My Man is 31!

Yesterday was Derek’s birthday. He’s not much a birthday-celebrator, but we managed to have quite a nice day anyways. We started the day on campus (he had a few meetings) and then went shopping (he did- not me!). I helped pick out some very sharp “professor” clothes at great prices (coat sale at Old Navy= crazy good deals). Then we took a wonderfully long nap, I made him pad thai and birthday brownies and around 8:30 we met up with some of his phD classmates for a pub crawl.

I put the candles in before the brownies had cooled and they sort of melted 😦

In preparation of his upcoming birthday, I spent a day last week with my Grandma making Derek’s birthday presents. I did such a great job of keeping them a secret- until I got to NH. I caved and gave them to him on Wednesday.

birthday blanket

birthday pillow

Grandma and I had some extra fabric, and we were feeling silly after a day of crafting, so we ended up making a sleeping bag and pillow for Herbert too. They both love their gifts.

I think it was a pretty perfect day for both of us. I enjoyed getting to know some of his new friends without the pressure of a Wild West murder mystery. I think they are very nice and I know Derek felt special having a group celebrate his special day. And I got to have a night out in Dover.

We followed a great day with a lazy morning, crepes for lunch and now he’s catching up on the reading he ignored yesterday while I watch Sex and the City. Another lovely day. The weekend could only be better if you all were here to celebrate with us.

Miss you,

A

What’s Cooking: Acorn Squash Shepard’s Pie and Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

When Derek was in Connecticut with me last weekend, we bought an acorn squash. But he never got around to cooking it for me. With no prior experience with acorn squash, I had no clue how to prepare it and so it sat untouched until this morning when I packed it up and brought it with me to New Hampshire.

While I waiting for Derek to get home from school, I looked up ways to prepare the squash and when I saw these easy directions for mashing the cooked squash, I was inspired to try a new take on an old favorite from my school days: Shepard’s Pie.

My mom used to layer ground beef, canned corn and mashed potatoes into a casserole dish and bake them all together. I just substituted acorn squash mash for the potatoes and soy protein crumbles for the beef.

I have to admit, I was a little nervous that it would be awful (since I have no experience with acorn squash) so I let Derek try it first. When he kept eating, I tried it too. And I have to say it was pretty good. At least a 7 out of 10.  Next time I’ll mix squash and potato for a creamier topping and sprinkle with cheese.

Shopping List

1 acorn squash
a big scoop of sour cream
a few pinches of ground cumin
a clove or two of chopped garlic
salt and black pepper to taste
veggie crumbles (or protein of choice)
1 can of corn

Slice and seed the acorn squash and then bake with olive oil until the flesh is soft and scoop-able (30-45 minutes depending on your squash size).

When it’s done, scoop out the flesh and mix with sour cream, cumin, garlic, salt and pepper.

Warm the protein on the stove top for few minutes- while you do this pre-heat the oven to 350ish degrees.

Once the crumbles are warm (they don’t need to be hot since you’re going to bake it), spread them in a casserole dish. Layer with corn and then add the squash mix on top.

Bake for 15-20 until it all looks warm and the squash starts browning a little.

Plate and eat. We added a bit more sour cream and like I said above, cheese would be good too. Yum.

And for dessert… pumpkin chocolate chip cookies! I made these last time Derek was in Connecticut for my aunt’s pumpkin carving party. I loved them so much I decided to make some more. Plus I needed something to do tonight since Derek has a bunch of reading to do. These are super easy and super delicious. Try them right away.

Shopping List (adapted from this recipe)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/2 can (8 oz) of pumpkin
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon milk
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

This recipe makes about 18 cookies, but you double the batch easily to make more.

Mix the dry ingredients. Add the wets. Stir in chocolate chips.

Plop in rows onto a greased cookie sheet. And bake for 12-14 minutes at 375.

Sooo good! I give them 10 out of 10.

We were both happy and full after this meal/dessert combo. Here’s proof:

Fall Photos

Just wanted to share a few pictures I took on a walk today. I’m currently without a real digital camera, so I hope these cell phone shots convey how gorgeous the trees are.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll post from New Hampshire later this week to update on the job interview. Good night!

 

Lately

The last few days have been a bit of an emotional roller-coaster. On Monday/Tuesday I was not in the best mood, feeling down about my move, etc, etc.

But Wednesday was much better. I spent the day being crafty with my Grandma and I heard back from another potential employer (I’m interviewing with them Wednesday!).

And then Friday I spent most of the day in bed with a book because of allergies/a cold/I don’t know exactly but I’m sneezing a lot and I feel extra tired.

