Friday Five: Oscar Fever

Every Friday I’ll indulge my order-crazed brain in a list of randomness. Welcome to my Friday Fives.

Whew! This has been quite a week and I’m just getting this in under the gun. Like, 2 minutes to spare.

This Sunday marks the apex of the pop culture calendar: Oscar Night. As much as we love following movie news and as many times as I check people.com every day, it should come as no surprise that we love Oscar Night. What’s crazy is that we don’t go to the theater often, so we don’t actually see most of the movies until they come out on DVD. I feel like we should be discussing last year’s nominees, because we’ve pretty much seen all of them now.

So, Joe and I decided to fly blind and cast our ballots for who we think will take home the top prizes on Sunday. Here goes nothing…

5. Best Supporting Actress

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Joe’s vote: Jennifer Lawrence
Marci’s vote: Lupita Nyong’o

I love me some J-Law, but I think Lupita is on quite the winning streak and voters like to see a humble, genuine thank-you speech. You go girl.

4. Best Supporting Actor

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Joe’s vote: Jared Leto
Marci’s vote: Jared Leto

This is the only category we agree on. Jared Leto—I will forever only see you as Jordan Catalano, but you do make an impressive female and I think you got this in the bag.

3. Best Actress

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Cate Blanchett in Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine

Joe’s vote: Sandra Bullock
Marci’s vote: Cate Blanchett

Joe went with America’s Sweetheart of the 2000s, not to be confused with America’s Sweethearts of the 1990s (Julia & Meg). That’s a pretty safe choice, so I went with another acclaimed performance of the year. I hope Woody Allen’s hot water doesn’t detract voters for Cate. It’s hard for me to take my vote away from Meryl—especially for a movie set and filmed in Oklahoma—but sometimes you gotta follow your gut.

2. Best Actor

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Joe’s vote: Chiwetel Ejiofor
Marci’s vote: Matthew McConaughey

Allright, allright, allright! Let’s get on board with the McConaissance, shall we? Long gone are the horrible, predictable rom-coms of his past, Mr. Bongos himself means business. I can’t wait to see this movie and I think he’ll win for his vulnerable, risky role.

1. Best Picture

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Joe’s vote: 12 Years a Slave
Marci’s vote: American Hustle

Here’s the deal: 12 Years is most likely to win. I think Gravity’s director will win, which means Gravity probably won’t win, which means my vote goes to the star-studded American Hustle. I think this is a pretty tight race—perhaps the closest of the year. What an exciting night we have in store for us soon.

Watch up! Who are you rooting for?

# a secret revealed

You know that nervous, anxious, bubbly feeling you have right before you reveal a surprise or a secret? That’s me right now. I’m equal parts thrilled and terrified to share with the world a project that’s been on my heart and taking over my free time for the last two months. It’s scary to be vulnerable—to put yourself out there. But, sometimes you have to jump and, like the lifeguard who stood next to me on the high diving board and simultaneously held my hand and scarred me for life, I’m jumping on “two.” Why wait for “three?”

So here’s the moment you I have been waiting for….

 

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Welcome to my very own Etsy shop: Pea Patch Designs!

Grand Opening Announcement

I’ve been making custom, personalized prints for my family and friends for years and I finally decided to listen to them (and my inner cheerleader) and start selling them. It was one of my resolutions back in January, but I didn’t really set a deadline for the project until I was offered a job two weeks ago. It suddenly felt like now or never.

The shop speaks for itself and I’d love for you to check out my offerings, but first I want to speak about the name.

Why “Pea Patch?”

Last year when I lost my grandfather, I came back home with a clear sense of purpose to live a better, more-fulfilling life. I wanted to pursue the things that made me happy—find my creative outlets—and invest in the people I love most. It’s the way he lived his entire life. One of the things I always admired about him was a side business he started late in life called Fish-N-Hunt. After witnessing a friend suffer a sting ray strike while wadefishing, he began designing and selling safety gear. (Read the last five paragraphs of this story for more info on that.) And he did all of this while still working his insurance job. It began as a hobby, his own creative outlet, that developed into a thriving business that now sells internationally!

But they had some humble beginnings—traveling around to fishing and hunting shows to spread the word. It’s inspiring to think of that passion, that confidence, the entrepreneurial spirit, that leap of faith. Especially when it was pre-internet, pre-social media…pre-easy.

Fish-N-Hunt Boat Show

All I had to do was open an online shop. I didn’t even have to get out of my pajamas. What was I waiting for? How hard could it be?

Back to the name. Since I drew my inspiration from Pops, I wanted the name to reflect him in some way. “Fish-N-Hunt” doesn’t exactly translate to my product, but his nickname for their home, their family, did. You see, “Pops” is really “Paul” and he married Pat, and they had Paula, Pam, Phil and Patrick. Add those names to their last (Perrin) and you’ve got yourself a lot of “P’s.” I don’t know when it started, but somewhere along the way they became known as the “P-Patch.” And just like it was to them, I wanted my Pea Patch to be a safe haven, a place where I could be me and do what I love to do. There’s another p-word that describes the name to me: Perfect. How great did Pops look with his Pea Patch wind sock?

