Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Back in the Saddle

For my entire life, there's been one thing I've known for certain about myself.

I was meant to be a writer.

It wasn't ever something I had to debate, and more or less, it just poured out of me. I have journals dating back to elementary school. Once the conditions aren't so dry around here, I'm going to torch those before my husband can read them. 

I was on the yearbook staff in high school. I majored in Journalism and minored in English in college. My path was set, and I figured the decision to write would always be an easy one.

I got a job at the newspaper, where I worked for roughly four years. Starting out doing page design, which eventually lead to my post as the Entertainment Editor and columnist for the Friday Preview section. Loved it. I may always consider that the best job I ever had.

I moved on to become the editor of a local magazine. And about the same time, I began to question if the thing I loved, the one thing I thought was for certain, was still right for me. Could I sustain a career in one geographic location for the remainder of my working life ... in an industry that was drying up before my eyes.

So, I let it go. And never have I regretted it. A lot of people didn't understand. It was how people identified me. They felt I'd given up on my dream.

I started working in marketing. It allowed me to apply my skill set and challenged me on new levels. And it paid better than my days as a "starving artist." I'd found the best of both world!

But inevitably, writing about concrete isn't as exciting as the topics of my previous gigs, and I was craving another outlet. This blog has been just that for me. It's the place I can ramble, post recipes, share my home makeovers, occasionally raise an eyebrow with deep thoughts.

Even still, I miss print. That's the print journalist surfacing in me! Can't help myself! So ... that makes me especially excited to share some news with you all.

I'll be back in ink in September as a lifestyles columnist for CityLife Magazine. I think that means I've officially written for every publication in this town!

I'm excited to have another avenue to write and express myself.

Journalist ... Marketer ... Blogger .... I wonder what'll they call me next!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Local Restaurants Have to Try Harder

Preface: Brace yourselves, people! I'm about to have a full on Gordon Ramsey moment!

One of the benefits of living in the South is that there's no short supply of excellent, original restaurants where we live. Ty and I were following the "eat local" movement before we were even aware it existed.

Within two miles of our house, we can find the best sushi, Italian, sandwiches, Mexican, steaks, seafood, pizza -- and they're all locally-owned establishments! But before the doors even open, local restaurants are at a disadvantage. There's no corporate office dictating how things should be done. Instead, the responsibility falls on the restaurant owner, who's likely just getting his/her feet wet in the most difficult industry for entrepreneurs.

That's why it's always good to give restaurants a little time to work out the kinks before trying them. At the paper, when we would write restaurant reviews, we always gave restaurants a three month grace period before we would visit. Otherwise, you're not really giving them a fair shake. It's a good rule that I still follow when deciding whether it's time to try a new restaurant. Do you really want to be the guinea pig the restaurant works its kinks out on?

So, with all my love of local restaurants, I was thrilled to see a new pizzeria and market going in close to our house. The place was called Fresco, and for months, I drove by in eager anticipation as I watched workers transform the raggedy building into a cute little bistro.

Then, finally in June, I saw an open sign appear. We were there! I tried to wait the respected three months, but I hardly made it two weeks before my car steered itself into the parking lot. We hadn't even made it to the door when we were greeted by the owner who told us they weren't actually open yet. ... I thought that's what "open" signs meant? He handed us to-go menus and all but begged us to come back.

Strike one. But he was such a nice guy, I wasn't ready to write the place off just yet.

We decided we would go back again last night. I'd seen a growing number of cars in the parking lot, and was ready to give it a shot. The place was adorable and charming, but it didn't take long for me to know I would never return for the following reasons:
  • There was no wine or beer list. It was all left up to our waiters interpretation, which was far from accurate considering his drug induced state of mind. He could hardly hold his eyes open, so inevitably our order was wrong and Ty ended up with something he didn't want.
  • I continued to see items come out of the kitchen that weren't on the menu. And the menu wasn't even the same as the one we'd been given just a few weeks prior. There was hardly anything on the menu that even interested me. One soup. One full-portion salad. Maybe six sandwiches (the only difference between some menu items being the bread). And a variation of about six different pizzas.
  • So, if you're only going to offer a few items, they should be cooked to perfection. My Florentine pizza arrived at the table beautifully. I couldn't wait to sink my teeth into the homemade crust and fresh toppings, but after my first bite, I realized it was severely undercooked. Doughy and gross. Ty asked to speak with the manager (at this point, I thought he was going to lose it!).
  • Instead of the manager coming to see us, the chef was sent to our table. He apologized for the pizza and I felt bad for him since it's not really his job to interact and keep customers happy. Ty asked again to see the manager, but he couldn't be bothered to come out of his office. I've never seen anything like that! Who does this guy think he is, The Wizard!!
At this point, we were furious beyond repair. I could have overlooked the pizza and the waiter, but the manager ... I can't get over that and will never go back to the restaurant.