I guess the rest did me some good because I felt healthier yesterday, so I accompanied my Aunt to the Putnam Pumpkin Festival. Neither of us knew what it was, but we decided to check it out. Turned out to be a lot of craft booths. And crowded sidewalks. We found an art studio where we’re planning to attend a jewelry making class and a wine-themed craft class in November and December. Then we had delicious chocolate chai lattes at an adorable coffeehouse (which I definitely plan on frequenting) and chatted about life for about an hour. I love my Aunt and I love that we can talk so easily.

When we finished our coffee, we went back outside to explore more booths only to discover the sun had disappeared, the wind had picked up and it too cold for us. So we settled in at the bar-top of one her favorite lunch restaurants and shared a bottle of wine while we waited for Uncle B to meet us for a meal. I ended up ordering a butternut squash bisque and veggie wrap. So good, especially the soup.

This morning I woke up and promptly started a yoga routine before I could come up with excuses to put it off yet another day. Promise to self- do yoga much more often. I feel stretched and relaxed.

I don’t have any plans for today. Probably watch more of Dexter (I just started watching this on Netflix- pretty good) and probably bake something delicious. If it doesn’t rain, maybe go for a walk. There is a trail along the river nearby which I found to be perfect for a long walk while listening to audiobooks.

My Aunt is in Germany until Thursday so it’s just me, Uncle B and the puppies for the next few days. I had planned to go see Derek tomorrow, but the Wednesday interview pushed that back a few more days. Oh, about the interview. It’s a social media marketing and public relations position for a natural skincare company in Rhode Island. As far as I can tell, it’s a pretty small company which means, if I get the position, there could be room to grow with them. The office is about 45 minutes from my Aunt & Uncle’s house and about 2 hours from Derek. So it’s do-able. I’m trying not to get my hopes up, but it could be a great fit. I’ll keep you posted after the interview.

So I’m finding things to do and trying to keep a positive attitude. And this corner of Connecticut is absolutely gorgeous this time of year, so that’s helping to lift my mood.

sorry for the power lines in the way, but aren't these trees incredible?

Here’s to hoping that this week brings more opportunities and more happiness.

What’s Cooking: Veggie Thai Pizza


I’ve seen thai pizza on pizzeria’s menu in the past, but they always have chicken. So I decided to create a vegetarian version for myself. I did a tiny bit of research before heading to the grocery store to see what other people had made before and then I put together a mix that appealed to me. The best thing about this meal was the speed- from idea to plate it took less than 30 minutes (aside from the grocery run).

Shopping List

pizza dough (or precooked pizza crust or be braver than me and make the crust from scratch)
peanut sauce (check the labels, sometimes it’s made with anchovies)
olive oil
basil (dried or fresh)
1 lime (lime juice could work too)
mozzarella cheese
1 small head of broccoli
a carrot or two
1 small orange pepper
a little bunch of green onions
dry-roasted unsalted peanuts (just a handful will work)
chili powder or other spices to taste

Start by pre-heating the oven to 450 degrees. I used a Boboli pizza crust since there were no better options at the closest grocery store and last time I attempt home-made pizza crust it was a disaster.

Regardless of your crust choice, drizzle a little olive oil, some peanut sauce and squeeze a bit of lime juice on the crust in place of marinara sauce.

Then add a little basil. And a lot of cheese.

From the toppings, chop the broccoli, orange pepper and carrots into small pieces and distribute evenly across the pizza. Add some chopped green onion. I didn’t cook or steam any of the veggies beforehand because I was hoping for a little crunch, but you could soften them first if you prefer.

Then I smashed a few handfuls of peanuts under a knife and added them too. For more crunch.

Now pour (generously) more peanut sauce, some more olive oil and a bit more lime juice. Sprinkle with chili powder for added spice and top with a little more cheese.

Cook this bad-boy for 8-10 minutes (if your crust is already
cooked, otherwise follow baking instructions for your crust). When the cheese is melted and the smell is so delicious you can’t wait one more second to eat, it’s ready.

So good. My Aunt and Uncle even ate some. And loved it. I give it a 9 out of 10. Easy, filling, tasty. Next time I’m going to fry up some tofu and use that too. If you like thai food and pizza, give this a try. And let me know how it turns out.

A bit of a Negative Nancy

Just about a week after returning from Balloon Adventure (the sequel), the novelty of living in Connecticut with my Aunt and Uncle is beginning to fade. Instead, all these negative emotions are flooding in.

