3.30.2011

Flower Power

At long last, the warm weather has solidly arrived. And so have my allergies. It's been a tough couple days on my nose, I can't tell you how many boxes of tissues I've, uh, blown my way through. But along with those springtime allergies, come springtime flowers. I finally got around to planting a few in our front yard flower pot and plopped a couple more on our front porch. I think we need a larger plant on the porch next to the front door, but for now the mini palm will do. Maybe a few more pots or planters will add to the ambiance. And patio furniture is on the to-do list as well, but for now we have to work with what we've got.




Those poor chairs have been through hell. They were gift items from our wedding registry years ago, but have made three moves, spent a year in storage and fended off two teething Labrador puppies since then. In fact, I'm surprised they made it this long. We tend to avoid buying outdoor furniture nowadays that doesn't come in chew-proof rod iron form. Our patio table bit the dust long ago, but I did find a small ladder in the garage and decided that could fill in for a table of sorts in the meantime. It looks a little hokey, but I'll eventually get around to replacing it with something nicer. Perhaps a Pottery Barn-inspired cute bistro set, like this one I spotted on their website.


While I was snapping some photos, a curious kitty came sniffing at the door to see what was going on. She's always following me around the house and has been to known to sit in my office with me all day. :)


We have mostly bushes for landscaping at our place, which I like because the sago palms lend a slightly tropical feel and trimming bushes (versus watering and caring for flowers) is a strong suit for me. I love doing sweat-inducing "man's work" in the yard like mowing, edging, bush trimming and so on. The husband nearly cut his finger off once using the electric bush trimmer and we had to visit the ER for him to get it stitched back together, so he's no longer allowed to do that job!


I simply went for an assortment of colors in the large flower pot, and then used the leftover buds on the porch. The little white birdhouse was a $1 purchase at Target, but it came in baby blue so I spray painted it white and stuck 'er down among the blooms. The rest of our yard is slowly coming back to life. We've begun watering more frequently and I hope the monkey grass plants turn green again soon. They're currently pitiful mumps of dead brown.


To top it all off, we have a nest of newly hatched birdies singing from our microwave. Literally. They arrived through a missing slat in the vent on the outside wall and have nestled comfortably into the box in the cabinet above the microwave. Loud chirps erupt regularly during feeding time and greet us morning, afternoon and night. What makes it better is that this is the second time it's happened. A batch of babies was born shortly after we moved in and about scared us half to death when we thought birds were about to erupt from our cabinets! When they left the nest we didn't move fast enough to repair the vent, and another set of eggs hatched before we knew it. Oddly enough, it doesn't really bother us that much though we hope to finally de-bird the microwave once these guys are gone. For real this time!

video


Chirping indoor/outdoor birds aside, how have you welcomed spring into your home?

3.29.2011

Weekend Recap: The Last Resort

Sometimes you've just got to get away. Whether for the day, a night or a weekend, you've got that unmistakable urge to be highway bound. For us, it comes quite frequently. We love to load up our Chevy and cruise the open country roads, going somewhere that involves cold beer, sunshine and a pool if we're lucky. Sometimes we're content for that to be a friend's home in a nearby town and other times we're counting down the days until we're wriggling our way into an inner tube on the icy Guadalupe river. This particular getaway suited us more than fine, as the husband and I booked our petsitter for the first time and left sans any furry critters for the scenic water scape of Lake Conroe.

We stayed two nights at La Torretta Lake Resort & Spa, a AAA four-diamond lake resort just an hour outside the city limits of Houston. It's nestled on the 22,000 acre lake and has everything a Texas couple like us would need: pools, hot tubs, on-site restaurants, jet ski rentals, a beautiful spa and beauty salon, 20 floors of suite rooms with marina or pool-view balconies, tennis courts, putt putt and more. There's so much to do, it can be hard to decide where to start, but for me it always begins with food.