Pops and the Pea Pods

I had some amazing help from my dear friend and former colleague Maria who designed this beautiful logo. Guys, she DREW the pea pod. She HAND-LETTERED the words. She perfectly captured the whimsy I had in mind and I’m absolutely in love with her work, which she also shares online on her website and through her amazing wedding invitations at “To Have and To Fold.” I love creative people.

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Please feel free to browse my new shop and help me spread the word. (Family and Friends: I’ll be sending out an email you can easily forward to your contacts shortly.) I’m offering a Grand Opening discount for the first five days we’re open. Receive 20% off your order when using the promo code ILOVEPEAS. 

Oh, and since we’re all friends here, please let me know if you see any errors on the site. I can’t tell you how many times I hastily typed “Please massage me,” when all I wanted was a message. 

Welcome to the Pea Patch—I’m so glad we’re here together.

Order Offer

Friday Five: Jumble Jumble

Every Friday I’ll indulge my order-crazed brain in a list of randomness. Welcome to my Friday Fives.

See that disclaimer right above? “Order-crazed?” Yes. “Randomness?” So far, not so much. My Friday Fives have almost all been themed in some way—holidays, birthdays, food. So why not shake things up? There’s a lot going on around here right now and my brain, and subsequently this Friday Five, feels downright jumbled. Bear with me here as I dive heavy into the “crazed” and leave the “order” behind:

5. Oh, Utah

In most states, the local news discusses crime, politics, kids programs, events…you know, things of importance. Not in Utah. I find the local news very odd. For example, every weekend our statewide news channel runs a special on Utah-native athletes playing in pro teams and how they are doing. Even profiling the guys that hardly make it off the bench. I mean, I’m not complaining that there’s very little crime here, but…really? Surely there’s something more pressing to discuss? There has been one recent doozey in the news that has had me shaking my head all week. This story takes the cake. And by cake, I mean inappropriate t-shirts at the mall:

When the Shirt Hits the Fan <—- Unbelievable!

4. JK Strikes Again

Remember how I said I was going to swear of JK Rowling for life after reading her “hey-look-at-me-write-for-adults” The Casual Vacancy? I almost needed a SAT vocab guide to get through it.  And then I changed my mind after reading The Cuckoo’s Calling? It’s a good thing I said j/k to JK– she just announced she’s writing a sequel to Cuckoo. Does this mean a new series surrounding P.I. Cormoran Strike? Let’s hope yes. He’s no Harry, but he’ll do.

Ladies and Gentleman, The Silkworm

3. Jim-MAY

Have you guys been watching Jimmy Fallon? He’s killing it on the Tonight Show. I thought Jay was fine, but I definitely find more of my parent’s generation liking his style. (No offense, guys.) Jimmy is more my type and I love his sketches—it’s like a perfect blend of SNL and a late-night talk/news show. Here are some of my favorite moments from his first week:

2. Job

Next Monday, all three days from now and counting, I’m starting a new job. A job away from the home where I’ve found my office for the last seven months. Luckily my contract work with NWS is wrapping up within the next month and a half, so the timing is pretty great. I’m excited to be back in an office, working with a new team and contributing more moolah to the family pot, but there are many things I’ll miss….like holding a sleepy dog while I work, going to the gym with only old people (seriously, it’s the best) to watch Price is Right while I run, finishing errands during the week so our weekends are free. *sigh* All good things come to an end, but I’m confident that this job is another good thing in the making. My goal is to keep blogging at my normal pace—which is usually two posts a week (including these Friday Fives). Keep me honest if I start slipping.

1. Surprise! (…almost)

Remember that sneaky surprise I teased you with back in January? Well, it’s about to be revealed…hopefully by the time the weekend ends. It’s been a lot of hard work, but there’s nothing like starting a new job to give you fire in your pants to get everything finished. I’m so excited to finally share the project with you and THIS BLOG will be the first place I announce it. Stay tuned, faithful readers!

# sweet treat

Another Valentine’s Day is under our belts, and oh how those belts are stretching! Joe and I were in blissful food comas last night, thanks to an incredible dinner of steak and risotto. It was very much a His and Hers thing going on in the kitchen, as some of you might have noticed on Instagram. Nothing says love more than risotto, amiright?

Valentines Dinner 1

Before I get to the dessert we tried, I have to sing the praises—yet again—of Ina Garten, Ms. Barefoot Contessa herself. Even though she lacks in the personality department a bit and even though my brother calls her “Barefoot Depressa,” this was THE. BEST. risotto I’ve ever had. It was full of tender vegetables and had a creamy mascarpone base. I’m a recipe tweaker, but I’d never fool around with Ina’s recipes. They are always completely perfect as is. I’ve never had one turn out wrong, and that’s sayin’ something. It’s a shame I only have phone photos to account for the deliciousness.

