Shelf Life: Spring 2017

Everyone indulge me for a second and make some air quotes with your fingers. Now, do this every time I use the word “Spring.” Because that’s what Spring (“Spring”) is in Wyoming — fake. We encountered some promise when our Aspen trees started showing these little furry blooms in March. Of course, they were covered in snow/ice most of the time. Notice the branch-cicles behind it.

DSC_4532

Then those grew into weird prickly, fuzzies…

DSC_4639

…that ended up blanketing our yard when they weren’t buried in snow.

DSC_4654

And, oh, the icicles. We had two hanging on either side of our front door — both over 5 feet in length — for weeks. Here’s part of one. It made our entrance look very menacing. I wish I had something for scale in this pic, because it’s actually two pictures stitched together and it’s not even showing the whole thing.

LongIcicle

And they took FOR-EV-ER to melt. One single drop at a time…which I tried to capture because we literally just heard that tap-tap-tap non-stop for weeks.

DSC_4577

But here are the April pictures, and probably the most realistic of what we’re experiencing this Spring. There are no flowers here, but we do have these cute little blooms on one of our other trees. Blooms and snow, people.

DSC_4715

DSC_4718

DSC_4710

And here’s the crazy storm we had last week for reference. Sorry for the quick cell phone pics. Normally you’d be able to see Joe’s car from our front door, but the trees on either side of the sidewalk were leaning close to the ground from the wet snow.

IMAG3981

And here are more branches leaning on the brand new windshield I had installed the week before from, what else, snow.

IMAG3987

Everyone says it’ll be better by the end of May. Until then….

Let’s talk books! Not the best quarter for quantity, but I was happy with the quality and the fact that I’m knocking out my goal of reading all the books of my shelf I’ve never read. It feels so. good. Especially when Joe and I are totally embracing this minimalism lifestyle. We are on quite a roll right now tackling clutter (what I actually gave up for Lent this year) of all kinds — physical, digital, emotional. You name it. We’re an army of two right now and it feels amazing. Here are the books that have helped keep me sane this Spring:

1. The Fate of the Tearling, Erika Johansen

I’ve been waiting for this book–the final installment of the Tearling Trilogy–for a very long time. I read the first two books (here and here) almost back to back in late 2015 (and LOVED them), and then I had to wait over a year to see how it all ended. Early reviews were tepid. No one really liked how she handled the ending, and it made me nervous/sad to actually dig in. But, I was pleasantly surprised. I didn’t really have any expectations of what should happen and I certainly couldn’t predict the direction she went, but that was fine with me. I was just glad to have some peace with it and I still think it’s a fantastic series.

2. The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty

I don’t even know if I should add this here, but I did read a few from The Wide Net series so I guess it counts. Nothing blew me away and I actually had to put it down because the one I was reading last was so slow. I still have quite a few to get through, so maybe I should just give myself permission to skip any that spark little to no interest after a few pages. To be continued with this massive book.

3. Catch-22, Joseph Heller

I’ve heard there are two kinds of people: those two think Catch-22 is a genius masterpiece and those who abhor it. I’ve been moving my parents’ old copy for years and never cracked its cover, so I was excited to see which pole claimed my name. Love or hate? Genius or ridiculous? Good news, everyone. I’m in the genius category! (*wink*) It does take a certain kind of mindset to read it, but wow is it funny and so relatable too. I think the madness experienced by those soldiers is similar to the madness one can feel working in non-profit or even academia. Things we know a little about. But I found it genius to the core. Those who have read it, tell me what you thought!

4. Closing Time, Joseph Heller

And because I just couldn’t stop, I also read Catch-22‘s sequel right after — it’s been sitting on my shelf as long as its predecessor. This was written 30-plus years after Catch-22 and finds characters at the end of their lives–at a similar point for Joseph Heller, too, who died less than five years after it was released. I didn’t love this. There were funny parts, yes, and the same satirical mania still coursed through its pages, but it didn’t have the same spark. Some character’s story lines were better than others, but overall I wouldn’t recommend it. Leave the characters in the war and just imagine what happens next. It’ll save you almost 500 pages.

