Monday, October 31, 2016

Podcasts, Books, Workouts and Looks of October + Halloween!

Happy Halloween, everyone!  Admittedly, this is not my favorite holiday as I don't enjoy coming up with costumes or dressing up. But these days I enjoy the holiday more than I did in the past as I love seeing pictures of everyone's kids in costumes and I really love the pumpkin carving event we host each year (pictures at the end of this post). Have a safe and fun holiday, everyone!


As I mentioned in my currently post last week, I started listening to a new book podcast called "From the Front Porch." So far I've only listened to two episodes (episode 88 which is a discussion with a Penguin Random House sales rep about fall titles episode 90 which is an interview of Anne Bogel), but I'm looking forward to listening to more!  The main host, Annie, is so charming.  She's like a real life Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan's character in You've Got Mail, which is probably my all-time favorite movie).


I managed to read 5 books this month, which is a decent amount, but it wasn't a great reading month as some of the books I read were kind of 'just ok'. My favorite book was The Ramblers. I was expecting to love The Underground Railroad as I had heard so much buzz about it but the author sort of used a detached and slightly impersonal writing style and it just didn't work for me. As usual, the starred books are Read Harder Challenge books.

The Expatriates by Janice Y.K. Lee* - 3 stars
The Underground Railround by Colson Whitehead - 3 stars
Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist - 3 starts
50 Simple Questions for Every Christian* - 2 stars
The Ramblers by Aidan Donnelley Rowley - 4 stars


October was the first month that contained a significant number of workouts since April!  It feels sooo good to be back to more rigorous workouts. Besides introducing walk/run intervals, I went to spin classes, lots of body pump classes, and I tried a bootcamp class. I'm still not working out as often as I need/would like to but hopefully my schedule will quiet down a bit so I will have more time for working out.


So you can't see much of this top since my apron is covering it up, but I bought this new striped tunic from Target this month for Julia Child night.  I heart stripes and I heart tunics (tunic + leggings + boots is my fall/winter weekend uniform) so this top is perfect for me. I love cozy cowl next.  It's not super flattering but I just don't care because it's so comfy and warm!

Bonus:  Pumpkin Carving Photos

We had a blast hosting our friends for our annual pumpkin carving party. I made 2 kinds of chili (one with meat and one vegetarian) and the cornbread recipe that we made for Julia Child night last year. My friend made these pumpkin bars which were so delicious (and easy to modify to be gluten free!). 

Everyone's pumpkins turned out great! 

Of course we had to get a photo of Oscar with our pumpkin. It was National Cat Day that day! (but really, every day is national cat day in this household)


Friday, October 28, 2016

On Buying Books

Happy Friday!  I'm closing this week out with a fun topic:  BOOKS!!

You may recall that in February, I completed a purging challenge. The vast majority of the 550 items I got rid of were books as I donated 272 books that month. I've done a lot of book purging over the last couple of years as I had realized that my book shelves no longer reflected my taste. I went from 6 book cases down to 2. It sounds extreme but it didn't feel all that extreme when I was going through the process of purging as I didn't have much attachment to many of the books I used to own.

Aside from getting rid of lots of books, for the last several years I have really cut down on the number of books I purchase and instead I rely heavily on the library. Relying on the library does require quite a bit of patience. The library system in my county is extremely well-utilized so the wait lists for books can be looooong (for example, I'm #326 on the list for "Today Will be Different" and I was #900+ on the list for the Harry Potter play and after 3 months, I'm at #307!).

I think it has been a good change to buy fewer books but sometimes my book shelves seem a little sad.  And a friend was over this summer and asked to borrow a book and I had a bit of a hard time picking one out for her.  So I've been thinking about adding some books to my collection going forward but wasn't quite sure how I'd go about doing that.

Then I started hearing advertisements for the Book of the Month Club on the various podcasts I listen to, especially the bookish ones.  For those of you who aren't familiar with it, Book of the Month Club is a monthly book subscription service. Each month, 5 judges each select a book and provide an explanation of why they chose the book. Members have until the 6th of the month to select one of the 5 books. Most of the books seem to be hard cover newer releases. Once you've made your selection, the book is shipped to you for free. If none of the books interest you, you can skip the month.