I mentioned yesterday that we like to try new recipes for special occasions. Normally we’d cull through our cookbook collection, but there was a certain recipe on Pinterest that was staring us down for weeks. One that included Joe’s favorite (Baileys) and my favorite (Oreos….kidding…chocolate…okay, not kidding, it’s Oreos).

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This “pie” was more like a mousse with a crust—perfectly light (after all that risotto), but still decadent thanks to those heavy hitters in the flavor department. And it could not have been easier to make! It did call for a special kind of Baileys—“Baileys with a Hint of Caramel”—and would you believe it if I told you that our tiny Utah Heathen Headquarters carried it? It was fate, us and this pie.

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The original recipe calls for a pre-made chocolate-cookie crust. No. Don’t do that. I’m begging you. It takes a whopping 10 minutes to make your own Oreo crust, without any added chemicals or ingredients. Just cookies (with their own preservatives) and butter. Just whirl ‘em in the food processor, dump in a pie plate and pack in with a measuring spoon.

Baileys Salted Caramel Chocolate Pie 1

Almost too easy, and—BONUS!—you’ll have a few Oreos left over for snacking. And I guarantee a package of Oreos will be cheaper than a pre-made pie crust. You’ll also have the satisfaction of not cutting any corners and this pie is so good, you’ll want to call every bit of it your own.

Baileys Salted Caramel Chocolate Pie 2

The filling is basically flavored whipped cream—so soft and pillowy. Yet deceiving, because it’s so very, very rich. Another cook’s tip: Don’t skimp on the sprinkling of salt on top. It’s unreal.

To me, this was the perfect Valentine’s dessert, but I think it’ll be making repeat appearances throughout the year on account of how easy and fast it was to put together.

Enjoy the recipes!

Baileys Salted Caramel Chocolate Pie

Baileys Salted Caramel Chocolate Pie

Adapted from She Wears Many Hats

24-26 whole Oreo cookies, crushed into fine crumbs
1/4 – 1/3 cups unsalted butter, melted
6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips (about 1 cup if using regular sized chips)
1 cup whipping cream
1 Tablespoon sugar
4 Tablespoons Baileys® with a Hint of Caramel
Coarse salt for sprinkling
Optional for garnishing: shaved chocolate, caramel sauce for drizzling

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Crush Oreo cookies in a food processor and mix with butter, starting with 1/4 cup, until fairly moist. Press crumb mixture into the bottom and sides of a 9″ pie pan using the bottom of a metal measuring cup. Bake for 5-6 minutes. Cool crust completely.

Melt chocolate chips in microwave in 30-second bursts and let cool slightly.

Whip cream and sugar in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. When soft peaks begin to form, gradually add flavored Baileys. Gently mix in the melted chocolate. Then spread mixture into pie crust and sprinkle top with coarse salt.

Refrigerate for 4-6 hours.

Risotto 1

Spring Green Risotto with Artichokes

From Barefoot Contessa

1 1/2 Tablespoons good olive oil
1 1/2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts (2 leeks)
1 cup chopped fennel
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
2/3 cup dry white wine
4 to 5 cups simmering chicken (or vegetable) stock or preferably homemade
1 pound thin asparagus
10 ounces frozen peas, defrosted, or 1 1/2 cups shelled fresh peas
8 ounces frozen artichoke hearts, defrosted
1 Tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup mascarpone cheese, preferably Italian
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 Tablespoons minced fresh chives, plus extra for serving

Heat the olive oil and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the leeks and fennel and sauté for 5 to 7 minutes, until tender. Add the rice and stir for a minute to coat with the vegetables, oil, and butter. Add the white wine and simmer over low heat, stirring constantly, until most of the wine has been absorbed. Add the chicken stock, 2 ladles at a time, stirring almost constantly and waiting for the stock to be absorbed before adding more. This process should take 25 to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut the asparagus diagonally in 1-inch lengths and discard the tough ends. Blanch in boiling salted water for 4 to 5 minutes, until al dente. Drain and cool immediately in ice water. (If using fresh peas, blanch them in boiling water for a few minutes until the starchiness is gone.)

When the risotto has been cooking for 15 minutes, drain the asparagus and add it to the risotto with the peas, artichokes, lemon zest, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper. Continue cooking and adding stock, stirring almost constantly, until the rice is tender but still firm.

When the risotto is done, turn off the heat and stir in the mascarpone, Parmesan cheese, lemon juice and chives. Serve hot with a sprinkling of chives and more Parmesan cheese.

Friday Five: Valentine, Be Mine

Every Friday I’ll indulge my order-crazed brain in a list of randomness. Welcome to my Friday Fives.

