not completely done, I added the chicken, cut spaghetti, onion soup mix, salt and pepper and about one tablespoon of basil to the pot.


Bring to a gentle boil for about 10 minutes, or until carrots are completely tender. It's ready to eat!

Saturday's Calling...

Hello readers! How are you today? I woke up at 8:30am on a perfectly good Saturday, and by neither alarm nor pet. I simply couldn't sleep anymore. How is that possible? Either way, I figured I could do with a quick blog post then hop on the couch to enjoy a movie until the husband gets up. Then it's biscuits, eggs and turkey bacon for breakfast - we sure do love our Saturday mornings together.

Have I mentioned how much I love our house? It's so cozy and charming and just perfect for us and our needs. We're still working on a few rooms, but it's nearly there. Regardless, we enjoy every minute we spend here and it already feels like home.


I'm also a little partial to the pets inside it, too! The kitties love to sniff around on the front porch and poke at all the "green stuff."


Last night, we spent a few hours laying in front of the fire place, catching up on our TV shows. Needless to say, the dogs loved all the attention they were getting and the super warm living room versus the 29-degree weather that crept into our backyard when the sun went down. It's freezing!



This week has left us both absolutely drained from work. It was a good week, just long and tiresome. There were some definite bright spots to bring us along, though. My husband celebrated his birthday this past Monday, he's a dashing 29 years old! Isn't he handsome?


He also received his license to practice as a Professional Engineer. He received word in late December that he'd passed the eight-hour test he took in October, but now he has the paper to prove it! If any of you know him, you know he doesn't rest easy until it's officially a done deal and he's got the proof. I could not be more proud of him - he's so talented, smart, such a hard worker, he has amazing character and he's insanely good looking. I am one lucky gal.



Well, I hope you have a nice weekend ahead of you. We're working on the house today and dropping by a birthday party this evening as long as I'm feeling a little better, and otherwise enjoying the sunshine while trying to stay warm. It's still pretty nippy outside. Check in tomorrow for a new recipe I created that's perfect for the chilly temps - "Leftover" Spaghetti Chicken Noodle Soup!

My Recipes: Spaghetti Squash, Homemade Marinara & Cheese Biscuits

This meal was a whopper - everything made completely from scratch! It definitely took more time than my usual 20 to 30 minute assembles, but it turned out so good that even the husband said, "I give this the thumbs up!" And that's when you really know it was a success. Plus, it was pretty healthy to boot.


The spaghetti squash is pretty straight forward as far as cooking, the homemade marinara recipe I sort of made up as I went along based on other recipes I'd read recently, and the cheese biscuits I followed to a "t" from the cookbook, Cook Yourself Thin Faster, because I am a terrible baker. After burning tear-apart-cookies on numerous occasions, and having a hard time following instructions, I tend to stick to what works: cooking to my own tune. So here we go!




Spaghetti Squash
1 large spaghetti squash (yep, that's really what they're called in the grocery store!)
EVOO
Sea salt and cracked pepper


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut the squash in half lengthwise (you might need an electric saw the husband or a pal to help with this process, as it can be tough! Maybe my squash was just super ripe). Scoop out and discard all the seeds, then rub the squash inside and out with the olive oil.


Season the inside with salt and pepper, then place the squash face down on a large baking sheet and place in oven for about 45 minutes or until the rind is softened a bit and gives in with pressure.


Once it's ready, remove from oven and, using a fork, scrape the soft flesh out of the squash. It immediately peels in strings, just like spaghetti! Amazing!




Homemade Marinara Sauce
10-12 medium tomatoes, quartered
EVOO
Sea salt & ground pepper
2 tbsp basil (fresh or dried)
1 tbsp dry oregano
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
2-3 tbsp minced garlic (I use the bottled stuff)
1 red bell pepper, chopped into large pieces
1 tbsp sugar



As soon as the squash gets in the oven, you might want to add the tomatoes as well since they cook at the same temp for about 30-35 minutes. To prepare your sauce, place the quartered tomatoes and chopped bell pepper into a square baking dish and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle on your basil, salt and pepper and place in the oven until the veggies are softened and some of the edges are just beginning to brown, about 30-35 minutes.


Once they are ready, remove from the oven and place into a large food processor. Add all remaining ingredients and process until smooth. Remove to a bowl and cover to keep warm.


Cheese Biscuits
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tbsp baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup reduced-fat cream cheese, cut into small pieces
1 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 ounces low-fat pepper jack or cheddar cheese, grated
1 cup reduced-fat buttermilk

Preheat oven to 400. In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and pulse to combine. Add the cream cheese and butter and pulse until the dough starts producing small lumps at the top of the mixture. ***Do not over "pulse" to where it gets doughy, or it won't absorb the buttermilk!!!***


Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and gently stir in the cheese and buttermilk, using a fork. The less you handle, the lighter the biscuit.


Form the dough into a ball, place on a lightly floured surface and smooth in a 1/2 inch-high round, then cut out rounds with a biscuit cutter and place on sheet. ***For folks who find this tedious, or are not avid bakers like myself, I just dug in and scooped out small mounds of the batter and put them smack on the cookie sheet. I do not need a perfectly shaped biscuit!***


Bake until the tops are lightly browned, 10-15 minutes.



And there you have it, a completely homemade, from scratch, delicious and healthy dinner!

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