Thursday, March 26, 2015

Meal Planning and that Magical Thing Called Pinterest

I've been a meal planner ever since I upped and quit a job I hated back in 2011. Without much thought, preparation or planning, basically just walking away from my annual salary; those 5 months at home became a real test of my ability to be frugal and savvy. Something I had never exercised before. Since necessity is the mother of all invention, I found myself planning our meals, recreating leftovers and stretching the dollars spent at the food store as far as we could. Sunday's roast chicken dinner with mashed potatoes became Chicken Pot Pie and Shepherd's Pie later in the week. Leftover pork tenderloin would become pork tacos on another night. This was also the time when we started making our own pizzas on Friday nights instead of ordering take out.
Truth is, aside from constantly stressing that my selfish decision was going to bankrupt our family, those 5 months were some of the most amazing months of my life. And some of those meals were the best we have ever had. We lived large on that teeny, tiny budget. Mostly because for the first time in my adult life I slowed down, took a breath and spent time savoring the moment.
But I digress.
I've been back to work since 2012, yet I continue to meal plan. At this stage, it's the only way I can get a home cooked meal on the table every night of the week. Truthfully, between our work schedules, my daughter's tutoring and my son working full time, I don't often get the meal on the table until 8pm each night but it's home made. Not from a box, not take out, an honest to goodness (mostly) cooked from scratch meal.
How do I do it?
Sure there are nights where I more feel like cooking dinner than jumping out a window, so that's where the planning comes in. Then there are nights when no one feels like eating the planned meal. Now that's annoying. Fortunately, planning a week's worth of meals and shopping to it does afford us the ability to swap days around for those times when my family is a royal pain in my ass about what they have to eat. Then there are the weeks that the whole plan falls apart and we order out or heat up frozen chicken nuggets and make boxed macaroni and cheese. No one is perfect and neither is this life we live so sometimes we just have to go with the flow.
The hardest part is actually planning meals that sound so good we will still want to eat them 5 days later. It's a bit tricky. Everyone tires of the same old, same old so I am constantly on the hunt for new ideas that can be made quickly enough after a long day of work.
Enter Pinterest.
Pinterest has been a great way for me to find and work new recipes into our weekly meal planning. There are some truly epic fails, but lately there have been some fantastic finds. If you follow me on my favorite source of social media, Instagram, you have already seen some of these meals. For a while now I've been toying around with doing posts on some of these recipes I find. Pinterest Fails and may be boring to all of you but worst case scenario is that I've created a little journal to track the ones we have tried.
There are already a few keepers that I have added to our regular meal rotation and last night I found another: Easy 20 Minute Teriyaki Chicken and Broccoli. My family love, love, loves getting Chinese take out and if I can recreate it at home in 20 minutes, all the better. I doubled this recipe since the original only serves 2 and it still came out perfectly. It was easy and delicious and made it to the table at 5 to 8. In this house, that's what I call #winning.

This recipe is super budget friendly. I used a pound of chicken tenderloins but if you wanted to cut the budget further you could cut up boneless, skinless chicken thighs instead. My daughter thought it was too "saucy" but she's 12 and picky so she doesn't count. I, however, thought it was just the right amount of sauce to coat the rice. I also didn't have rice wine vinegar so I substituted with white wine vinegar diluted. Essentially that means that I only used 3 tbsp of the vinegar (remember, I doubled the recipe) and 1 tbsp of water. Worked perfectly with no need to buy an extra ingredient that will get minimal play in the kitchen. 
Savings like that could eventually add up to a new pair of shoes! Or, if you are me, more dishes. It's a problem but acknowledgement is half the battle, right? ;)
Oh, and if you want to follow me on Pinterest you can click the link in the side bar.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

House Hunters: A Farm In North Carolina

I'm glad I got that last post off my chest. Being in a holding pattern is tough business. You want to be happy and live in the moment, but you also don't want to give up your dreams or the avid chasing of them. And speaking of dreams, that farmhouse I teased you with yesterday is a total dream come true in my opinion.
Located in Carthage, NC this beauty lacks mountain views and a Tennessee zipcode, but might just make up for it with everything else. First off, look at how seriously cute and quaint this home's exterior is. Cape Cod style homes are my absolute favorite and this cottage is a close contender.
This, my friends, is Americana at it's finest.