I love local restaurants because the customer service is usually so much better than at any chain. ... But at this restaurant, we were treated like just another check.

And for that treatment, I will be spending my money somewhere else.

What would Gordon Ramsey say about that?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Things of Pinterest

I was absentmindedly surfing Pinterest at home last night when my husband looked over at what I was doing and said, "I don't really get what you like about that app."

I should have left him right then and there. But then I remembered I love him, so I took deep breaths and settled my anger by repetitively thinking "parents husbands just don't understand." Then I tried to explain how I've discovered a whole new world of possibility -- recipes, kitchens, baths, clothes, curtains, shoes, jewelry, DIY things that I will never actually D -- what's not to love?

He still didn't get it.

So, I pulled out the big guns. I told him that new pasta dish I make ... the one with the from-scratch cream sauce ... yeah that's the one ... your new favorite ... I found it on Pinterest ... so shut your penne pasta loving piehole.

I didn't really say it with such gusto, but I like to pretend I'm a tough Italian since I can make good sauce. I hear on Real Housewives of New Jersey that's the most important characteristic a woman can possess. Something to aspire to.

Here are some things that have been Pinteresting me lately:


{Some beautiful, clean elements I can incorporate}

{I'd love to see some fresh-from-the-oilfield boots in this bathroom.}


{I love the reclaimed wood floors and the island in a different finish. I would subscribe to the newspaper if I could read it sitting here.}

{My favorite house from Southern Living. Can you believe this is new construction? This is how everyone should build. New that looks old.}

Laundry Room.

{This would be a great way to hide my washer and dryer since they share a space with my half bath. Ty will also appreciate us not having to buy those $500 drawers that serve little to no purpose}


{I really liked this photo for a Christmas card with the tag line "Married and Bright" ... or just "Merry and Bright" if you're less cheesy than me. Ty says: "Do I look like the kind of guy who will do that." My response: "No, but it's fun to pretend."}

{I'm thinking these North Pole Cupcakes are going to get us back in the good graces of our neighbor since our minor fallout regarding the duration of Ty's 30th birthday.}


{And finally, the pasta that started it all. The justification to my new obsession. Baked Penne with Chicken and Sun-Dried Tomatoes. Try it immediately.}

{It can be 100 degrees outside and I still fantasize about soup.}

I've seen several of you lurking around on Pinterest. Can't wait to see what you've been loving lately!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Menu Monday on Tuesday

I can most certainly say I've never had a weekend that I didn't look forward to. Except for maybe when I worked weekends at the paper. But since the weekend was actually my week, I don't think that counts when considering weekends that I didn't look forward to. Confused yet?

I say all that to say, I did not look forward to this past weekend. I'll even be as bold as to say I dreaded it.


We had a garage sale.

It's such a horrible, dirty, exhausting thing that I'd like to say I'd never do it again. But we did make more than $700, and if I ever end up with this much crap again, I'd probably endure one dreadful Saturday morning for the extra cash.

Ty and I each had our separate complete sets of everything from our single years. Then we got all new stuff when we got married last year. And it all combined into the perfect storm of household items. Some items for sale included:
  • 5 utensil sets
  • 20-plus unmatched pots and pans
  • 2 sets of dishes
  • 1 Orbis ring and necklace with about 30 interchangeable colored balls
  • Several pair of size 2 Abercrombie & Fitch jeans (I could have cried over this)
  • A love seat from when my parents moved into my childhood home ... I was around two years old at the time, which makes the couch roughly 28.
I was glad to purge the boxes we stacked in our garage a year and a half ago. But I wish there was an easier way.

After such an eventful weekend, I imagine this week will be extremely low key around our house. I'm cooking all week with the hope that we can eat and be in bed by 9:30 each evening. It's something we aspire to most evenings!

Here's what's on the menu:

Monday: Pork Tenderloin with Squash and Fairfield Grocery's Best of the Bayou (go pick this up for dinner ... amazing!) 
Tuesday: Chicken Dorito Casserole (made by Jill Dephillips at our Frozen Dinner Swap) and Refried Beans
Wednesday: Red and White Tortellini with Caesar Salad and Garlic Bread

Friday, August 19, 2011

Fabric for Dining Room Chairs

Around six months ago, Ty and I killed the green wallpaper in our dining room (Hallelujah Chorus ... in unison everyone), and repainted it a golden beige with an orange ceiling. I adore it.