I hemmed and hawed over whether to try this out for several months, but decided to take the plunge in October as there was coupon code for 30% off a 3-month subscription + canvas bag. So for a total of about $32, I will get 3 books. I figure I will hold onto the books I end up loving and will sell the books that don't resonate well with me, which will reduce the cost of the membership.

My selection for the first month was "The Wangs vs the World" which is a book I've heard a lot of buzz about. It arrived in mid-October. They do a great job with the packaging. The book included a note from the judge with her thoughts on why she loved the book. The box also included a canvas tote which was included with the 30% off deal as well as some "after reading mints."

My book, folded canvas tote, and mints
I figure I will give this 3 months and then decide whether to renew my membership. I'm really excited about the prospect of receiving some hot new releases at an affordable price!

Also, I noticed that you can gift someone a subscription to the service. I think this would be a fun gift for a book lover in your life as they'd get to pick something out each month and it alleviates the risk of gifting them a book they've already read.

Do you utilize any subscription services for food, clothing or books? I used to get StitchFix boxes occasionally and this summer we tried out Plated, which is a meal delivery service. 

I was not compensated by Book of the Month Club to write this post, but the post does include a referral link. If you signed up using the referral link you'll receive 30% off a 3-month subscription and I will receive a free book. 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Currently: October Edition

Oh hey, it's the last week of October. How did that happen? Here's what's currently going on in my world.

Reading:  Heart Like Mine by Amy Hatvany. This is a book I've owned for years that I'm finally getting around to reading. One of my goals for the year was to read 12 books I own, and this is the 10th book I'm reading for that goal, so I'm fairly close to completing that goal!

Loving: how cuddly Oscar has been lately. I haven't spent much time sitting on the couch lately since I've had a go go go schedule, so when I do sit down, Oscar jumps right up into my lap. I think it's her way of trying to get me to relax more.  It's pretty effective as who can resist a cute cat in their lap??

Frustrated: by all the political ads. I can't wait for this election to be over as I'm tired of listening to ad after ad after ad. I know advertising is part of the political process but I can't help but think of all the good that could be done if even half or one quarter of the money spent on ads was given to charities.

Feeling: a little overwhelmed by my schedule lately. I know I sound like a broken record saying that. October has been a fun month, but a bit over-planned. This week I've had a crochet class and book club, we have a wedding reception on Friday, I have a knitting class on Saturday morning and then on Saturday we are hosting some friends for chili + pumpkin carving and I have dinner plans on Sunday evening.  It's all fun stuff, but just a lot of stuff for one week! I really need a plan-free day soon! 

Thinking: about changes I need to make to avoid having an overly full calendar. I keep saying my schedule is too busy but I haven't really done anything about it.  I think I need to start to hold certain days of the week as plan-free nights. I did say no to 2 invitations for get-togethers this week so I guess that's progress... 

Anticipating: hosting our annual pumpkin carving party this Saturday. We host Phil's college friend each year and it's such a fun event.  This year we are having it in the late afternoon so that our friends with kids can attend. I'm serving 2 kinds of chili and cornbread and a friend is bringing pumpkin bars. It's going to be such a fun and delicious night!  I'll be sure to share pictures of our pumpkins works of art.

Watching: the 2nd season of Bloodline on Netflix. We don't like it as much as the first season but are going to see it through until the end.

Working: on crocheting a chevron afghan and knitting a pair of socks. Now that it's cold out, I'm all about the yarn crafts.

This weekend I will learn how to make the heel of the socks!
Sad: that the warm summer/fall days are behind us. I'm not ready for colder temps!!

Grateful: that I had more than enough airline miles to buy my Spain plane ticket. That significantly cuts down the cost of the trip!

Listening:  to a new book podcast called "From the Front Porch." It's a podcast hosted by the owner, Annie, and a staff member, Chris, of a bookstore in southern Georgia. I learned about this podcast when Annie was a guest on Anne Bogel's podcast, "What Should I Read Next." Warning - listening to this podcast might make you want to quit your job and buy an independent bookstore. 