5. Nancy Drew and The Mystery at Lilac Inn, Carolyn Keene

LiNo’s Libros strikes again! Click here to read all about it. 

6. Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child, Bob Spitz

Oh, Julia. Queen of my world these days. I really love digging into anything I can about her–much like my obsession with Jackie Kennedy, which began when I was in middle school. This was the most in-depth account of her life I’ve read thus far and even though I really enjoyed it, it did take quite a while for me to get through it. Maybe I was savoring it like the last bites of a big meal? I was surprised at her early life through college, how she never found her stride and wasn’t confident in the least. There were so many similarities between her and Paul and me and Joe, too. When they were in their mid-thirties, they had just finished working for the war effort and found themselves feeling a little lost trying to find their footing and next steps. (#usinwyoming) For them, the next steps were Paris and the rest is history. Hands down, I’m completely smitten and inspired with Julia. She’s a bulldog, she’s hilarious, she’s compassionate and she changed our country’s food culture more than anyone. Ever. There were a few moments that made me sad, especially Paul’s gradual decline and how she reacted to it, as well as her own final days, but overall I loved every moment learning more about this incredible icon. Highly recommend this for any food lovers or non-fiction lovers.

Next up in the queue:

I’ll split these into two lists since I may go back and forth from here on out. Up first, the books still left on my shelf:

Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig (timing is everything)
Hemingway Collection: A lot I still haven’t read… The Sun Also Rises, In Our Time, Green Hills of Africa

Now, for the books I don’t own, but can’t wait to find. Thanks to many of you for the recs! Someday I hope to tackle them all.

A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman
My Brilliant FriendElena Ferrante
Moonglow, Michael Chabon
Everyone Behaves Badly, Lesley M. M. Blume
The Lost Art of Mixing, Erica Bauermeister
Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders
Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance
The Kind Worth Killing, Peter Swanson

# LiNo’s Libros: Nancy Drew and The Mystery at Lilac Inn

Header2_white

When Lily and I created our book club, LiNo’s Libros, I immediately started a list of all the books I’d love to read with her. I wanted to share all my favorite characters, like Ramona, Harry Potter and Matilda. Also up on the list was Nancy Drew, who was the star of some of my very favorite reading experiences growing up.

Serendipitously, Memaw gave Lily the first four Nancy Drew books for her birthday last year (Memaw loved Nancy Drew, too!) and I’ve been itching to share the sleuth world with her. So we picked Book 4: The Mystery at Lilac Inn.

IMG_5865

Because I have all my old books (and some from when my mom was a child), the first order of business for any LiNo’s session is to compare covers. Here’s mine in all its vintage glory:

IMG_7472

And here’s Lily posing with her cover and magnifying glass, haha.

IMG_7471

Love, love, love reading with her.

IMG_7474

Of course, it’s also hilarious to read together this way. Typically, I can’t see her that much on the screen or I might have a bare foot dangling in my face the entire time.

IMAG3496a

I snapped this one while she was listening to me read, but happened to capture the character’s name I loved hearing her say the most because she’d pronounce it Chief McGiggins. So precious.

IMAG3499a

Overall, it was an interesting read. It definitely shows its age, but we still enjoyed it. Here is our final round of questions (Spoiler Alert!):

NoNo’s Questions:

1. In the book, blue lilacs are called Blue Pipes. Let’s make up some nicknames for other flowers.

Tulips
L: Spring Flowers
N: Petal Crowns

Red Roses
L: <exhales> Ruby Flowers
N: Sweet Swirls

Daffodils
L: Daffy or Taffy, or Daffy Taffy
N: Sunshine Bells

2. Nancy has help from her friends Helen and Emily. Who would you depend on for sleuth backup?

L: My friends Ashlyn and Lakshmi. Did you know I have friends from all over the world? And I’m British, Texan, Wyomian. Oh, I’m Scottish and Virginian. I’m just around the United States. Oh, I’m also Oklahoman.

N: I’d choose your mom (because she’s smart), Joe (for protection) and you (because you’re sneaky).

