Happy Birthday to Me =)

My birthday is in less than a month. So, instead of a “What I’m Loving Wednesday”, I’m doing a “What I Want For My Birthday Wednesday”. =) These are all things that I’m coveting right now.

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A Polar heart rate monitor. I’d love to know how many calories I’m burning when I’m out of cell phone range. Nothing is more annoying than a nine mile hike that I couldn’t record, because I didn’t have service.

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Now that I’m learning how to use my new camera, I need a better lens for it. I figure since everyone & their brother recommends this one, it’s a good place to start.

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I’m obsessed with these adorable Sperry’s.

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Cute & colorful from Anthropologie to give my always dying phone a little boost.

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A proper bag for my new camera.

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A new iPod. I HATE using all of the memory on my phone with music. I also hate that I can only have about 150 songs on my phone. I definitely could use more space.

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I’m finally convinced that tanning beds are bad for you. So, sunless tanner it is. From the reviews I’ve read, this stuff is the best!

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A grill, a griddle & a panini press all in one!

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We adore Mediterranean food, and I’ve heard this recipe book is a winner!

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Love these jeans from GAP. Size 10. And I can’t believe I just published my pant size on the internet….

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I’ve wanted this hoodie for ages. Medium, please.

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This. In gray. And Medium.

And of course Target & Amazon gift cards are lovely too.

A Beautiful Day in DC

Like I’ve said a 1,000 times, my favorite thing about where we live is our proximity to DC. I know a two and a half hours isn’t exactly next door, but since we have driven 2+ hours plenty of times in Arkansas to take the dog on an adventure, I’m more than willing to drive a few hours to visit one of my favorite cities.

I already mentioned that we took a day trip to DC and enjoyed the most beautiful day imaginable. Seriously. It wasn’t too hot, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and it was just the most perfect day.

Graham had never been to Mount Vernon, and we’ve talked about stopping there on every trip, so we finally made it happen this time. Mount Vernon is one of my absolute favorite historical homes in the nation. Obviously it’s cool because it’s the home of our first president, but the home and the property itself are absolutely gorgeous. They also have some very cool artifacts… they don’t let you take pictures inside the house, but they have the chair he sat in as president, the bedroom he died in is exactly how it was when he died, and they have the key to the Paris Bastille.

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ImageOne of my favorite things about Mount Vernon is how the land on the other side of the Potomac remains undeveloped. The Mount Vernon Ladies Association has worked diligently since the 1950′s to make sure the view from Washington’s backyard remains unchanged. I am so grateful for that. The view would not be nearly as awe inspiring if there was a factory or a few office buildings there. They also offer river cruises, for an additional charge. One of these days we’re going to have to do that.

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2014-04-12 01.35.35Other interesting things about Mount Vernon: George & Martha are buried there. Last time I visited was on the 4th of July, and they do wreath laying ceremonies through out the day. This time, we just stopped by the tomb, and found out that they had originally been buried elsewhere while the tomb was constructed.

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It was such a gorgeous day, we just hung out on the lawn for a little bit before heading into the city. 1907948_10101295621281727_7541500056213726891_n

DC was a mad house, as usual. Apparently everyone and their brother picked that day to go see the Cherry Blossoms. You could barely walk along the Tidal Basin.

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2014-04-12 16.40.11 2014-04-12 16.39.56It wouldn’t be a trip to DC without stopping by the White House. Unfortunately, we didn’t see anyone important this time.

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We did stop for a very important bomb pop though. By the end of our day it was pretty hot, and this was just about the most refreshing thing ever.

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We decided to save ourselves the trauma of trying to find a parking spot in the city, and parked across the bridge at Arlington Cemetary. On the way back to the car, we passed this little spot of beautiful yellow flowers.

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All in all, it was a perfect day. I’m already looking forward to our next trip!

Happy Easter

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I hope everyone had a wonderful Easter. Even though I am a Christian, I don’t currently attend a church. So, Graham and I took Hermione on a nine mile hike through the Great Dismal Swamp. The drive wasn’t bad; it was only about an hour away in Suffolk. We took the Washington Ditch path, which was a 4 & 1/4 mile straight shot to Lake Drummond. The path was newly green and absolutely beautiful.

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One side of the path switched from dry to marshy, and the other side looked like this the entire route:

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The end of the trail ended at Lake Drummond, which is one of only two natural lakes in Virginia. It was honestly kind of a disappointment. There was an overlook, and that was it, which meant no place for Hermione to swim =( It was pretty, though.

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We spent a whopping 10 minutes at the overlook before turning around and heading back. The only bad part of the walk? This.

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There was a portion of the walk that was nothing but mud & muck. My shoes were filthy, my socks went in the garbage, and I had mud splatters all over my legs. So gross. By the time we got back to the car we had completed nine miles (over half of it with wet socks) and I was beyond happy to see the parking lot.