This picture is a little blurry, but I thought you would like to see the look Lacy is giving me. She looks at me like this every morning as if to say, "Are you going to feed me or what?" I live to be her servant.

Here we go. This one is a little clearer.

It was a drastic makeover that changed the feel of our dining room from cave-like to warm and inviting. And since then, I've been scavenging and hording fabric swatches for curtain panels and dining room chairs. ... the ones we're using have got to go! I've got fabric coming out the wazoo (wherever that is), but I've found some treasures that meet my criteria.

1. I want curtain panels to be patterned but the same color as the wall. This will add some interest to the room, while keeping the focus on the lovely ceiling.

2. I want chairs to be comfortable, plush and bring in some new interest and color for the eye.

3. I'm still looking for a square rug ... suggestions are welcome!

So, I've set my heart on this fabric for curtain panels. The color matches the walls perfectly, and I think the pattern adds the drama I'm looking for. It's delightful when you have something in mind and then actually find it!

But when it comes to fabric for dining room chairs, I've become non-committal even though I have a fabric I think I like above the others. Your help is necessary!! I'm going to share my top four choices (in order of preference) and hear what you have to say. I'll show you what the fabric looks like on the chairs and the actual fabric swatch because they can look drastically different.

1st Choice - Augustine Amber

I really love this fabric. It has a beautiful warm orange that will play well off the ceiling and I love the additional green this fabric would bring in. I wouldn't say I'm a huge floral person, but this one has the power to persuade! Even though the fabric is a lighter cream color, I don't worry about it too much since they will be washable slipcovers.

2nd Choice -Tuscan Vine

 I really like this fabric, too. But I worry that it would be way too much beige when it all came together. It's a little heavier look than I like.

3rd Choice - Palomar Sand

I have three images for this one, and truthfully, I don't know if this fabric is even available.

The swatch on the web site.

The swatch delivered to me.

The pattern in a different color.

I like this fabric, if it's even available, but it's not really bringing in any color ... just more beige.

4th Choice - Anya Chocolate

I like this one on its own ... but for my dining room chairs, it doesn't blow my skirt up. It might be too dark and a little uninteresting.

Thanks gals for your votes and help! It's like trying to decide on a restaurant on Friday night, you know where you want to go but you need some affirmation!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

My Day in Prison

I can't believe it's Thursday and I'm writing my first blog post for the week. Shameful, but par for the course these days. I've been extraordinarily busy ... and in lock up.

It's one of the interesting factors of my job and the marketing of precast concrete. When a job is completed, we're often invited to an open house ceremony (they always have these since taxpayer money is involved). And this time the job just happened to be a 40-bed prison in Central Arkansas.

Prison is an interesting place, even without the prisoners. Glad to say I've never been before and fingers crossed things stay that way.

I did see a few prisoners on my tour. I suppose they were bussed over from the old prison to help clean up after our catered lunch (yes, I ate lunch at the prison, too!), which brings me to the most interesting part of my trip. The prisoners don't wear hunter's orange ... they wear hot pink. I've heard of this practice that originated at Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Arizona prison, but I've never actually seen prisoners wearing pink before.

My day did get progressively better after leaving the prison. As you would imagine!

Before our drive home, we couldn't leave Little Rock without going to eat at Doe's Eat Place. You drive past ... and see this:

And, naturally, part of you wonders if you really want to eat here. But I'm a fan of the dive. Perfect example, Herby K's. It's what's on the inside that counts, right?

The place will not dazzle you with her looks, but once that plate, piled with a dozen hot tamales, arrives at your table. Her persuasion begins.

You have two and restrain yourself from having three since your entree hasn't arrived yet. But it's a spicy, seductive, tempting offer.

And within minutes, your patience is rewarded with the largest, most-tender, well-seasoned porterhouse you've ever tasted. Homemade fries accompany, and if your table mates aren't looking, you attempt to do a little sopping with them. And maybe if you were eating this steak at home, alone, in complete privacy, you'd gnaw on the bone. This is heaven for steaks. So blissful, in fact, that it brings you to a state of mind where gnawing on a bone doesn't seem so grotesque and uncivil. I regret not packing it for the ride home!

It appears I've had a love affair with steak. ... Perhaps my time in prison may have given me a greater thirst for life on the outside. Truly, crime doesn't pay.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Dijon-Roasted New Potatoes

"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height ..."