L: Yeah, I could fit into cracks you can’t really fit in and I’m a better actress because I’m a kid. I can walk into a room and make excuses. (HA!)

3. This story was written a long time ago and things have changed. How would the story be different if written today?

L: Instead of a convertible, Nancy would drive a Tesla or a Nissan or a Ford. And instead of rowing a boat, they’d have motorboats.

N: What about cell phones? Those would’ve helped. And what would they call skin diving now?

L: Scuba, or scuba diving.

4. My favorite creative question for any pick: What would you have called the book?

L: The Letter, or The Impersonator, or maybe The Blue Pipes. That’s not giving anything away, but it’s also not hiding it.

N: I’d pick The Two Nancys

5. Nancy was very brave and persisted to uncover the mystery, even when people were repeatedly trying to hurt her. How do you think you would have reacted? Would you have stayed at the inn, or gone home?

L: I would have stayed at the inn for like seven weeks and if it kept going I would have gone home.

N: Seven, huh?

L: I just like seven. Seven days of the week and seven parts of the brain. I just like it.

N: Totally logical. I think I would’ve been too scared if someone tried to bomb my bedroom, so I would’ve gone home pretty quickly.

 

Lily’s Questions:

1. What would you have the cover look like?

L: I would want it set back with lilac trees all over with a convertible holding Nancy.

N: When we started reading, I couldn’t remember what lilacs looked like, so I’d want it covered with blooms as a pretty reminder.

2. Do you think all covers should be the same?

N: That’s a very good question. I love when old classics are re-imagined with a new cover, but I also hate it when books have covers that reflect their movie versions.

L: I think all covers should be the same so people know what to look at. They shouldn’t have to question; they just should all be the same.

3. Do you think Nancy should say “awfully <something>” so much? Like “awfully tired” or “awfully scared” or “awfully excited.” It’s so weird.

N: Interesting observation, Lil! It’s British sounding to me.

L: Yeah! Do you think River Heights is British?

N: I’ll have to look it up.

L: They still say “awfully …..” in England, so that may be it.

4. How would you feel if you were mobbed? (mugged + robbed?)

N: violated, scared, angry

L: I’d feel depressed, nervous, angry, tearful and sarcastic.

N: Why sarcastic?

L: Because she says she’s tired of being blonde. (…?)

5. Do you think you could change a part of the story?

N: I would have made Maud bad, because there was so much valid suspicion around her.

L: I’d have capsized the boat sooner, rather than have that long conversation.

N: How would you have the background of the story then?

L: It’s kinda long, so I’d make it brief. <fakes quick conversation to replace final scene>

N: You’d make a good book editor.

 

Next up: …..my absolute #1 favorite…..Matilda!

Past LiNo’s Libros reads:  The Indian in the Cupboard and The BFG

# easter brunch 2017

I love whipping up a good holiday brunch for just me and Joe (Exhibit A, Exhibit B, Exhibit C, Exhibit D, Exhibit E, Exhibit F…), but having company is even better. Last week my mom and Mike were visiting over Easter and we were able to enjoy a lovely brunch with dishes from all my foodie faves: Ina, Ree and Joy. Instead of breaking out each dish in a separate post, you get the whole experience here. Let’s check out all the details:

I knew I had to upgrade last year’s Maleficent-looking napkin folds, so this year I tried out roses.

DSC_4659

There were nestled in everyone’s bowl, which helped them keep their shape. Here’s a quick tutorial on how to make them.

DSC_4661

I’ve said this before, but when hosting big (or small) gatherings, make things 250% times easier by setting out all of the plates, silverware, serving dishes, glasses, etc the night before. Everything out and ready to go!

My mom and I made four dishes, which was plenty for us. Let’s start with the sweets, my favorites.

DSC_4663

My brunch table will always, ALWAYS have Reese’s Eggs. I don’t know why they taste better as eggs than cups (which are still good!), but these babies make Easter for me.

DSC_4681

This year we displayed them and our baked goods on a sweet floral tiered stand that Bobbie gave me for Christmas. I love it. So perfect for Easter!