The view from the front porch is pretty divine.

A pond with a fountain? The fountain isn't a deal maker for me, but it's not a deal breaker either. The pond however, is definitely a perk.

I think this may very well be my favorite part. 
Yes, you heard me right. This barn just might be my very favorite part. If you know anything about me then you've already figured out that this would be the stage for some unbelievable dinner parties. And you're all invited.
You're welcome.

The kitchen has bones I could definitely work with and I don't mind the butcher block counter tops. Double windows over the sink get a thumbs up.

Repainting needed and there's a ceiling fan in the living room that I cropped out. That ceiling fan would become a chandelier or amazing ceiling fixture asap.

That little built in bookcase under the stairs? 

The house was built in 1920 so you know there are wood floors under that rug. Looks like mostly cosmetic upgrades in the bedrooms too.

So here are the facts:
The house sits on just under 8 acres which is an ideal size for us. Aside from the barn, it actually has paddocks that are wired and plumbed, chicken coops, tobacco barns and A TWO STORY COTTAGE ON THE PROPERTY.
And the price isn't crazy believe it or not. It's not dirt cheap pay cash for it, but for all the features and charm I think it's actually pretty reasonable.

The perks:
1. The middle school has a decent rating and the high school is ok for such a rural location.
2. It's just over an hour from my mom and 4 hours from Charlie's parents. It's so close to my mom that I might scoot down for a weekend soon and go check it out.
3. The charm is almost too much too handle. I can see our things in that house. I can make this house a showstopper because I am already decorating it in my mind.
4. The outbuildings are exactly what we would be hoping for already there and in good condition. In fact the listing states that the owners are residing the barn and putting in a new septic system by the end of April. That's huge.
5. A 2 story cottage!!! Guest house or studio...I only wish there was a picture of it online because my mind is imaging all sorts of fabulousness.
6. It's an hour from Raleigh, just over an hour from Greensboro and an hour from Fayetteville. It's rural but pretty centrally located which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

The bummers:
1. It's smack in the middle of NC which means no mountains and no TN
2. There's a decent amount of cosmetic work inside but to be honest that excites me more than scares me. The $$$ to do cosmetics may be the only thing that puts that on the bummer list.
3. Not sure about the town. Doing research on it shows that for a town with just over 2,000 residents many live under the poverty line. We definitely need to learn more about the area before we could make any decisions. 

I mentioned yesterday that this photo of the house reminded me of Anne of Green Gables. Anne was one of my favorite childhood characters and that movie! Megan Follows and the inimitable Colleen Dewhurst as Marilla. I must have watched that movie hundreds of times. I can almost see them together, walking through that picket fence, the kindred spirits that they were. 

"Oh, it's delightful to have ambitions. I'm so glad that I have such a lot. And there never seems to be any end to them ~ that's the best of it. Just as soon as you attain to one ambition you see another one glittering higher up still. It does make life so interesting."
~Anne Shirley
Anne of Green Gables

So what do you think of this one?

Friday, March 20, 2015

Bloom Where You're Planted

Hi there! It's been a while hasn't it?
I've sat down a few times to write, my hands poised mid air over the keyboard and then my mind goes blank. Shuts down. So frustrating. In fact, this post I am about to write has been heavy on my mind for days now but I've been struggling to pound the words out. So here I go (finally). I hope it makes sense.