Happy Valentine’s Day! It’s still early, but have you had your fill of convo hearts and chocolate? As with most holidays and special events, we like to celebrate at home with a special meal, which I’ll share with you soon. We have fun collaborating on a menu, trying new things and avoiding the crowded mania of restaurants.

I’m fortunate to be surrounded by incredible examples of love. My grandparents alone have 130 years of marriage between them! I get to experience love every day; and while I’m not crazy over the commercialism that’s engulfed this holiday, I do like taking a moment to really celebrate the love I have in my life. And not just with Joe…but especially Joe.

Today’s Friday Five is a list of a few of my favorite valentines from over the years.

5. My First Valentine

As a little girl my Dad used to surprise me with teddy bears and, later, flowers. Even having them delivered once I left home. It was heartwarming to always feel like Daddy’s Little Girl with sweet, sentimental gifts. In fact, I still have a small white teddy bear with red trim that came with a rubber “I love you” stamp that he gave me when I was maybe six? Seven? Some valentines last forever. We don’t have a lot of pictures together since one of us is usually behind a camera, but this is one of my favorite photos of us–sharing a laugh at my wedding during the Daddy-Daughter dance.

Marcie and Joe Wedding F0369a

4. My Freaky Valentine

While in China, Joe took me to our favorite “western” restaurant, Polo. We learned from one of our Aussie colleagues that Polo’s owner, a certain Mr. Player (I’m avoiding this coming up in any future Google searches), was an underworld gangster boss that had escaped to China before being sentenced for murder. (You can read a little bit more about him here and here. And see photos here.) We would see him around the restaurant now and then, but on this Valentine’s Day he came over to our table and gave me a rose and a hug before singing karaoke to a couple who got engaged over dinner. It was awkward and I remember whispering “pleasedontkillme” under my breath after we hugged. Here’s Joe, forcing a smile over my contact with organized crime, holding my rose.

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3. My Funny Valentine

Laughter is a huge part of love. They go hand-in-hand to me. And no one makes me laugh harder than this little girl. Just this week, as she took down our Girl Scout Cookie order, she had me cracking up when she told me with eyes wide “whooa! that’s a lot!” in response to the number of Tagalong boxes we needed. Hey, don’t get in the way of us and our peanut butter and chocolate! From our humble beginnings to crazy selfies, she continues to surprise me and fill me with happiness. I hope she’ll always find being Aunt NoNo’s Valentine cool.

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2. My Furry Valentine

You knew she’d make the cut. When it comes to love, it’s hard to beat my relationship with my dog. I know that makes me sound pathetic, but it’s true. This precious pup is the real deal and fills my day with lots and lots of pure, unconditional love. She deserves to be in on the holiday madness. Even if all she’ll do to enjoy the day is sleep in my arms. I’ll take it over chocolate any day. Looks like I’m in good company when it comes to celebrating with fur babies.

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1. My Forever Valentine

He jokes that he’s below Bella on this list, but he’s wrong. You’re looking at my #1. He’s everything I’d ever want in a Valentine – loving, funny, hard-working, supportive, smart – all wrapped up in a handsome package. We’ve seen the world together, yet the only place we ever really want to be is home…our home…together. I love you, Joe. Thanks for being my Valentine today and always.

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# sochi problems

With the Olympics well under way, this is a bit of old news, but have you seen all of the Sochi hotel drama? There have been so many hilarious photos and anecdotes gone viral thanks to the hashtag #sochiproblems . You can read/see many of them here, here, here and here.

Joe and I have loved seeing these and remembering our own living quarters hell. We’ve stayed in some doozies over the years and I thought it might be a fun to relive those days for you…

There was our hotel in Mexico, the resort El Cid with its swanky outside areas that overlooked the ocean. This was our view. Not bad, I know.

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And the room itself wasn’t bad either…

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But the humidity was so intense that when we went to bed our sheets felt soaking wet, yet they were dry. It was some of the most uncomfortable nights I can ever remember.

And there was our actual apartment in Mexico, where we did our laundry in a bucket and hung it to dry on our building’s roof, along with everyone else’s clothes.

Mexico Laundry

 

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There was the hotel in Mercogliano, Italy with its ripped and cigarette-burned sheets. Thanks, CCM, for these stellar accommodations. I think these photos are from Wallis’ bed.

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Then, there was China….

Our first apartment, courtesy of our employer, was here. I can’t remember how long we lasted, but it was probably less days than we have fingers. Our apartment was atrocious, especially the kitchen, and I remember our mattress smelling like mold. Our first morning there, I remember waking up to our passports rolled into tight cigars from the humidity.

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It didn’t take us long to get the hell outta there and into this beautiful building, thanks to some charades and Google Translate. Apartment 30H…sometimes I actually miss it.