Our first meal was at the Yoi Sushi Bar. We arrived early enough for a cocktail in the adjoining Sonata Piano Bar first, then moved to our patio table outside for some delicious Japanese sushi. With a view of the quiet nighttime pool area and the tinkling ivories wafting outside the patio doors, it was pretty easy to relax. Even the husband, who is not much of a sushi fan, ate up everything the chef served that night. He had taken the liberty of choosing some excellent starters for us, including a crab cake salad with crispy eel topping and a mixture of rolls, like their signature crab-loaded roll, a spicy tuna and a dynamite version with spicy eel on top. We ate and ate and ate, and then we had dessert! I loved the green tea crème brûlée and my Tuscany martini (Tuaca, lemon juice and soda water). And to tease you more, you better believe I took photos of all that gorgeous food!



Dark drapes sure can con you into thinking it's only 4am, when it's really 10. We hopped out of bed just in time to catch the breakfast buffet before making our way down to the pool for some serious lounging. It was our first pool experience this year and we got our first sunburn for 2011! Make fun of me all you want, but nothing gets us more excited than laying by the water knowing that summer is just around the corner. There was even a "lazy river" and inner tubes so you could float along in leisure, piña colada in hand. Add to that a sunny day and my coconut-smelling tanning oil, and we're as happy as clams in the sand. 


Next up were our afternoon visits to two local wineries. We started off at Bernhardt winery, a small operation with a single bed & breakfast room that is owned by Jerry and Jerri Bernhardt in Plantersville, Texas. After a tasting and a tour, we paused for a couple photos and purchased two bottles of their Aggie Blush wine, a red and white wine blend that can be poured over ice and fresh oranges for a sangria-like summer drink. After reading my aforementioned proclamation about our love of summertime, it shouldn't be surprising that this sounded like a superb concoction to us.


Back to the small town of Montgomery, we popped in at Cork This!, a boutique winery specializing in custom made wines. You can purchase from their selection of fun labels like "One Night Stand" cabernet sauvignon or "Boot Leg Red" pinot noir, or mix up your own variety. They showed us a couple books of custom labels they can make as well. In between glasses of vino we browsed the boutique and watched the ongoing painting class behind the bar, where guests stroked away while sipping on wine. (Owner Karla Nash was a gem and was busy painting herself.) I loved the red umbrella patio tables outside, we people watched from there awhile, too, before heading back to our hotel.


While sitting at the bar, I discovered the most awesome wine glass idea - chalkboard painted wine glass stems! They had a piece of chalk tied to them so you can write your name on the glass. It's like a modern day version of wine charms, except this way you don't have to remember who had which charm... you just have to read the name! Expect a DIY post on that soon, I can't wait to try it. 


We cleaned up for dinner at Chez Roux, the resort's first-class restaurant. It's the only American eatery for Chef Albert Roux, acclaimed for his masterful French cooking. Both of us ordered the juicy ribeye for our main course, before moving to the Chef's Table in the kitchen for an array of amazing desserts. The husband and I each picked our favorites, I got the dessert sampler and he dove into a bowl of sorbet, but the pastry chef surprised us with two more treats, including a tray of fudge, macaroons and other delicacies and a mini-sized ginger crumble with white chocolate mousse. In between bites, we struck up a conversation with the Executive Chef Matthew Gray, who we discovered was from Scotland. For many years, Gray was the exec chef at Inverlochy Castle in Fort William, where the husband and I passed through during a road trip across Scotland. We chatted on and on about our experience while living there and listed to the chef's take on Texas. He's the only chef in the Lone Star State, as a matter of fact, to earn a Michelin star.




Our last day, Sunday, we joined the breakfast crowd for fresh fruit and pancakes before the husband went back to the room for a nap and I headed over to the spa for a massage. My allergies have been so bad and I had to blow my nose twice during the whole thing! A couple minutes in the hamman steam room and a hot shower later, and I was right as rain. On the way home, we stopped by Chicken Express for a healthy heart-attack lunch of biscuits, chicken tenders, mashed potatoes, gravy and corn nuggets. We always reserve it for South Texas road trips, and it made the perfect conclusion to a weekend by the lake.



Disclaimer: This weekend getaway was a press trip hosted by La Torretta for a story I'm writing for my publication, Dallas Brides. I was in no way compensated to feature our stay on my blog and all thoughts, comments and photographs about the resort are my own.