When my husband sent me the listing for the farmhouse above, my heart swelled to about 3x it's size. I mean, really. Just look at it. Windows glowing warm in the sunset, white picket fence...all I can say is Anne of Green Gables. And if you are a fan of Anne Shirley you know exactly what I mean. This my friends, is what my dreams are made of.
After looking at it my heart was all sorts of heavy and aching. Longing to jump in the car immediately and go see it in person. (Don't worry - I'll share the listing with you guys this weekend) Frustrated because we need to figure out the whole income thing to be able to do anything about making these dreams come true. I've shared before what I envision for our future and being able to buy something that maintains a low overhead could possibly afford us the chance to abandon these corporate jobs as we know them and live on our own terms. In some ways, we are just dreaming the classic American Dream. But where do we start? How do you walk away from substantial careers? Some people just do it, throwing caution to the wind. I admire that. A lot. If I didn't have two kids still at home maybe I could too. But it's not only my life I'm gambling with. There are 4 lives involved in this endeavor.
So here I sit. Longing to make this, or something like this our reality. Frustrated as I try to sort out the how's and when's. Confused and tired of talking about the whole thing, viewing listing after listing, watching some of them disappear off the market, wondering when it will be our turn to see our dreams come true.
The only thing that can calm my frustrations when they surface are two beliefs: 1. I believe that God doesn't put a dream this strong in your heart unless he is going to bring it to pass. 2. His timing is perfect. While waiting for his timing is a struggle for a simple human such as myself, I do believe that when it is right it will supersede our wildest dreams. It will be right.
As I try to remain steadfast in these beliefs this phrase came to mind:
Bloom Where You're Planted
What if it's not in the cards for us to move from here? That thought horrified me at first, then I thought of all the reasons why we want to leave. There's a lot. Then I looked around me at this house that superseded my dreams for this family when I first looked at it 9 1/2 years ago and this is what I saw:

A beautiful place, filled with light and love.
While it's not on multiple acres, there are miles and miles of memories that we have created inside. There are amazing people who cross our threshold regularly that I love and adore. Family, and friends who have become family. My life is richer because of them all.
I'm truly grateful for all I have and needed to remind myself that what I have is more than a cedar shake shell sitting on a suburban lot. I have life and love and need to remember to bloom where I'm planted.
For now, anyway. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Sunday In The Park

I know I just wrote about how tough February has been, and while our winter in NJ pales in comparison to our friends in the North (I'm looking at you Boston) who have been completely inundated and overwhelmed with the white stuff, cabin fever has become a reality in this house. Charlie has been pacing the house on the weekends bored out of his mind. He is an outdoorsman and being trapped inside is making him nuts. He is perfectly content tinkering around in the garage but the heater I bought him for Christmas is not the least bit effective when the temperatures are in single digits.
  The kids don't emerge from their inner sanctums until around noon Saturday and Sunday, sometimes later. While they don't complain about being bored, watching them lay on the couch in their pajamas with handheld devices makes me a wee bit nuts. Even the dogs are bored, and the little one is getting so fat we are going to get yelled at on our next vet visit. So two Sundays ago I was just finishing putting away the groceries telling Charlie what a nice day it was out and how warm it was (because 40 degrees feels tropical right now) when it dawned on me that the best thing for my families health and sanity was to get them the hell out of the house for the afternoon.
Of course the kids were still sleeping because it was just before noon, but I burst into their bedrooms demanding that they get up and dressed because we were going to a nearby park to get some fresh air and exercise. After some grumbling and complaining they complied because truthfully, they had no choice in the matter. I am the boss of this house (or so I like to think) so what I say goes. Besides, when they saw how excited their dogs were after I said the word W-A-L-K (usually we have to spell it aloud because if you say it chaos ensues) they couldn't say no.
Off we went to Cattus Island County Park which is a mere 5 minute drive from our house but I tend to forget it is even there half the time. And that's a shame really because it's a series of trails that open up to the Barnegat Bay creating an incredibly beautiful vista. I mean, see for yourselves:

The bay was almost completely frozen over. The tree damage is left over from Superstorm Sandy. As we walked the trails it was unbelievable to see the damage that occurred. We haven't been here since the storm and at first I didn't even realize that that is what all the damage is from. Out of sight out of mind,you know?

They refused to walk with me. And while they hated me for making them go, the dogs on the other hand loved me for it.

The boarded trail was blocked off but not completely so we walked it anyway. It was a bit treacherous with all the snow and ice on it and when we came to the end there were signs posted warning Danger! Stay off trail! Ooops.
When I linked the site to this post it also says that trails are closed due to storm damage.
Double ooops.

They will never admit it, but I know they had fun and it was good for each and every one of us. Now I just need to remember that this place is here and so accessible and take advantage of it more often.