Before leaving Seattle, I applied for unemployment benefits with the small hope that I would be approved and could have a small trickle of income coming in. Well, as I expected, I was denied. I think that started this spiral-effect of pessimism which I may or may not  have taken out on Derek last night (but I’ve since apologized for my bad attitude).

I’m frustrated with the job search (I know, already) but anyone who has been out of work recently knows how exhausting and futile it feels to send out 5 resumes a day and get absolutely no response whatsoever.

I feel like a useless bum (no matter how many jobs I apply to) for having time to watch TV mid-day and for not having anything more productive or fulfilling to do with my time.

I feel completely dependent on others (which you may remember from an earlier post, is very difficult for me).

And worse of all- I feel incredibly lonely. I miss my friends and WA family like crazy. And I miss knowing where things are and having things to do and people to do them with. Country life in a new state where I don’t know anyone but my family is more isolating that I expected.

Please don’t misread my complaining as ungratefulness. My Aunt, Uncle, Grandma and Grandpa have been nothing but wonderful to me. Supportive, generous, loving- everything I should need. My aunt continues to surprise me with gifts I don’t need or deserve (like a salon/spa pampering session or this gorgeous jacket I fell in love with). I feel guilty accepting (not that I have a choice- when Aunty Sharon wants to do something nice, she won’t take “no” for an answer). It’s a difficult adjustment. Much more so than I thought it would be.

I’m certain that in a few months I will look back on this post and be embarrassed for my whining. Because by then I’m sure I’ll be in a much happier, more assured place in my new life. But I’m not there yet and until I find more sturdy footing on the East Coast, send me a little more love than usual. I need it right now and I miss you.

Fall Fashions and Wardrobe Staples I’m Craving

Like many girls, I love clothes. I can spend hours online browsing the new additions at some of favorite stores- putting outfits together in my mind, building my dream wardrobe, styling the beautiful pieces that I know I’ll never be able to buy. To feed my obsession, I’m sharing some of the things I’m longing to own this fall.

A warm winter coat in a neutral color- perfect with jeans or dress pants:

from Modcloth.com

a chunky short sleeve sweater- great for layering as the weather gets colder:

from Dress Barn

from Old Navy

a sexy little black dress- for holiday parties and date nights:

from ModCloth.com

black or gray skinny jeans- looks hot with boots or heels:

from Express

from Arden B

a classic pencil skirt- an office must-have:

from the Gap

gray, chunky heeled boots- cute and easy to walk in:

from DSW

nude, platform pumps- goes with anything:

from Zappos.com

fun rain boots- I can’t believe I lived in WA & OR without these:

also from Zappos.com

cozy, autumn-colored scarves- my go-to accessory:

both from ModCloth.com

If I had unlimited funds, these are the things I would buy first. What are you wanting this fall, my friends? Any trends catch your eye or basics that you haven’t gotten around to purchasing yet?

What’s Cooking Wednesday: Birthday Edition

Today is my aunt’s birthday! It worked out perfectly because I was able to cook dinner for her and post a new recipe. This week I did my version of soup, salad and breadsticks- all things that I love. But I must warn, I don’t currently have a real digital camera. The lighting looks awful from my cell phone. I’ll just use one photo so you can see what I created.

Before I left, Rebecca and I had lunch at a pizza place and we had the best the tomato soup ever. It had gorgonzola cheese and was so delicious. I looked up some recipes and this is the one that I ended up trying. It was good, Aunt and Uncle liked it, but not quite as good as the original.

My bread balls were a little under baked, but I think if I had left them in just a few minutes longer, than they would have been perfect. I’m definitely going to try them out again. My aunt doesn’t like cake, so we put a candle in her biscuit and sang her Happy Birthday before the meal. 🙂

And the salad was basic- I really only had it because Derek hassles me to eat one green a day. And it’s good for me.

SHOPPING LIST:

56 oz of diced tomatoes (no salt added), drained
1 tsp olive oil
2 tbsp tomato paste
6 cloves garlic, pressed
1 pint half and half
2 tbsp basil
3/4 cup crumbled gorgonzola

6 tbsp  butter
1 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
pinch of paprika and black pepper (to taste)
1 cup flour
3 whole large eggs (use vegetarian-fed, cage free ones please)
4 oz cheese of your choice (coarsely grated)

salad greens and dressing of your choice

RECIPES:

Tomato Gorgonzola soup-

Pulse 56 oz of drained, diced tomatoes til like look soup-like (go figure). Let them sit for a minute while you cook 5 or 6 cloves of garlic (pressed) with about 1 teaspoon of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of tomato paste on medium heat in a pot big enough to hold about 76 ounces of soup. You want this to cook until the paste starts to brown a little bit- took me about 3 or 4 minutes.