Wishing: that there was one 3-day weekend a month. I do have a vacation coming up so I can't complain too much I'd love to have more long weekends!

What are you reading, anticipating, and grateful for these days? 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Julia Child Night #8

Greetings and happy Tuesday!  We had our 8th annual Julia Child Night on Saturday night. It was a wonderful event!  As I mentioned in my post on Friday, this year we decided to make small plates that featured dishes from the different regions of the U.S. The menu was super collaborative this year as several different family members weighed in on what we should make. We came up with a really fun menu. I think the small plate approach was the way to go. It's still a lot of food but was far less than what we've served in past years. Here's how the event shaped up (warning:  tons of photos to follow!)

On Friday afternoon, some of us gathered at my cousin Suzanne's to make the GF slider buns and mason jar lid apple pies.

GF buns, fresh out of the oven. You have to make foil collars for the buns so they keep their shape.

GF Mason jar lid apple pies, all filled and ready for the top crust

My mom and her sister putting the finishing touches on the pies
On Saturday, the day of the event, it was all hands on deck. Many hands certainly make light work! We started off prepping the tuna poke salad and then moved onto the first course: a homage to hotdish, which is something us North Dakotans grew up eating. People in other regions of the U.S. might refer to hotdish as casserole.

It took a group effort to make these croquettes!
The food at the event is amazing, but the people are what really make it a special night!
My mom, aunt Barb and me
My dad and Phil HATE posed photography so of course we made them take a picture together

My best guy and me. I need to get a striped shirt for Phil next year.
 After a couple of busy hours of preparation, it was time for the event to begin!  We started off with an appetizer course.

Smoked salmon canapes and a selection of locally made cheeses. My aunt and uncle smoked the salmon themselves and it was delicious!
 The signature drink this year was a gin and tonic with olives. It was my uncle Keith's favorite cocktail, so we chose it in honor of him. He would have turned 61 on Saturday. He was on our minds, as was his identical twin who misses him dearly.

My mom and her two sisters, Barb and Mary Bet, toasting to the memory of their dear, sweet younger brother
After the appetizer/cocktail hour, we moved into the dining room for dinner.  Plate 1 was the homage to hotdish. 
The hotdish consisted of a potato croquette with stewed short ribs and a delicious gravy, topped with a corn garnish
 Plate 2 was my idea - ahi tuna poke on a bed of spiralized cucumbers and yellow squash, which represented Hawaii. If you want to try to make it yourself, you can find the recipe here.

This was such a delicious, light plate.
 Plate 3 was my brother's Wild Rice Soup, which represented Minnesota.

My cousin's girlfriend is quite the mixologist, so at this point she made a round of old fashioneds.

We also took a break to take our annual apron photo.  The group was quite large and the younger generation got involved this year!

My nephew Matthew and me.
Plate 4 was a Waldorf Salad, which represented New York. My aunt used Julia Child's mayonnaise recipe for this dish.

Plate 5 was a smoke brisket slider. The gluten free bun was delicious!  I rarely get a chance to eat homemade gluten free products so I especially appreciate it when my loved ones go to the effort to make bread for my cousin (who has celiac) and me.

We had a serve-yourself slider bar. I topped mine with coleslaw that my mom made. My brother smoked the brisket. It was so good!
Last, but not least, for plate 6 our guests had a choice between mini cherry and apple pies, which represents the Midwest. We served them with a homemade custard that my sister-in-law makes each year.

I was STUFFED by the end of the meal, but I think the portion sizes were more manageable this year.  Plus we eat this meal over the course of several hours. Everyone left with full tummies and more importantly, full hearts.

It was such a wonderful event and I just love that my family has kept this going for 8 years. The event seems to grow each year so I'm especially thankful that people in my family have homes that are large enough to accommodate a group of this size. There's just no way we'd fit that many people in our small 1,300 square foot home!

I can't wait to see what we come up with next year!

If you had to pick a dish that represents the region where you live, what would you pick?

Friday, October 21, 2016

It's Julia Time!!