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In Hong Kong, our last performance in China, they put us up in these tiny hotel rooms. Joe’s height was literally the width of the room and the bathrooms were so small you couldn’t shut the door if you were in there. But you were in Hong Kong, so it didn’t really matter.

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These were all trying times in their own way, but we laugh about them now. Traveling overseas is what you make of it, and we have no regrets. I guess I feel lucky that our water was never yellow and ceilings never fell on us. And I’m more thankful I now live in an area that has almost NO humidity. Utah…the land of straight hair, dry sheets and flat passports. It’s the small things in life sometimes.

Anyone else have some crazy hotel/apartment stories?

Friday Five: Olympic Fever

Every Friday I’ll indulge my order-crazed brain in a list of randomness. Welcome to my Friday Fives.

I love the Olympics—who doesn’t? For this not-so-coordinated, non-athletic girl, it’s the stuff of dreams. Because in my dreams is the only place I’d be able to do anything close to what they do on a daily basis. As a musician, I can relate to the pressure, the diligence and practice, the sacrifices each of these athletes has made, the sacrifices their families have made…etc, etc. etc. So much rides on these games, and the whole world is literally watching.

My earliest Olympic memories have to be of Katerina Witt skating her heart out in 1988’s Calgary games. There are so many incredible moments to remember, but also a lot of cringe-worthy ones…most notably listening to John Tesh critique gymnastics as a commentator in 1992 and 1996. What was that about?

As we gear up for tonight’s Opening Ceremonies in Sochi, here are my most vivid Olympic memories:

5. Olympic {Video} Games

I remember playing the Sega game “Olympic Gold” from the Barcelona 1992 games ALL the time with my siblings. It was as close as I was ever going to get to that high board, or the track.

Olympic_Gold_Coverart  Sega Game

4. Nancy v. Tanya

“WHHHHHYYYY?” Can you hear Kerrigan’s screams echoing in your head? Come on, this was as good as it gets for Olympic drama and it wasn’t even at the actual Olympics. ESPN just did a fantastic 30 for 30 called “The Price of Gold” for the scandal’s 20th anniversary.

3. Dream Team

I once impressed a very skeptical Joe, pre-wedding rings, by naming off the entire Dream Team from the 1992 Olympics. EVEN remembering their nicknames. EVEN remembering Laettner. #booyah. I think it’s why he married me. I possessed the slightest bit of sports knowledge…no longer the lost cause he thought I was. I’ve always preferred college bball to pro, but how could anyone not love every second of the Dream Team’s domination? They made everyone Team USA.

1992 Dream Team

2. Mr. Phelps

I got all teary in 2012 when we saw the last of Michael Phelps in the Olympic pools. I had grown to love the lanky, slightly-lispy boy wonder and his Chicos-clad Mama screaming in the stands. He, and those low, hip-hugging swim trunks, made every swimming event worth watching. Now I’ll just have to settle for Subway commercials.

Michael Phelps

1. Ms. Strug

From one Dream Team to another. The 1996 women’s gymnastics team, The Magnificent Seven, was unreal. These girls were roughly my age and I further related to fellow Okie Shannon Miller and those ridiculous scrunchies she used to wear. I still remember exactly where I was when Kerry Strug put on her game face to stick a vault landing after hurting her ankle on the previous jump. I mean, everyone remember this, right? I was sitting in a hotel room in Pagosa Springs, Colorado with my family. The TV reception wasn’t great, but good enough to know it was a monumental moment in Olympic history that won the team their much-deserved gold.

I also remember the team dancing the Macerena when it was all said and done and wondering how it all went wrong so quickly. That dance with those perfectly poised gymnastic hands — give me a break. But, dang….Kerry Strug for President.

(Side note: Kerry Stug now looks very similar to the actress who plays Edith on Downton.)

Edith Strug

Okay, so four out of five are from summer Olympics. …. Looks like I have appreciatin’ to do over these next few weeks! I have to give a shout-out to the first females ever to complete in the ski jump. My heart goes out to them – it’s my favorite event to do on Wii Fit, so I totally get it.

# super bowl, super food

Oh, Super Bowl Sunday, how I love you. It’s a big day in our house for my football-lovin’ husband, but it’s an even bigger event to this athletic-apathetic wife. To me it signifies….THE END OF FOOTBALL SEASON! No more games being on all weekend, Thursday nights and Monday nights. The bliss! The possibilities! The eye contact with my husband!

Okay, I don’t hate it that much. I’ve gotten a lot better at understanding and being able to follow a game, but I just can’t watch hours of it like Joe can and will. I don’t ever remember sports being on at my house, with the exception of baseball, until my brother went to college. It’s just not in my blood.