What do you do to battle cabin fever?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Surviving February

January seems to be the most hated month of the year. I guess coming off that holiday high probably has something to do with it. But truthfully, I love January. I love how empty and fresh the house feels once all the Christmas decor has been packed away. There are resolutions, ambitions and the chance to begin again because there is a brand new year ahead of you. It's a time to slow down after the hustle and bustle of the holiday season and catch your breath. I know I look forward to the quiet and the cold weather that forces you to stay indoors and relax. I realize that the newness and excitement fade away fairly quickly. Resolutions are usually broken before the end of the month and that cold weather that was so welcome starts to feel oppressive and never-ending. 
Welcome to February.
I don't know about you but for the shortest month of the year February sometimes feels like the longest. It's not my favorite. And let's not even get started on how brutal this particular February has been. Yesterday I was thinking about how I have always wanted to live in Alaska and that this  is actually what it would feel like since it's been about 1 degree for the past week.
Speaking of crazy, how do you keep it at bay through such a tough month? Since hosting gatherings is one of my most favorite things to do, I break up the February blues and have the family over for a dinner party/my sister in laws birthday celebration. We throw dinner parties all year long but this annual February gathering feels extra special because it is probably the highlight of the whole darn month.
I am currently obsessed with having fresh flowers in the house. Remember when I was able to bring my holiday floral dreams to fruition? Well, since then mentally envisioning the kinds of florals I need for a table setting and actually locating them has become a sport (of sorts). My local, lame grocery store will never carry what my mind decides upon so I have to think outside the box to find them. I wanted a very cozy, wintery mix of flowers for this table and I especially wanted some bright red berries in it. I went to a Wegman's one night leaving work (the closest Wegman's to my home is about 40 minutes away) and naturally found exactly what I wanted. Beautiful red hypericum berries with stunning white blooms and some pretty green filler fit the bill.
I am also currently obsessed with "table throws" and I recently found this denim remnant with perfect selvedge edges at a thrift store. I cleaned it, pressed it, then tossed it across the table. I love how it adds such an air of informality. I can use a beautiful vintage fine china salad plate and gorgeous antique flatware but it doesn't feel stuffy because of the denim throw. The rattan charger and stoneware plate probably take it down a notch too but who's judging? This $3 denim throw might be my most favorite new possession. Well, that and the $5 plaid runner I also recently found at a thrift store and threw on top of the denim. Cozy, winter feel indeed.

For the second year in a row the weather called for snow (big shock) and I actually made the same menu I did last year. I pretty much counted on the fact that my family has not made Ina Garten's Weeknight Bolognese for themselves (they had not, I was correct). Comfort food at it's finest. Instead of doing every single thing myself, I had my sister in law bring a salad and my dad bring a birthday cake for dessert. I supplied some bread, a big pitcher of Sangria, wine and suddenly February was not as bad as I thought it was.
There's magic in gathering around a table with some pretty fine folk.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Wanted: The Perfect Tablecloth

I saw this on Pinterest and nearly fell off my chair. I love every.single.thing about it. There's a solid streak of bohemian blood running through these veins and a strong affinity for table linens but this. There really aren't enough words to describe how much I love it. It's like the sun, moon and stars collided and this was the result.
Dying over here.
I immediately decided that I would make myself one. Goodness knows I see enough doilies at the thrift stores. Some of them are really nice too. Slowly but surely I started stockpiling pretty doilies. Then I decided it was time to buy a tablecloth to sew them on. Problem is, I need a 120" round cloth at a minimum so it graciously touches the floor and they are not easy to find. My only option is ordering online and they don't come cheap. And they also look like they could be really cheesy fabrications. Add that to the price tag and I am nervous to take a chance on anything I have seen. So I decided I would just try to buy the actual ready made tablecloth that I found on Pinterest and save myself time, a headache, and very possibly some greenbacks.
But it is no where to be found!!!!
All the Pinterest links lead to nothing. Nada. Zip.

So I need your help friends. I could use any of the following options:

~suggestions on where to find a good looking quality tablecloth that is 120" round that I will not be scared to sew doilies on because it cost me my first born grandchild (my kids are too big to offer up. no one wants big kids)
~ideas on how to achieve this look without buying a very expensive and possibly cheesy 120" round tablecloth.
~could I just buy yardage instead of a pretty fabric and do it myself? Any accomplished seamstresses out there know how much I would need?
~just tell me where I can buy this damn thing outright because I am afraid I cannot survive much longer without that on my table. Someone out there has had to have seen this too - lead me to the link! Pretty please???