Once we got home, I got to work on our Easter dinner.  Everything we had was absolutely delicious! We had ham, sautéed asparagus, roasted thyme carrots, dill potato salad, deviled eggs & pesto crescent rolls.

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And for dessert we had strawberry shortcake made with orange bundt cake (recipe coming this week =)), strawberries and homemade whipped cream.

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Hope everyone has had a wonderful Sunday!

Chicken & Buttermilk Dumplings

I first posted this back in 2011 (with horrible pictures and our ugly coffee table in the background)…and it has remained a regular in our dinner rotation ever since. Sometimes I cheat and use store bought chicken stock and a rotisserie chicken, and it’s still amazing.

 

But nothing tops this dish when you use homemade stock. I like to break this dinner up into stages. I typically make the chicken & stock the day or two before. After I make the stock, I stick it in the fridge over night (getting it cold makes removing the extra fat a breeze). With the stock already made, and the chicken already shredded and in a Ziploc baggie, throwing this together takes no time at all.
This is seriously my favorite chicken & dumpling recipe EVER. I’ll never make it another way ever again. It’s seriously THAT good.
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Chicken and Dumplings 
Recipe adapted from this one

Ingredients:
For the Stock:
  • 1 (3 to 3 1/2 pound) whole chicken
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 to 5 black peppercorns
  • 1 head of unpeeled garlic, split through the center
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • Enough water to cover chicken

For the Sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • A small onion; diced
  • 5 carrots, diced
  • 5 stalks celery, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • Freshly ground black pepper, for garnish
  • Chopped chives, for garnish

For the Dumplings:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup chopped chives
  • 3/4 to 1 cup buttermilk
Directions:
Chicken & Stock
Place the chicken and all stock ingredients in a large Dutch oven and cover with water. Bring water to a boil over medium-high heat and then reduce to a simmer.  Cook for one hour until the chicken is tender and internal temperature registers at least 165 degrees. Skim the surface of fat as it cooks.

 

Dumplings:

Sift the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. In a small bowl, using a whisk, lightly beat the eggs, chives and buttermilk together; pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and gently fold. Mix just until the dough comes together; the batter should be thick and cake-like.

Sauce:

In a Dutch oven, over medium heat, add the butter and oil. Add the onion, carrot, celery, garlic and bay leaves and saute until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the flour to make a roux and continue to stir for two minutes to coat the veggies in flour and remove the starchy taste. Slowly pour in the chicken stock, 1 cup at a time, stirring well after each addition. Add frozen peas. Let sauce simmer, stirring occasionally, until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 15 minutes. Stir in heavy cream.

Bringing it all Together:

Fold the reserved shredded chicken into the sauce and bring to a simmer. Using 2 spoons, carefully drop heaping tablespoonfuls of the dumpling batter into the hot mixture. The dumplings should cover the top of the sauce, but should not be touching or crowded. Let the dumplings poach for 10 to 15 minutes until they are firm and puffy. Discard the bay leaves, season with freshly cracked black pepper and garnish with chopped chives before serving.

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Tortellini with Spinach & Sausage

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Tonight’s dinner is a favorite around here for three reasons:

  1. It’s easy.
  2. It’s comes together super fast
  3. Most importantly it is so, so delicious!

It’s also extremely versatile. You can pretty much throw in whatever you like, add some sauce and you’re good to go! I kept it simple with sautéed onions, spicy chicken sausage from Trader Joe’s, baby spinach and of course the pasta and sauce. You can also change it up based on what type of pasta you buy. I’ve seen so many different types of tortellini at the various grocery stores I frequent, and so far the classic cheese filled is my favorite.

Tortellini with Spinach & Sausage

Ingredients:

  • 1  package of tortellini (I used whole wheat, cheese filled)
  • 2 Spicy Italian chicken sausage links; thinly sliced
  • 5-6 cups of baby spinach
  • 1 onion; thinly sliced
  • 1 cup of marinara sauce
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Optional: Red pepper flakes, fresh basil & Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Bring large pot of water to a boil.
  2. Heat 2 T. of olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. When the oil is hot, add the onions & sausage. Let cook for about 5-7 minutes.
  3. Add the spinach to the onions and sausage (add it a little at a time, let it wilt down and then add some more).
  4. Once the spinach is wilted, add the marinara & the red pepper flakes, and reduce heat to low. Let simmer while pasta cooks.
  5. When the water is boiling, add a little olive oil to the water, then add the pasta. Cook according to package instructions (my package said 7-9 minutes, but it was ready in 5).
  6. Toss pasta with the sauce and serve. Garnish with shaved parmesan cheese and fresh basil if you wish.