On the bottom of the stand are the Barefoot Contessa’s Easy Sticky Buns, which were a hit.

DSC_4677

Very easy to make, and to devour.

DSC_4674

For our fruit option, we made the Pioneer Woman’s Champagne Oranges instead of a traditional fruit salad.

DSC_4697

I was surprised how much I loved them. The syrupy sauce packs quite a punch, and bonus: you can make it the night before!

DSC_4699

For the savory, we made Joy the Baker’s Spinach and Artichoke Strata from her new cookbook Over Easy.

DSC_4688

Egg dishes will never be my favorite, but I did love the flavors and crusty bread around the edges. Also the bonus that you prep it the night before and just throw it in the oven the next morning.

DSC_4692

By far the standout dish for all of us was the Barefoot Contessa’s Maple-Roasted Carrot Salad.

DSC_4700

The FLAVOR of this dish is incredible. I want to make this every week for dinner.

DSC_4701

It was the last thing to the table, so not easy to get a great shot of it, but it’s bursting with caramelized carrots, almonds, cheese and dried cranberries reconstituted in orange juice. Just ridiculous.

DSC_4703

Then we were ready to get to it!

DSC_4704

Thankful for the great company and help in the kitchen. Wishing we could spend all holidays with family!

DSC_4708a

The recipes:

Barefoot Contessa’s Easy Sticky Buns

The Pioneer Woman’s Champagne Oranges

Barefoot Contessa’s Maple-Roasted Carrot Salad

And because Over Easy is hot off the press…

Spinach and Artichoke Strata

source: Over Easy

2 Tbs. unsalted butter (plus more for prepping dish)
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 (10 oz.) package frozen spinach, thawed, excess liquid removed, and chopped
1 (15 oz.) can artichoke hearts, drained and coarsely chopped
8 c. sourdough bread cubes
2 c. grated Gruyere cheese
2 c. whole milk
1/2 c. heavy cream
2 Tbs. whole-grain mustard (I omitted)
8 large eggs
pinch of nutmeg
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper

Generously butter a 3-quart casserole dish and set aside.

In a medium skillet set over medium heat, combine the butter and oil. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Add the spinach and artichoke, stirring well to heat through.

Place one-third of the bread cubes in the prepared dish. Top with one-third of the spinach-artichoke mixture and one-third of the cheese. Repeat the layering, finishing with cheese.

In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, cream, mustard (if using), eggs, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Pour over the casserole, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, though overnight is best.

Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Let strata sit on counter for at least 20 minutes to remove some of the chill.

Bake until golden brown and cooked through–45-55 mintues. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before serving. Served best slightly warm or at room temperature.

 

# half moon bay

Earlier this month my aunt–whose birthday is TODAY–graciously asked me to be her Plus One on her work’s achievement trip to the Ritz-Carlton at Half Moon Bay, just south of San Francisco. It took this Wyoming Girl all of two seconds to scream ‘YES!’ and have her bags packed. We’ve had a lot of adventures together and we’re birds of the same {middle child} feather when it comes to enjoying vacation. The keys to our success: a lot of good food, a lot of good company, a lot of relaxing, and a lot of laughing.

IMG_9204

In fact, after meeting at the hotel, it took less than five minutes to be in our room with mimosas laughing.

IMAG3674

And unpacking the Hurts Donuts she brought with her.

IMAG3669

IMG_9185

Honey, hush! Doughnuts and champagne might just be the best way to describe me.

The first jaw-dropping moment I had on this trip was the view from our room. It was phenomenal.

IMAG3666

That large fire pit was hardly vacant the entire time we were there, so we took the first opportunity we had to warm our feet and listen to the ocean.

GOPR0575_1490913253824_high

Cheers!

IMAG3680

That night was a meet-and-greet at a Peruvian restaurant (also right on the ocean).

IMAG3686

No longer being in Wyoming, I thought I could get away wearing the sundress and linen jacket I first wore in Hawaii, but, hello…that coastline of California is 200% wind. Give me everyone’s jackets.

IMAG3692

At least we had a front-row seat for the sunset, which was lovely.