Alright, now you can dump the smooshed tomatoes into the pot. Stir it up nice and let cook for about 5 minutes until the tomatoes start to bubble. When you’re ready, add about 3/4 cups of crumbled gorgonzola. Stir some more until that until all the lumps go away and the soup looks smooth.

Next you’ll want to add 1 pint of half and half (I used the fat free kind, but you do what you want). Guess what, now you stir even more.

Remove from heat and add in some basil (fresh is better if you can) and other seasoning to taste (I added black pepper).

That’s it! Yum.

Cheesy Bread Balls-

Start by doing yourself a favor and pre-heating your oven to 375 degrees.

Then melt 6 tablespoons of butter (Paula Dean would be proud) with 1 cup of water, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a pinch each of paprika and black pepper.

After you bring this to a boil, remove it from heat and add 3 cups flour all at once. Stir like crazy. It should pull away from the sides of the pot and form a ball. Done? Now put it back on the heat for a minute to remove moisture.

Take it off the heat again (this time for good- you can turn the burner off now).

Beat in one egg until it mixes well. Then add another egg- stirring quickly. Now add the third and final egg, repeat crazy stirring. You’re aiming for a smooth, glossy paste that easily falls from the spoon.

The next step is to stir in 4 ounces of coarsely grated cheese (I used sharp cheddar).

Plop onto a buttered cookie sheet (aim for about 1 inch balls– that’s what she said?) and bake for 25-35 minutes. The end result should be puffy, slightly browned, lightweight little biscuits. You can brush the dough with milk before baking to make it glossy and fancy, if you like.

Salad-

I just bought a spinach/spring mix blend and added a little leftover gorgonzola. The exciting part was the champagne vinaigrette I bought to top it- probably my new favorite salad dressing.

I give the meal a 7. It could use some improvement, but I’ll give myself a break since it was my first attempt at the soup and the bread. Give it a try- let me know if you have better success than I did.

And Happy Birthday Aunty Sharon!! I love you!

Homeward Bound

The balloon landed. The filming is over. And I’m on my way back home.

The pilots landed Calvin around 7am this morning in a cut corn field outside Wichita, KS. It was a safe and smooth landing. We were even lucky enough to be present when they touched ground- apparently a very rare occurrence in gas ballooning. After packing up the balloon and finishing our interviews, Katie booked me a flight out of Kansas City, MO so I could get home tonight. I’ll land in Boston around 11:30 and be home a couple hours later. Things I want to do as soon as I’m done traveling:

-shower (filming the landing required tromping through damp corn stocks and sitting in a dirt field)

-eat (haven’t had a decent meal, or even much food at all, since dinner last night)

-sleep for days (since Thursday night I have slept roughly 7 hours- 2 hour and half sleeps throughout Friday night and about 4 hours on Saturday)

-not drive (drove about 15 or 16 hours on Saturday and a few more this morning)

Even though I’m dirty and hungry and sleepy and tired of being in the car- I had the BEST time helping Katie with this project. These friends of mine are crazy wonderful and I miss them already. And I think we got a lot of great footage- can’t wait to see how Katie works her magic and puts it all together. Plus we met some great people and got to have adventure I’ll never forget.

I’ll try to write a more detailed post about the chase and such in a day or so. But for now, rest assured that the balloon team, chase crew and camera crew are all safe and sound.

Optimistic News

 

Photo from last year before the launch was called off. Calvin is round balloon in the foreground.

 

This morning’s meeting with the Team Calvin weatherman went well. Good news all around for the first time all week! It looks like the team with be flying- the launch is scheduled for midnight tonight. Since it has been delayed several days, the weather looks clear and they are predicting that they’ll get in a long flight (3 nights if all goes well). The trajectory puts a flight of that length landing in Tennessee. So that’s what I know. But the flight depends on the weather, so there’s a lot that’s unpredictable.

If you’re interested in where the balloon is during the race, you can get tracking info from the Balloon Fiesta here. We’re following Balloon #2, pilot is Philip Bryant and co-pilot is Phillip MacNutt. I probably won’t have internet access so that may be the best way to know generally where I’m at.

A Tuesday morning landing means I’ll have to hustle back home to prep for the Wednesday interview. But that’s ok. I’ll figure that out. I’m just happy that we’re getting the chance to chase and that Katie will get the footage she needs to finish the project.

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