Happy Friday, everyone!  This is an exciting weekend as it's Julia Child Night tomorrow!  It's our 8th year of hosting this event, which kind of blows my mind.  It all started with me asking my aunt to help me get a little bit more savvy in the kitchen back in 2009.  The event has changed and grown over the years, and it seems to get better and better each year.

This year we are taking another break from French cuisine. The theme is "U.S. Road Trip" and we will be making small plates with foods from different regions of the U.S. It's going to be so much fun!  I think we'll have close to 30 people in attendance so it will be quite the group. This event has kind of become an early "Thanksgiving" for my mom's side of the family. As everyone's families have grown, we have stopped getting together for major holidays, so I am glad this event gives us an excuse to gather the extended family together!

I thought it would be fun to look back through the ages.

Year 1 - Paella at Aunt Barb's and Uncle Paul's house

It's fun to see how the kids have grown and changed over the years! This is Matthew in year 1.

My aunt, the mastermind behind this event, and me, stirring the paella 
Year 2 - Beef Bourguignon at Aunt Barb's and Uncle Paul's house

The main entree - yum!

My mom, aunt Barb, and me
 Year 3 - Cassoulet at Aunt Barb's and Uncle Paul's house

The main entree with a side of yummy cabbage!
The annual apron photo!
Year 4 -  Coq au Vin at Aunt Barb's and Uncle Paul's house

This little guy, Matthew, has grown so much since the first picture! He's enjoying his ratatouille in this photo!
This potato soup is one of my favorite dishes we've made - love the JC garnish, too!
Year 5 - Pot au Feu at Aunt Barb's and Uncle Paul's house. I was living in Charlotte this year so was VERY happy to be able to come home for the event. I sobbed when my aunt and uncle dropped me off at the airport that year and cried for the entire flight back to Charlotte.  :(

The guys get in on the fun, too!

The salad this year was a Nicoise Salad, which is one of my favorite French dishes!
Year 6 - Chicken Provencal at Aunt Barb's and Uncle Paul's house

The main dish!

The apron photo has REALLY grown over the years!
Year 7 - Julia traveled to the New Orleans region, and the event moved to my brother Kevin's house.

Phil and I at the event last year. He's been to 2 events so is still learning how to pace himself when eating. Last year he had seconds during the amuse bouche course and cleaned his plate - and felt awful afterwards!  It's soooo much food so you really have to pace yourself.

My mom, aunt Barb and me
It's always fun to look back at these photos.  There are so many good memories.  Life has changed so much over those 8 years.  Different jobs, different relationships, I've lived in different cities and homes, different states of contentment with life. But these photos remind me that family will always be my "one true thing." And for that, I'll be forever grateful.  I'm happy to say that today I am probably the  happiest that I've ever been over the course of these last 7 years - which feels good to say.

Tomorrow night we will gather together as a family at my cousin Suzanne's house (Barb and Paul's daughter) and joyfully celebrate our love for fine food and family. But there will be a tinge of sadness as this year's event falls on what should have been my uncle Keith's 61st birthday. We planned this event before his sudden passing in August. His birthday will be a sad and heavy day for our family, so it seems only right that we'll all be gathered together. Our signature drink this year is a simple gin and tonic, which we chose in honor of Keith since it's his favorite cocktail. So tomorrow night, we'll raise our glasses and lift our hearts to him, and take comfort in the company of family. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Bend Trip Part 2

I'm back with part 2 of our trip to Bend. Wednesday afternoon and Thursday were awesome days but I have to say that Friday probably goes down as our worst vacation day together in the history of all trips.  I mean, spending a day together is always wonderful, but things just did not go as planned. Here's how things played out.

On Friday morning, we checked the website for Crater Lake National Park. The website said the roads to the park were open, so after making breakfast, we drove down to the park, which is about 1.5-2 hours away. As we approached the park, we started to notice snow on the ground. The road to the park can be closed when there is snow but we thought it wasn't enough snow to close the park.  Wrongo, batman.  We got to the north entrance of the park and found out it was closed due to snow on the road.  We were both really disappointed as this was the attraction we were most looking forward to seeing.