3.26.2011

My Recipes: Simple Sausage Dinner

Hi ya guys, how's your Saturday going? If mine is going anything like I want it to be, I'm laying out by the pool at a resort in Conroe, a stone's throw from a big lake just outside Houston.

But I'm probably also thinking about what I'm going to eat for dinner, a thought I have frequently since so much of my life revolves around the pleasurable glee I take from consuming mass quantities of food.

You might be wondering what you're gonna have on your plate tonight, too. If you're in the mood to cook something, either tonight or any night, but want to keep things simple, allow me to assist!

Today's recipe isn't really as much of a recipe as it is an idea of what to throw together in a snap. I grabbed some organic chicken sausage from the store recently, it's made without all those chemicals and preservatives and even came with poblano peppers and cheddar cheese ground up inside. I decided to slice each link in half and throw them on my stove-top grill (an outdoor one is even better!).


Pair this with some fresh asparagus, steamed lightly in the microwave or on the stove-top, then drenched in fresh lemon juice and a wee bit of garlic salt and grilled for a few minutes. So tasty and healthy.

Next, I cranked open a can of organic black beans and heated them on the stove with a couple dashes of Cholula hot sauce for an added kick.


Last, but not least, I threw together a fresh salad with chopped onion, carrot and tomato, grated pepper jack cheese, vinaigrette dressing, fresh ground salt and pepper and croutons. Dinner's ready!

3.25.2011

A Mac & A Resort

So here I sit attempting to make sense of my new Mac computer, just a few of many countless hours I'll be maneuvering this strange, new world...


That's okay, though. I'm sort of excited about discovering all the creative things a Mac can do. I've been a dedicated PC user for so long that it's a whole new level of possibilities for me! Plus, when you own a creative freelancing business and work from home, it's sorta important to stay connected and keep up with the latest technology. Or so they say. I'll let you know in a couple weeks...

I was getting a particularly painful headache after staring down the screen for too long, but broke out into a laugh when I looked over and saw my white cat passed out at my feet. She was napping pretty intensely. But when I broke out the camera, she woke up and got all interested in what I was pointing at her. Silly kitty.


For now, dear readers, I leave you with wishes for a well weekend and my own fingers crossed that it's sunny and 80 degrees when the husband and I arrive at Lake Conroe. We're on our way there for a press trip weekend. It's just the two of us and a lovely agenda that includes visits to a pair of local wineries, two nights of dinners at the resort restaurants, lounging by the pool and a massage. Ahhh, I can't wait. We went to the resort a few years ago, and though it was still undergoing some finishing phases, we enjoyed our time at the pool immensely. C'est la vie!


3.24.2011

Guest Room Reveal and My First Video!

Alright folks, it's time to show ya the brand new guest bedroom....



First, we'll do a little "before" showing, because this baby was Pepto Bismol pink when we moved in:



And now for the "after," which is much more pleasing to my eye!




You can more or less see the room from most angles in these shots. It's not as small as it looks, but it's not the largest guest room, either, so I was having to squish myself into the corner to try and get a good photo.

The walls took two solid coats of Behr's paint and primer in one. I was in there painting for so long that I was still seeing spots of pink even after I left the room. I also painted along and around all those shelves and the trellis supports, which wasn't quite as maddening as trying to paint invisible spots of pink on the wall that I kept "thinking" were there.

I love the coastal theme in here, it's so relaxing and pretty. I've always wanted a beach room, now I have one! To show you guys just how proud of it I really am, I am posting my first ever blog video! Please bear with me, my shaky hand, the heavy breathing and around-about explanation for the space. First takes aren't for everyone...


video

"...and we like it!"

Not sure how I managed to cut myself off at the end, but you get the point.

There are a couple cool little things I might have skimmed over in the video that I thought a photo and a caption would do ya justice for.

The turtle is made from broken glass found on a beach in Florida. It was a thank you gift for a story I wrote on The Beaches of South Walton a few years ago.

This is a snapshot of the husband and I on a vacation in Mexico years back. The frame is reminiscent of coral and came from Kohl's, I think. The candle is the background was a sale find at Homegoods and I glued a shell to the front.