Have you ever? I mean, really. My heart hurts over this.
I'm actually thinking of replacing the picture of my family on my iPhone wallpaper with this photo because I love it so much.
I'm kidding but I think you get the idea.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Cocktail Tumbler

It all started when my boss gave each of us a set of frosted state glasses for Christmas. The states represent where our territories are, and in some cases, are also the states we live in. It was a cute idea and definitely original but I'll be honest, I looked at the 4 glasses and thought "What am I doing with these?" I am not one of those loud, big haired Jersey girls bursting with Jersey pride. I work really hard and spend a lot of money taming my crazy Jersey girl hair so no one mistakes me for a housewife or a Seaside guido. This is no easy feat. Trust me. There are many wonderful things about the Garden State but there are also many things that we don't love either. Which is why we are looking to leave our home state as soon as possible. 
But back to the glasses. 
It was a bit of a wtf moment because she usually gives us jewelry for birthdays and Christmas and what woman doesn't appreciate jewelry? But I thought to myself, Hey; I might decide I like these glasses when I no longer live here. Then they will be a memento or a souvenir of sorts. I stuck them in our bar cabinet and forgot about them.
The following summer I found a recipe for a fresh watermelon cocktail from my favorite mixologists  and sent Charlie directly into the kitchen to whip us up a batch. Cocktails are like salads: they always taste better when someone else makes them. He came out to the deck where I was lounging and leafing through magazines carrying the New Jersey tumblers. I asked him why he chose those particular glasses and he said because they were "cool". I figured that was a matter of opinion but I was grateful for a drink that I didn't have to make myself so I kept my mouth shut.
Perhaps it was because those watermelon spritz drinks were so damn delicious or else I was delirious from lazing about in the sun, but I kind of liked having my cocktail in that tumbler. There was more drink to be had then in our rocks glasses, they weren't so large and cumbersome like some of my other barware, and frankly, they lent themselves to a drink called the Spicy Watermelon Spritz. 
In other words, I was totally into it.
So those good, old New Jersey tumblers became my go to cocktail glasses for the rest of the summer.

In early fall I stumbled across this set of 4 vintage tumblers in a thrift store and nearly fell over:

 I mean, come on...prancing horses on frosted tumblers...have you ever seen such amazing kitsch? And that is coming from a woman who despises kitsch. But these... these oozed of kitsch with such an element of coolness that I immediately listed them in the shop envisioning them being snatched up instantly by some Brooklyn hipster. (Ironically they have not been snatched up yet and are still available here if you want to purchase them and have me think you are totally awesome and not because you are buying them from my shop but for your obvious amazing choice in barware.)
Finding these solidified my idea that the cocktail tumbler is to the bar what the LBD is to the closet.

Since good things always come in three's, these glasses were patiently waiting for me on a shelf in my favorite thrift store a week or two ago :

 I may have emitted a high pitched squeal or two as I raced over to grab them; ready to elbow or knock out any old biddy who might think they were hers for the taking. (My Jersey was coming out.) Luckily, there was no one else in the aisle and as I loaded them in the cart I was thinking how gorgeous they are and how people will go nuts over them in the shop. Or not, since I was apparently wrong about the dancing horses. (Deep down I know there is no way I am wrong...I mean just look at them where will you ever find glasses that cool? Exactly. NO WHERE.)
Anyway... bottom line is that I simply cannot sell these striped tumblers. The more I think about it, the more I realize that I am in love with using tumblers for cocktails. Like the LBD, they go with everything. That long, lean shape makes them ideal for any mixed drink you want in abundance. Just yell "make it a double!" and I'll be right there with a cocktail tumbler in hand.
And it might have a prancing horse on it. 

p.s. I broke one of the New Jersey tumblers so now I only have 3. Devastating. Good things come in three's, entertaining essentials and serve ware need to be in even numbers. All the more reason to keep the striped ones. Or ask my boss for another set of Jersey glasses.