The Super Bowl is a big exception. The combination of decadent snacks, awesome commercials, great pre- and half-time shows is enough to get me on board. Before I get into our football fare, I have to tip my virtual hat at the advertisers this year. I thought the commercials were great. I loved the self-deprecating Tim Tebow, Dorito’s time machine and the 80s taking back Radio Shack. The dog lover in me enjoyed the Doberhuahua and, of course, I got teary-eyed for the Budweiser puppy. But, the highlight for us had to be the familiar “bleep-bloops” signaling the return of 24. Ahhhhhhhh! I love it.

I definitely don’t consider myself a food-blogger, but food/cooking is a big love of mine and I should probably blog about it more. A real food blogger would look out for their readers and post super bowl recipes way in advance so everyone could plan their menus accordingly. That’s way too much work and I don’t really need plates of treats staring me down on a Tuesday night—so today you get two amazing recipes for next year’s game. Go ahead, bookmark this page. You’ll be back.

Every year, Joe and I plan on making a new, special recipe based on the teams who make it to the game. For example, when the Packers went we made beer cheese fondue…Wisconsin = Beer & Cheese. You get the idea. When we realized that Denver and Seattle were this year’s reps, the menu came to us pretty fast. Seattle? Easy. Starbucks. So we needed a coffee component. Then there was Denver. And what just happened in Denver? They legalized pot. So….brownies! The end result: Mocha Brownies. Genius, huh?

Mocha Brownies 4

{DEAR MOM AND DAD, WE DID NOT MAKE POT BROWNIES FOR THE SUPER BOWL. LOVE, YOUR VERY RESPONSIBLE MIDDLE CHILD.}

I haven’t had much any luck in making good edible brownies at high-altitude, until our friend Chris shared a little secret: Add more flour to the batter. Cue the Hallelujah Chorus. These were beautifully dense and fudgy and when they cooled the center caved in a bit creating the perfect spot for a thick, mochalicious frosting to dwell. It almost tasted like a mousse. Delicious and decadent. They could have tasted like cardboard, I was just thrilled that they cooked properly and no brownies were in the trash.

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The best part was that you let the brownies chill in the fridge to set up, so it almost tastes like a thick cheesecake. I love just about any brownie, but this was pretty over the top. And very easy, which is always a bonus.

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The original recipe came from the Pioneer Woman who lays on the frosting thick. We cut the amount in half and it was STILL super thick, so do whatever works best for you and your cardiologist.

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Our other Super Bowl treat made its second appearance in what we assume will be an annual tradition: Pretzel Bites. We made these for the first time last year and couldn’t believe how easy and AWESOME they were.

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The dough takes like 10 minutes, max, to put together. Let it rise and then get your play-doh on by rolling sections into snakes. I used a pizza cutter to make the bites, but don’t do what I did here and make them too big. I forgot that they explode during their water-baking soda bath.

Pretzel Bites 1

You end up with a cutting board full of what looks like gnocchi, which wouldn’t be a bad thing any other day.

Pretzel Bites 2

Once they have their bath and sit in the oven for 10 minutes, you then face the daunting chore of ignoring them as they sit on the counter while you make whatever dipping sauce you want. Our choice? Beer Cheese Dip.

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Pretzel Bites 3

But you could do Honey Mustard, Spicy Queso or be a good Oklahoman and use a ranch-based dip. You could also sprinkle the bites with cinnamon and sugar instead of salt and dip in melted Nutella. Or, OR! Do a sheet of salty and a sheet of sweet bites. Gaahh! Are you following me here? These need to be a part of your life, stat.

Pretzel Bites 5

We made the smart, yet depressing choice of cutting this recipe in half. Something about it containing 12-16 servings turned me off. 6-8 sounds so much better, doesn’t it? So, in addition to all the math I did converting the recipe for two people, I also had to do a little high-altitude adjustments. For yeast breads you have to cut the yeast by a quarter. It made my head hurt. I may have had to call in reinforcements to ensure accurate baking. Thanks, Joe. Thanks, music degrees. Sorry, math teachers of the past.

Pretzel Bites 6

Enough of the food porn and math confessions, here are the recipes:

Mocha Brownies 1

Mocha Brownies

Adapted from The Pioneer Woman Cooks

Brownies:

Four 1-ounce squares of unsweetened chocolate
½ pound (2 sticks) of butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
3 teaspoons vanilla
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

Mocha Frosting: (Double this to go full-out on the frosting)

¼ pound (1 stick) of butter, at room temperature
2 ½ cups powdered sugar
1/8 cup cocoa powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
¼ to ½ cups brewed coffee, cooled to room temperature

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray an 8-inch square baking pan with nonstick spray.

To make brownie batter, melt chocolate squares in microwave in 30-second increments, being careful not to let it burn. Set it aside to cool slightly.

In a medium bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs. With the mixer on low speed, drizzle in the cooled, melted chocolate. Add the vanilla and mix. Add the flour to the bowl and mix just until combined; do not overmix.