We turned around and decided to drive the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway. It seems like most people drive it from north to south, but we drove from south to north since we were on the south end of the byway. There are lots of beautiful hikes off the byway so we were planning to stop for a hike. Except when we got up to the area where most of the hikes were, it had started to snow again.  We thought we might be able to make it work because after all, we are tough Minnesotans! But after about 1/2 of a mile on a trail, we turned back.  The combination of snow on the side of the trail with the huge puddles on the trail from all the rain from the past couple of days made for conditions that weren't hikeable - at least not in the trail shoes/tennis shoes we were wearing.  Womp, womp.

Snow and soggy trails (not pictures are the huge puddles we kept encountering)
So we kept driving north towards Bend.  The scenery was absolutely gorgeous. We got out at one point to snap a quick photo.

I was so cold when we took this picture!
As we progressed north and entered the higher elevation area, the snow got heavier and heavier. At one point there was 6" of snow on the unplowed road. We had a dodge dart so were not in the right kind of car for these conditions.

I took this picture when the conditions had 'lightened up'.  It was still snowing very heavily, though!
The real low point of the day, though, was when we hit a lava rock on the road. We didn't see the rock since it was hidden by the 6" of snow on the road.  It made a God-awful sound when we ran over it but we were hoping it didn't do any damage.  As we slowed down when approaching Bend, the car was making an awful noise. When we got to Bend, we stopped to see what was going on. Turns out we stripped off the protective layer of aluminum that lines the undercarriage of the car and we were dragging that piece of aluminum along the road. Good times.

Luckily we were able to swap out our car at an Enterprise in Bend. We are still waiting to hear if we did any real damage to the car. The Enterprise guy said that if we just stripped off the aluminum, we wouldn't be charged anything. Fingers crossed we didn't do any further damage! Phil's insurance policy will cover the damages but we'd like to avoid having to file a claim!

After that, the only thing that was going to make the day better was beer. After leaving Enterprise, we went directly to a local brewery called Crux Fermentation. Luckily they had some Oregon wines available so I was able to have a beverage as well.

Calming himself down with a hoppy beer sampler.
That night we treated ourselves to dinner at Zydeco. They had an amazing GF menu!

On Saturday, we drove back to Portland and met Lauren, her mom and little boy Henry for lunch at a cute restaurant in Salem. I hadn't seen Lauren since our San Francisco running trip in 2014 so it was great to catch up with her, meet her little guy and mom (both of whom I've heard so much about!) and introduce her to Phil! Unfortunately we forgot to take a picture!  Gah! Seeing Lauren makes me wish that we lived closer as we have so much in common and always have a great time together.  I loved seeing her little guy, Henry, too.  He's growing so fast and is such an energetic little guy!

After lunch we headed up to Portland. It was rainy and windy, but we battled the weather and walked around the downtown area. Of course we had to stop at Powell's! It's the largest bookstore in the world - it takes up an entire city block and houses over 1 million books!!!  It's a must-see destination for any book lover.  We had fun walking around the store.  It's incredibly well-curated with lots of shelves and end caps with recommendations. I could have spent hours there. I resisted the temptation to buy any books, but I did buy this t-shirt. It was rolled up in a paper sleeve so I did not look at it before buying it, which I sort of regret as it turns out the shirts fit SUPER SMALL.  I might look into exchanging it but that might be more hassle than it's worth.

After we left Powells, we kept wandering around the city.  There are definitely some more areas that I didn't feel super comfortable walking through. That's not to say that we don't have areas in Minneapolis where I don't feel comfortable walking around. There are certainly areas I try to avoid, but they are more off the beaten path and not in our downtown area, luckily. We were very sad to see the large population of homeless people. I guess that is something we are just not used to dealing with in our super cold northern climate.

We had limited time in Portland so were only able to see the downtown area where we were staying, but we both left with a pretty good impression of the city. I'd like to come back some day and explore more areas, like Washington Park. It was just too wet, windy, and rainy that day to do that.

We enjoyed an awesome Thai meal for dinner and did some more walking around next. Toward the end of our walk, I saw this sign, which for me prompts the question - where are we going to go next?