Have I ever told you guys what I think Elizabeth Barrett Browning was really getting at with this sonnet?

I think it all boils down to potatoes.

"I love thee freely, as men strive for Right" ... See, I would agree. I feel this strongly in regards to all things spud, and I have the freedom to do so.

"I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise" ... There could not be a more humble form of food cultivated from this earth.

"I love thee with a passion put to use" ... She is so right ... you can boil them, fry them, roast them, mash them, saute them, bake them, etc.

My college poetry professor may not agree. In fact, he may have just keeled over at even the suggestion, but I can see the interpretation so clearly. Or maybe I'm just hungry. At any rate ... clearly, I find everything about potatoes to be fabulous, so I'm always looking for new ways to serve them up as a side.

When it comes to new potatoes, I've always made them one particular way: dice, coat in olive oil and kosher salt and bake with sprigs of rosemary. The aroma is intoxicating and they come out of the oven crispy on the outside and tender inside. Divine. But unfortunately for me (and the plant in my backyard) my husband doesn't fancy rosemary as much as his counterpart.

Recently, a solution came my way and we've been baking new potatoes on a regular basis ever since. These Dijon-Roasted New Potatoes combine dijon mustard, a few seasonings and a little bit of olive oil for the perfect flavor combination. I like that the recipe calls for less olive oil, but still gives you enough to make the potatoes crispy.

They're so easy to make, I hope you'll enjoy them very soon! You may be inspired to compose a sonnet about them! I'm telling you, these potatoes just might have that power.

Dijon-Roasted New Potatoes

1 1/2 pounds new potatoes

Cooking spray
2 tbsp dijon mustard
1 tsp olive oil
3/4 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp black pepper
  • Preheat oven to 425 and coat a 9x13 baking dish with cooking spray.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together mustard, oil, paprika, salt, thyme and pepper. Add potatoes and stir to coat.
  • Transfer potatoes to prepared baking dish and roast 15 minutes; stir and roast until tender on the inside, about 15 to 20 minutes more.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Interesting Things I've Seen Lately

Well, I'm officially back from Disney Hell. I arrived at my hotel late Sunday night and immediately called Ty once I got to my room to tell him that I'd seen the ugly face of tourism. ... jacked up prices (Disney "magic" = highway robbery), pirate ship restaurants, twice-daily alligator feedings. Not exactly my scene. I've conceded that when I have children I will do all of these things and probably love it. But when I'm at a trade show, selling ... of all things ... prison cells, I'm not in the mood.

With that being said, it's good to be home.

My trip was wrapped in interesting sightings. From the time I left my office Friday to the time I dropped my bags at home ... oh, what these eyes have seen.

I know no one wants to say it ... it's the elephant in the room on the road?

It's not everyday you're "behind" (har har) an elephant's rear on Youree Drive. There was political messaging hanging on the side, but I quickly passed, fearing the conversation I would have with my insurance company if the elephant smashed into me. How could I possibly explain a single car/elephant collision?

I felt a lot better once the elephant was in my rear view. But really, when you have an elephant tailing you, can you really feel at ease? It's the closest I've come to experiencing an African safari.

As I stood around waiting to board my flight from Orlando to Atlanta, I saw someone who looked very familiar. I thought maybe I was crazy because no one else around me even reacted to his presence. Then I saw a Sharpie fall out of his pocket, and I knew he was in fact the person I had assumed him to be.

Can you guess?

I'll give you a hint. My brother guessed correctly right off the bat, but his second guess was Jerry Springer. This is not Jerry Springer.

Second hint, with fall upon us, we're all about to see much more of this guy.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Cajun Shrimp Pizza

Every now and then, Ty and I will luck into an invitation to my Aunt Robbie and Uncle Tom's house for pizza night. It's a night of delicious homemade pizzas and "fellowshipping" with old friends.

Here's what happens: About 15 people get together at Robbie and Tom's. Tom starts assembling pizzas, with a variety of toppings. Fresh from the oven, homemade pizzas arrive on the table every 10 to 15 minutes. We eat pizza until we've all completely gorged ourselves.

Tom's pizza is amazing. The crust is super thin and slightly doughy. I know a lot of work (and bravery) goes into pizza night, so I'm especially grateful when we get an invite. I mention bravery because pizza dough has always intimated me. There's so much good pizza in the world, what makes me think I could do it better than the pizza place down the street, who's business is specifically to make pizzas? Or forget doing it better ... doing it at all might be the more realistic obstacle.