Pour the batter in the baking pan and bake for 40-45 minutes, until the center is no longer soft. Set brownies aside to cool completely before icing.

To make the frosting, in a large mixing bowl, combine the butter, powdered sugar, cocoa powder, salt and vanilla. Mix until slightly combined (I used a hand mixer). Then add ¼ cup of the coffee. Whip until the frosting is the desired consistency, using more coffee if the frosting is too thick. It should be light and fluffy.

Ice the cooled brownies and refrigerate until firm. …then devour.

Pretzel Bites

Easy Pretzel Bites

From Annie’s Eats (who credits Smells Like Home and Alton Brown)

**You should definitely check out Annie’s original recipe, because she offers up variations like the cinnamon sugar one I mentioned and a garlic herb one that has my name written all over it.**

Oh, and this is the ‘feeds 12-16’ version. Do your own math.

Basic pretzel dough:

1 ½ cups warm water (110-115° F)
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 ¼ teaspoons instant yeast
22 oz. all-purpose flour (about 4 ½ cups)
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Vegetable oil, for greasing the bowl

To finish:

10 cups water
2/3 cup baking sodas
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 Tablespoon water
Pretzel (or kosher) salt

To make the basic pretzel dough, combine the water, sugar, salt and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed to dissolve the yeast. Add in the flour and melted butter and mix just until the dough comes together. Switch to the dough hook and knead on medium speed until the dough is smooth and clears the sides of the bowl, about 5 minutes. (Mine took about 3 minutes.) Transfer the dough to a bowl lightly greased with vegetable oil, turning once to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place, about 50-55 minutes or until doubled in bulk.

Preheat the oven to 450° F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and spray lightly with cooking spray. Bring the water and baking soda to a boil in a large saucepan or stockpot. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and gently deflate it. Divide it up into approximately 6 equal portions. Working with one piece at a time, roll the dough out into a long rope about 1-inch in diameter. Use a pizza cutter to cut the row into small segments, no longer than 1-inch each. Repeat with the remaining dough. Place the pretzel bites into the boiling water in batches so that they aren’t overcrowded. Boil each batch for about 30 seconds, stirring once or twice to submerge all surfaces in the water. Remove from the water with a slotted skimmer and spread out on the prepared baking sheets. Once all the pretzels have been boiled, brush the tops with the egg wash and sprinkle lightly with salt. Bake in the preheated oven until dark golden brown, about 9-11 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving. Serve with your favorite dipping sauce.

# surprise trip

Disclaimer: You might need a good 10 minutes to get through this post…

A trip home has been on my mind ever since my sister’s due date was approaching in November. When Lily was born, I was able to drive up from Dallas in time to be there and I knew it wouldn’t be the same this time around…but was still so anxious to be there as soon as I could.

Since our holiday was consumed by a certain warm job obligation (and it was our year to go to Michigan anyway), I thought my first opportunity to hold Lincoln would be at my brother’s wedding in March. And this Aunt just couldn’t wait that long. Plus I’d have to share with too many other family members looking for the same chance of some baby snugs, and everyone knows middle children are bad at sharing. So my brain started churning the possibilities and what better opportunity than a big sister’s birthday? I love surprises, especially if I’m in on them and especially if they involve parties.

Only a handful of people (okay, four…) knew I was coming, so there were plenty of surprises to go around. I took many photos with my purse camera and phone – no BGC (big girl cameras) were spotted on this trip. Here are the highlights:

Lincoln and Lily were really the stars of this trip. So my first morning was spent meeting Mr. Linc. Here’s our first picture together—I’m so impressed he already knew how to make my Game Face!

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Here’s Booh – doesn’t she look fabulous?! I think she has a secret celebrity trainer hiding in her closet she’s not telling me about. Girlfriend looks awesome!

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Lincoln was getting fresh and wanted to hold hands right away. I told him he better be up for buying me dinner first. #justkiddingyoucanalwaysbemyboyfriend

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We also snuggled in our matching owl jammies on Sunday morning after our big sleepover.

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Lily had no clue I was coming into town, so Booh had planned for me to pick her up at school and even had Lily’s teacher in on it. Since it was so cold, the kids were waiting inside when I walked up. The teacher asked if anyone knew who I belonged to. All of these kids, bundled up in multiple layers, were just staring up at me slack jawed, including Lily. And then she recognized me and her eyes popped open and her jaw dropped even more and she came running, screaming “That’s my NoNo!!!!” It really was in the top three moments I’ve ever had with her, even making me tear up as we hugged. I scooped her up and Booh said all she could see from the car were Lily’s feet kicking up and down. It was a beautiful reunion, but Lily told me as we walked to the car that because I wasn’t wearing my glasses she didn’t know I was NoNo right away. Point taken. Glasses on. Game Face on. Always.