I've had this frame for a long, long time. It was a matted print of a beach scape, but the photograph was such poor quality that it was actually pixelated. So I tore the whole thing out, leaving just the frame, glass and cardboard backing. I rubbed a piece of chalk over the latter, taped my photo to it (my feet propped up in Spain in 2010!), wrote the location in colored chalk and popped it all back in place. 

The starfish and sand dollar were last-minute additions with a hot glue gun. ;)

The turquoise mirror is mottled and aged, almost like patina on a bronze fixture, and came from Hobby Lobby for $30. I love the color it adds to the room. The decorative tiles were $4 from Ross and the Starfish hook came from Murdoch's beach shop in Galveston!

This frame was a memento from our honeymoon to Hawaii, where we're pictured on a dinner cruise just off Waikiki.

If you watched the video, you'll have seen the wooden palette I salvaged from our garage and coated with a layer of watered down white paint. It will hang from the wall above as a display for the shells pictured, all from Galveston's famous shell shop, Murdoch's.

The faded lettering I painted onto the palette, then scrubbed off with a sock dunked in my watery paint!


So what do you guys think? The whole thing just makes me want to be sittin' on a beach somewhere with an umbrella drink in my hand. In fact, that ain't such a bad idea...


3.23.2011

My Recipes: Rosemary Chicken, Brown Butter Ravioli & More!

Today, my fellow cookers extraordinaire, you get a bonus bonus! A main course, two delicious side items, a party-worthy appetizer and one mouthwatering salad. The chicken and ravioli were Rachael Ray recipes I adapted to my purposes, and the additional recipes are all my own. Prepare to eat well, because these got the stamp of approval from the whole family!



ROSEMARY & BALSAMIC CHICKEN
4-6 pieces boneless, skinless chicken breast
2-3 tbsp balsamic vinegar, eyeball it, just enough to coat chicken lightly
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp rosemary, fresh or dried, plus extra for topping
Sea salt and coarse black pepper
4 cloves garlic, freshly cracked or 4 tbsp from a bottle

Place chicken in a large ziploc bag, and pour in balsamic vinegar, then olive oil. Season chicken with rosemary, salt and pepper, mix up in bag (I just scrunched it all around through the ziploc) and let stand 10-15 minutes.

Remove chicken from the bag and cut each breast in half. For both outdoor grill or indoor stovetop grill pan, heat grill over medium-high heat and coat with a thin layer of organic coconut oil or olive oil (for nonstick purposes). Place chicken pieces onto grill, as many as will comfortably fit, and grill 4-5 minutes on each side. It's time to flip when the white opaqueness of the chicken begins to creep up around the edges. Remove to platter and sprinkle with rosemary. 


BROWN BUTTER RAVIOLI
1 16 oz. package of ravioli, any kind
3 tbsp butter
2 tbsp of balsamic vinegar
2 tsp of olive oil
Handful or two of cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup (or two palmfuls) of Parmesan, from a bag or freshly grated
Cracked pepper and sea salt

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for ravioli. Add in pasta, and cook 8 minutes or until raviolis expand, float to top of water, and are al dente. Heat a large skillet over medium heat then add butter to the pan and let it begin to brown. Once the butter comes to a light boil, it should be browned in the pan. Add in ravioli and tomatoes and stir quickly, coating the pasta. Once coated, pour in balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Cook a minute or two longer to reduce the vinegar and glaze the ravioli. The vinegar will become thick and almost syrup like. Add cheese, salt and pepper to the pasta and remove the pan from the heat.



GARLIC GREEN BEANS
1 lb. fresh green beans, washed & ends trimmed
1 tbsp. fresh or bottled garlic
2 tsp. organic coconut oil
Freshly ground salt & pepper

First, steam your green beans in the microwave or on the stove-top until they just start to become tender. (For microwave steaming, divide the beans into two piles and steam 3-4 minutes each.) Melt organic coconut oil in a large saute pan over medium high heat then add all the green beans. Season with the garlic, salt and pepper and stir frequently. Cook 8-10 minutes (continuing to stir and flip often) until some of the beans start to get a nice brown edge to them. Transfer to platter and serve hot.