...  but I already know the answer to that!  I'll be heading to Spain in late November/early December. I'm happiest when I'm planning a trip so I can't wait to do some research on the Andalucia region! I definitely have a stronger desire and interest in travel than Phil does, so while he wishes he could come to southern Spain since it's his old stomping ground, he's ok with hunkering down at home with Oscar while I do some exploring with a great friend. In his defense, we have done quite a bit of traveling this year between our trips to Mexico, San Francisco, and Bend as well as local getaways for 2 weddings in Wisconsin and northern Minnesota!  So we have certainly done quite a bit of traveling together. I just want more more more!  But relationships are all about finding balance, so I'm glad that we've had so many adventures together and am thankful that I have a great friend to travel to Spain with.

Do you  have any trips planned? If so, when and where are you going?  If you are in a relationship, does you and your significant other have a similar interest in traveling?

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Bend Trip Part 1

We are back from our trip to Bend! The weather was definitely not optimal as our visit to Oregon coincided with the arrival of the remnants of Typhoon Songda. So there was heavy rain and high winds for most of our visit. But we made the most of our time there even though the weather was pretty awful.

We arrived on Wednesday morning, got our rental car, and headed to Bend. We stopped on the way at a great Mediterranean restaurant called Nicholas Restaurant in the town of Gresham. We both got lunch bowls which were delicious. They even had GF pitas which is something I have never seen. We would highly recommend this place!

After filling our tummies, we headed down to Bend. The drive was gorgeous as we drove by Mount Hood.

The views on the drive were amazing!
We knew that Wednesday was going to be our only day of sunshine so we stopped at Smith Rock State Park on our way, which was a hike that Lauren had recommended. We did the misery ridge trail, which was super challenging as we hiked up to one of the peaks of this rock formation.

Sizing up the rock formation before our hike

At the base of the hiking trail. I was soooo overdressed as it was warm and sunny!

I'm on top of the world!!  Err, a giant rock!
After getting to the summit point, the trail leveled out and took you to the back of the rock formation. There were great views of the surrounding area.
I talked Phil into taking a picture (he HATES posed photography!).
Eventually the trail wound back down to the river. We took stops along the way so Phil could skip rocks, which is something he just has to do when we are by water!

After our hike, we continued onto Bend, which is about 30 minutes from Smith Rock State Park. As usual, we rented an airbnb for this trip. We stayed here - and below is a picture of the exterior of it.  It's a small home, but perfect for 2 people!  We'd highly recommend it to anyone visiting Bend as the location was perfect.

On Thursday morning, we woke up to rain. Lauren was planning to come over for the day but I told her to stay at home as there was a high wind advisory so I didn't think it would be nice enough for a hike, especially since she'd have her little guy Henry with. So we made plans to see each other on our way back to Bend.

After hemming and hawing about what to do, we decided to brave the rain and hike Tumalo Falls, which is about 30 minutes outside of Bend. This is what we had envisioned that hiking in Oregon would be like as it was so lush, green, and beautiful. You can see the waterfall in the parking area so after snapping some photos there, we headed up the trail.

Phil was very excited to take a photo together as you can tell from this picture
We followed the trail for a couple of miles and saw several waterfalls!

The views of the area were stunning! Of course photos just don't do it justice. I kept saying, "this area is beautiful!!"

After hiking for awhile, we headed back to Bend, got cleaned up and grabbed lunch. At 2 pm we did a tour of the Deschutes Brewery. The tour was very interesting, even for someone like me that doesn't drink beer. After the tour, you get to sample 4 different beers. They had homemade ginger ale and rootbeer for the non-beer drinkers, which were very good.

The brewery was HUGE. I can't remember how much beer they produce a year but it's A LOT! They are also the 2nd highest purchaser of hops, 2nd to Sierra Nevada.
That evening we went to dinner and then came back to our house and relaxed for the rest of the day! The next day ended up being quite interesting, but I'll tell you about that in my next post!

Have you visited the Pacific Northwest? I've been to Seattle multiple times, and this was my 2nd trip to Oregon as I was in Portland for the 2010 marathon.