IMAG3689

IMAG3687

IMAG3696

The next day she had a morning meeting and I had the best breakfast of my life. Seems fair, right?

IMAG3708

This is the Ritz’s Farmer’s Market Benedict with wild mushrooms, spinach, cheese (I think they substituted cheddar when I said I didn’t want goat), tomato hollandaise and pesto. Holy smokes. If I were in my own home, I would have licked the entire plate, but you know…manners.

Afterwards I headed out on the coastal trail.

GOPR0584_1490979558051_high

IMAG3714

IMAG3716

It was incredible, but the wind was so strong I had a massive ear ache when I returned. I realize this is a ridiculous complaint when seeing these views, but I’m keepin’ it real here.

It was sometime this afternoon, after we had been to town and back, that I was reading under the covers and Pam comes running into the room and says “Do you have pants on??”  Haha! A valid question when traveling with me. She just realized we had Club Lounge access, which was a private room with 24-hour free food and drink. Like anything you want. At any time. Including this fancy wine machine…

IMAG3728

…and all the club soda and gummy bears I could manage. (Spoiler: A lot)

IMAG3725

It was basically heaven. And we spent a good deal of our time there for the rest of the trip. (They changed the food spread every three hours, and had games and more amazing views minus the wind and crowds.) It was like a 24-hour five-star restaurant you had all to yourself. Why would anyone want to leave?

IMAG3767

That night we celebrated all of the participants at a fancy dinner on site. Fancy for me: pearls and contacts.

IMAG3726

Saturday, our last full day, was a spa day (compliments of the trip), so we started on the same coastal trail I trekked yesterday, but this time hitting up the beach at low tide.

IMAG3736

GOPR0606_1491070227000_high

GOPR0600_1491070307991_high

Half Moon Bay is the home of the famous Mavericks surfing contest. Those waves were no joke, even at low tide. But, again, gorgeous. We had the entire beach almost to ourselves.

IMAG3753

IMG_9226

After our massages and a million trips to the Club Lounge, we went to dinner with Pam’s longtime friend Jane.

IMAG3756

This is us with our blood orange margaritas, which were to die(t) for. We also had roasted mushroom and pear salads…

IMAG3757

…and Pam had her first, her FIRST, bowl of homemade gnocchi. This was literally MY crowning achievement of her achievement trip.

IMAG3760

I had a “Highway 92” pizza with roasted butternut squash, garlic, caramelized onions, feta, parmesan, arugula and sage. Mouth is watering…

IMAG3761

It was a fabulous way to go out. The next morning’s fog perfectly captured how we felt about leaving — sad, gray, but also so THANKFUL.

IMG_9242

Good food — check!
Good company — check!
Relaxing — check!
Laughing — check!
Club Lounging — triple check!

Pam, I’d celebrate you and WITH you any time. Thanks for letting me join your adventures and recognize your hard work. Happy birthday to one of the most amazing, generous, funny and loving people I’ll ever know. All the hearts!

# homemade lofthouse cookies

I’m pretty confident that the things I bake in my own kitchen taste better than the items withering away in plastic containers around grocery store bakery counters. All except Lofthouse Cookies.

What IS IT about these cookies? They are so soft and sugary — in a “this makes my teeth hurt, but I’m okay with it” kind of way.  They are also so full of weird crap. Not that these babies would be considered healthy without it, but, you know. Baby steps.

I’ve been on the Lofthouse Wagon since late high school, which is why I had a high-school-worthy freak out when I saw that a homemade version was included in Dessert for Two’s new Sweet & Simple cookbook! (If yesterday’s post didn’t convince you to nab it, perhaps this will!)

DSC_4595

Like the originals, these are pillow-like soft topped with a generous cloud of frosting and a more-generous handful of sprinkles.

DSC_4598

I think the most redeeming quality of Lofthouse cookies is the melt-in-your-mouth texture of both frosting and cookie. These did a good job of replicating that without all those weird-named chemicals Lofthouse has up its sleeve.