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During our time together, Lily learned the importance of the “selfie” photo. In fact, if you now ask her to take a selfie with you, she knows what to do. And she also knows there are no better selfies than those with marker on your face, duck lips and an icing-covered spatula in your hand.

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More highlights included:

Playing horn candlestick holders – she’s got a pretty good embouchure!

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Sharing this guy with this girl, who was also pretty surprised to see me walk through the door.

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And seeing Lily dressed up like her favorite book character, Waldo, with her new doll. My mom knitted her the scarf and hat and she didn’t want to take it off. So funny!

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Since she was turning six, Memaw read A.A. Milne’s poem “Now We Are Six”—her favorite as a young girl:

When I was one I had just begun
When I was two I was nearly new

When I was three I was hardly me
When I was four I was not much more

When I was five I was just alive
But now I am six, I’m as clever as clever;

So I think I’ll be six now for ever and ever.

Lily loved it.

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She also is a girl after her Mikey Joe’s heart and was pretty crazed over her new Star Wars sheets. haha! I didn’t know who R2D2 was until I was in my twenties. This girl is going places.

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One of the best/funniest parts of the trip was cheering on Lily’s Lady Dalmatians basketball team. What. A. Hoot.

Here’s Lily during the warm-ups:

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They even turn out the lights, turn up the fog machine, and have the girls run out during the team introductions! I felt like I was watching a Thunder game. Totally legit.

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Each team, I believe, had five girls and only three were on the court at a time. The girls wore a colored wristband that would match up with a girl on the opposing team. That’s who they blocked during that period.

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The game had a lot of hands in the air, waving ‘em like you just don’t care, and the ball rolling around on the floor. Seriously, it was hilarious. At one point Lily was holding hands with the girl trying to block her. And sometimes blocking can look like a dance party’s about to start.

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Here’s Lily as she makes a basket! She shoots, she scores!

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Good game, good game, good game.

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Not a selfie, but a goody.

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The morning of the party I was in Lily’s bathroom putting on make-up and she asked if she could watch. (She sounds a lot like me, huh Pam?) I told her that since she was six she could WEAR some, so I brushed blush over those smiling cheeks and put on a little lip gloss. She was over the moon and asked what happens when she turned seven. I think she was expecting me to say eyeliner, but I said “oh, you come live with me.” To credit my sister and brother-in-law, she looked horrified and politely said ‘no thanks.’ Ha! One day year at a time.

Now, to the par-tay: Lily wanted her birthday party to be held at Bounce U—which Booh tells me is a popular party destination for kids in her class. Basically it’s a bounce house bonanza—rooms and rooms of inflatable fun. The party was a total success. My sister is known for Lily’s amazing parties—going all out on themes, decorations, attire, etc. Lily’s big into Spidey right now and this place was perfect for getting your Super Hero on.

The first room had a big slide, target practice, basketball toss and a wrecking ball pit:

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Seriously, those kids were moving so fast, it’s Blurry Photo Central, but you can just tell how excited she is here.

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Aunt NoNo even made an appearance on the big slide, where it was said her screams were louder than any of the kids. I’m okay with that.

Lily and NoNo on Slide

The second room had a football field, climbing wall and a huge spider web climby area that led to another huge slide. Lily was all about this one.

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I looked in once to see this kid just hanging upside down, haha.

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She even got her first tattoo. *sigh* They grow up so fast. Next it’ll be a butterfly on her ankle and “Believe” across her lower back. Only 12 more years, Lily. #ArkansasSpringBreak2026

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I love this girl and am so proud she’ll carry on the “whispies” for me and Booh. Crazy hair is awesome.

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Look who, amid non-stop screaming from the party guests, remained Mr. Cool and Collected. Sweet Linc!

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After much playing, when all the kids looked like this, we went to the party room for refreshments and singing.

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Everyone should get a side of disco lights with their Happy Birthday song.

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Lily really wanted cookies instead of cake (seriously, we are the same person) and Booh had these gorgeous, delicious almond-flavored sugar cookies decorated for Spider Man and a special one for the special girl. So yummy. Happy Birthday, Lil!

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A few more selfies and it was time to put a close on year five. The next day I was on a crowded, coughy plane back to Utah–leaving a bit of my heart in Oklahoma with these precious littles.

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Other highlights not pictured include: spending time with Dad, Janet and Rachel at their new digs while their house is being redone; eating Savoy cinnamon rolls and Mediterranean food with Pam and Memaw; visiting The Nest; meeting Alex and seeing Jessica and Autumn; and chilling out with my Mom and Mike. The trips are always fast, but always fabulous too.

I should mention that when I wasn’t hugging and kissing on Lil and Linc, I was hugging and kissing on dogs. Specifically Maggie, Ella!, Tootsie and Molly. I’m sure I smelled like a doggie whore house to Bella when I returned. But she took me back anyway. Joe did too. They always do.

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You made it to the end! Consider your passports Oklahoma-stamped.