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Celebrating Spring with Kirin & Cherry Blossoms

“I participated in an Influencer Activation on behalf of Millennial Central for Kirin. I received product samples to facilitate my review as well as a promotional item to thank me for my participation.”


One of my favorite things about living in Virginia is our proximity to our nation’s capital. Since moving here in early August, we’ve taken four day trips to DC. Sometimes we do the touristy things and visit monuments and museums. Other times, a trip to DC just means an amazing dinner and a trip to Ikea.

This past weekend we headed to DC for the annual Cherry Blossom Festival. In 1912, the Mayor of Tokyo gifted 3,000 of these beautiful trees to the city as a token of friendship. As a historian, I think the story of how the trees came to DC is fascinating, but seeing them lining the Tidal Basin was truly spectacular.

The timing of our day trip to DC coincided perfectly with the request for me to sample beers from Kirin Ichiban. When Millennial Central reached out to me for this campaign, they not only sent beer for us to sample, they also included an informational booklet that contained Japanese recipes from celebrity chef Candice Kumai and the tools we would need to make them.

All of the recipes sounded delicious, but I was the most intrigued by the thought of making my own sushi. I took the recipe in the book and modified it to make a spicy tuna roll. Other than the fact that we used too much rice, we had so much fun making these, and they turned out SO well!

I had never tried Kirin before, and I was very pleasantly surprised with it. Kirin Ichiban is a 100% malt, first-press beer with rich flavor, a smooth finish and clean aftertaste. They only use the first strain of malt liquid, which means it’s truly beer at its purest.  Kirin is known in Japan and all over the world as beer at its purest because of its first-press brewing process and clean taste, and that was something I definitely appreciated. It didn’t have an aftertaste, or taste artificial; which is something that I get from a lot of beers. It was simple and clean. We tried both the Kirin Ichiban and the Kirin Light, and I must say, I preferred the Kirin Ichiban. It had a more crisp flavor and a smoother finish.
The Kirin Ichiban was the perfect accompaniment to our dinner. The beer was light and very flavorful. It was exactly what I needed after a long day of traipsing around DC. I also appreciated that it complimented the sushi (and the seaweed salad I served on the side) and didn’t take away from those flavors. 
If you’ve never tried Kirin, I would recommend it. Throughout the year Candice Kumai will share more recipes and pairings, so I also recommend heading over to the official Kirin USA Facebook page

Recipe: Banana Split Cupcakes


Over Labor Day weekend, Graham & I took a day trip to DC and we experienced Georgetown Cupcake for the first time. I’ve never waited in a line like that for a cupcake before… but the banana split cupcake that I ordered was absolutely worth it. 


When I got home, I googled and I actually found “their” recipe. And eventually I made it. 

And, to be honest, it was an utter disappointment. The addition of bananas to cake batter instantly turn any cake into a fancy banana bread. Maybe I waited too long to make it, but it tasted nothing like the cupcake that I remembered. 

So, for Graham’s birthday, I decided to make them again, using the method that I use for my banana pudding cupcakes. These were a HUGE hit. Graham’s friends and family devoured them, and gave them rave reviews.

(If you’re against doctored up cake mixes, turn away now. Or just use this as inspiration and make a from scratch version of this delicious cupcake =))



I also made another change to the original cupcake… A banana split has pineapple, strawberry & chocolate toppings. This was a banana cupcake, filled with hot fudge, and then more fudge drizzle on top. Too much chocolate, and not enough fruit for me. So when I made it again, I filled the cupcake with strawberry jam & then drizzled the chocolate on top. The fruity addition was exactly what this needed!


So, here is a banana split cupcake that I’m in love with, and I hope you enjoy it as well.

Banana Split Cupcakes

For the Cake
Ingredients:
  • 1 box of yellow cake mix
  • 1 3.9 ounce box of instant banana pudding
  • 1 cup of vegetable oil
  • 1 cup of sour cream
  • 1/2 cup of hot water 
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tsp. of vanilla
  • hot fudge
  • sprinkles
  • maraschino cherries 

Directions
Mix all ingredients together, except the bananas and the Nilla wafers. Spoon one spoon full of the batter into the lined muffin tins. Place one cookie and then two slices of banana in the batter. Then finish filling all of the tins. The batter should completely cover the bananas.

Bake at 350 degrees for 18-20 minutes (I baked mine for 19 minutes) or until a tester comes out clean.

For the Frosting
Ingredients:
  • 1 stick of softened, unsalted butter
  • 12 oz. of softened cream cheese
  • 2 T. of vanilla extract
  • 1 lb. of powdered sugar

Directions:
  1. Beat the cream cheese & butter together. 
  2. Slowly add in the powdered sugar. 
  3. Add in the vanilla extract. 
  4. Mix until combined, scraping the sides as needed. 
Garnish with a drizzle of hot fudge, sprinkles & a maraschino cherry =)