DSC_4621

There are tons of copycat recipes for these, but this one only makes six cookies and doesn’t require a stand mixer. Perfect for anyone battling wars on moderation and laziness. *cough*

DSC_4613

Any other Lofthouse Enthusiasts Addicts out there? Come out from the shadows!

DSC_4623

Homemade Lofthouse Cookies

source: Sweet & Simple 

Cookies:

3 Tbs. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 c. granulated sugar
1 large egg yolk
4 Tbs. heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. fine sea salt

Frosting:

5 Tbs. unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 c. powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. heavy cream
Sprinkles (all of them)

Preheat the oven to 350-degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, beat the butter on medium speed for about 10 seconds. Add sugar and beat until fluffy. Next, add the egg yolk, heavy cream and vanilla. Beat until just combined.

Evenly sprinkle the flour, baking powder and salt over the batter and beat until just combined.

Press the dough into the bottom of the bowl and score it in half. From each half, you should get three balls of dough. Roll each dough ball and place on the baking sheet, flattening them slightly with your fingers.

Bake for 14-15 minutes. The tops will appear slightly dry. Let cookies cool on baking sheet for 1 minute before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Mix together frosting ingredients (minus sprinkles) using an electric mixer on medium-high speed. Frost the cookies once they are completely cool, and decorate with sprinkles.

# doughnut gooey butter cake

Joe’s performing in Cheyenne this week, so I’m going to take the quiet time to catch up on some posts from the last three months. So even though yesterday was Easter, we’re going to swing the holiday clock back all the way to Valentine’s Day so I can tell you about the cake that stole my heart.

But first…the pizza of my dreams.

IMAG3259a

This last Christmas brought a beautiful Baking Steel into my life. I’ve wanted one since Chris and Chilali would host pizza parties at their house. This is the one I have, but check out their other offerings (like griddles!) too. The steel is heavy, but worth its weight in gold when it produces this in less than five minutes.

IMAG3255a

Look at that bubbly crust! I used their 72-hour Dough recipe, which isn’t as labor intensive as it sounds and absolutely delicious. Here’s my dough ball after fermenting for three days.

IMAG3249a

We topped this one with a Gorgonzola cream (melt 4 oz. Gorgonzola and 2 Tbs. heavy cream over low heat until melted and thick), caramelized Bosc pears and toasted walnuts. It was sublime!

IMAG3251a

What could top that?

….

Cake.

Not just any cake, but a Doughnut Gooey Butter Cake.

DSC_4508

If you follow me on Instagram, you know I can’t shut up about Dessert for Two’s new cookbook Sweet & Simple. I love both of her cookbooks, but this one is the most-used book in my kitchen these days. The recipes are perfect, portion-controlled and delicious.

This cake is like my favorite childhood cake, which was called Chewy Pound Cake, but with a thick crusty lid that “shatters like the first bite of a glazed doughnut” and doesn’t use a cake mix. Signed, sealed, delivered, baby!

DSC_4513

This cake did not sit long on my counter, which is why I’m glad it only make an 8-inch square cake! This is how we Valentine around here.

DSC_4514

Doughnut Gooey Butter Cake

source: Sweet & Simple

Bottom Layer:

6 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted (optional: try browning it first – YUM)
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 tsp. fine sea salt
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder

Top Layer:

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
6 Tbs. brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 Tbs. vanilla extract
3 1/2 c. powdered sugar, plus extra for serving

Preheat the oven to 350-degrees and line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper so it hangs over edges on two sides. Lightly spray the exposed sides of the pan with cooking spray.

Bottom Layer: In a medium bowl, whisk melted butter and sugars. Add the eggs and salt. Whisk well to combine and then gently fold in the flour and baking powder. Scoop the mixture into the prepared pan and press flat with your hands.

Top Layer: Beat cream cheese and brown sugar together with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Add the eggs and vanilla. Beat until combined, then add the powdered sugar and beat until well mixed and smooth. Pour top layer over the bottom layer.

Bake for 50-55 minutes, until center only has a slight jiggle. Don’t overbake it! Let cool completely, then refrigerate until firm enough to cut.

Optional: Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.