CHEESE AND SHRIMP-STUFFED JALAPEÑO PEPPERS
18-20 fresh jalapeño peppers
1 small block of pepper jack cheese
1 bag of mini frozen shrimp

We used a jalapeño corer and pepper roaster to make these, however you can put them on a grill or lay them on a foil-lined baking sheet in the oven. Slice tops off jalapeños and remove all seeds (unless you want any super spicy surprises!). Thaw out shrimp in a colander by running cool water over them until no longer frozen. Slice cheese to fit inside peppers. (I slice my block width-wise, about 1/4 inch wide, then cut those pieces in half and crammed them in the jalapeños.) Squeeze 2-3 shrimp in next to the cheese, then roast at 375 degrees for about 25 minutes. *Note: 20 minutes in, you may want to add more cheese to the top of the peppers to fill them up or melt over.



EASY GREEK SALAD
1 package of romaine lettuce (really any kind of lettuce will do)
1/2 cup feta cheese
1/2 purple onion, chopped
Croutons
Baby tomatoes, halved
Fresh black olives (about a handful)
Freshly ground sea salt and cracked pepper
A vinaigrette dressing of your choice, I use Central Market's organic Vinaigrette de Provence

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and serve. Garnish with pepperoncinis if desired.


3.21.2011

Weekend Recap: A Family Rodeo

This weekend we spent time at the Houston Rodeo, ate so much good food and had a lot of laughs. It all started Thursday evening when the husband's parents arrived to our new house for the first time. We stayed up until 2am drinking wine, catching up on life and snacking on a cheese and meat board I threw together to satisfy the late night munchies.

Friday morning I paced back and forth trying to decide what combination of turquoise to wear, then we dressed up and headed to the rodeo!


It was a great people-watching, beer-drinking place to be on a Friday night. We perused booth after booth full of cowboy hats and sparkling "rodeo" jewelry, grinned at little boys sportin' their hats and spurs and wolfed down BBQ-loaded baked potatoes and funnel cakes like they were going out of style. There were giant pigs and big fat goats (which won upwards of $100,000!), baby livestock and plenty of bling.

 

At the end of the night, the husband even recreated a "famous" picture of his younger brother when he was a football player back in high school. I helped things out a little by photoshoppin' in a football on the right. :)


On Saturday, we went for a late lunch at The Yard House in the ever-developing CityCentre area, followed by a bit of shopping at Anthropologie, Sur la Table and The Tasting Room. We sipped some super amazing wines and each left with a bottle (or few) of our favorites. I think the guys were happy once the boring clothing stores were over and a little vino was on the menu!


Next, we stopped by Amanda's apartment to have more wine and hang out with her and Mark (the husband's brother) for a little while. Finally, I just had to give the in-laws a peek into my favorite Texas grocer chain, HEB. We went to the huge location off I-10 that has literally everything you'd ever need and plenty of products from Texas-area vendors, like a cute clay pot with the state of Texas on the front for just $10. It was the perfect addition to our front porch and the mini palm-looking plant we had out there. 

After all that, we were wiped out. So Saturday evening was spent at our house, cooking, playing darts, watching a movie and drinking our new vino. It was so nice. Dinner was awesome, too, since I tried out a couple new twists on some traditional items (like brown butter glazed ravioli). It was great to have my mother-in-law in the kitchen helping me out! We even made some pepper jack cheese-and-shrimp-stuffed-jalapenos as appetizers, along with chips and homemade guacamole. I think we literally ate our weight in food. If your mouth is watering, check back tomorrow for my recipes on each item for your own feast!


Church and a family lunch (complete with margaritas) rounded off our Sunday. The in-laws made their way on to Galveston for a night before returning to Dallas, and the husband and I met friends at the movies that evening to see The Lincoln Lawyer. It was really good and had a couple twists that kept me interested, especially since I haven't read the book.

We are so fortunate to have such wonderful family on both sides and enjoy every opportunity they are able to come down and see us. (My mom and sister also recently spent some time in Houston, check out our yummy food ventures and shopping excursions here.) Now it's time to work off all the eating we enjoyed the past few days and gear up for a busy week. We are hoping to get away somewhere close this weekend and I am keeping my fingers crossed this sunny weather holds out for some potential pool time!

Look for new recipes tomorrow, and happy Monday y'all.


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