I don't find dough necessarily difficult to make, but I figure it to be one of those rogue ingredients. You can never fully trust its next move. You think you've made a beautiful dough, then you bake it and it swells to monstrous proportions, comes to life and eats you instead. See, I'm really scared of dough!

 {Photo courtesy of Annie's Eats}

But then I saw this picture on Annie's Eats, and it beckoned to me, "Trust me. Make me. Enjoy me." And for a split second (which is all it takes to set my mind to something), I was convinced into thinking I could make homemade pizza. For starters, I've made several of Annie's recipes and they never disappoint. I was thrilled with both the Buttermilk Chive Biscuits and her Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake Bars. Next to Southern Living, most of my favorite recipes come from Annie's blog. It doesn't hurt that her photography is so beautiful that it's almost edible!

What I enjoyed most was that Annie's blog walked me through each step of the process and answered difficult questions. So, rather than post the recipe here, I'm going to share links to her blog where you can find the same helpful tips.

Here's how it went. I made my dough the night before and put it in the freezer until the morning. This keeps the dough from rising, turning into a monster and eating you instead. The morning of the day I was going to make my pizza, I pulled the dough out of the freezer and put it in the refrigerator. When I got home from work that evening, I put the dough on the kitchen counter to rest for 30 minutes and then started shaping my pizza.

I am in deep concentration as I work on my dough. Ty thought we needed a nice action shot for the blog, so he snapped this for me. He probably thought you all wouldn't believe me if you didn't see it for yourself! 

In the meantime, you quickly cook your shrimp, just until they're opaque. If you cook them longer, then throw them in the oven on the pizza, there's a good chance your shrimp will turn out rubbery. This was my second greatest fear in making Cajun Shrimp Pizza ... monster dough and rubbery shrimp sound like quite the disastrous duo!

You assemble all ingredients: Annie's pizza sauce, mozzarella and Romano cheese, diced red onion, green onions, red bell pepper and the shrimp. Then bake for 10-12 minutes, spending most of that time praying that your pizza does what it's supposed to do! 

I suppose I prayed really hard because mine turned out beautifully despite all my fears. 

Don't let all the components of homemade pizza intimidate you because delicious things await. Now that I've gotten my first pizza under my belt, I can't wait to start hosting our own pizza nights!

Here are links to Annie's blog:

Be brave and bake on!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Chore Wars

I saw this magazine cover at the grocery store yesterday and nearly collapsed between aisles 3 and 4.

Is Time Magazine trying to tell me that my husband does the same amount of housework that I do? I love him dearly and appreciate everything he does for us, but I'm not buying it. I bought the magazine to read the article (written by a woman ... let's fork her yard) to see how they've come to this conclusion.

Perhaps by the end of the story, I will have been swayed strongly enough to "let it go" and "make peace." But as of right now, the war rages on.

Am I the only one who wants to say "malarkey"!?

Monday, August 1, 2011

It's Just Another Menu Monday

As Ty and I were getting ready for bed last night, I told him that I wished somehow I could make my weekends feel as long as my weekdays. I spend all my week looking forward to the weekend and then it passes in the blink of an eye.

No fair.

I would love to go back to being a kid. Time moved so much more slowly then. A single summer day could stretch on for what seemed like an eternity.

No fair.

Ty and I spent some much needed quality time with friends this weekend, but most of our weekend was spent helping my brother and sister-in-law move out of their house. It was a long Saturday and lots of work, but I was happy to help. It's one of the small ways I can pay Ashley back for being my right-hand woman during all the wedding planning.

Between helping Chris and Ashley move and taking care of some things around our house, I unfortunately managed to find time to go to the grocery store for the week. It takes a little more time on the front end to plan your meals out, but it'll make your weeknights so much easier and free you from frequent trips to the store.

{Photo Courtesy of Annie's Eats}

We have some delicious things on the menu for this week, and I can't wait to share a few new recipes with you:

Monday: Cajun Shrimp Pizza (I made homemade pizza dough last night and will make a homemade sauce after work today. This is our first time to try this, so I hope it turns out OK!) with Mandarin Orange Salad.
Tuesday: Heather Bradford's Chicken Spaghetti from the Frozen Dinner Swap. (Doesn't it seem like there are a zillion ways to make chicken spaghetti?! This will be a new recipe for me, which I'll post with some other chicken spaghetti recipes I've used)
Wednesday: Buffalo Chicken Strips with Zucchini Chips
Thursday: Pulled Pork Tostadas (The brining is set to begin Wednesday morning! This is a process, but it's worth every step.)