Friday, April 18, 2014

our dinner deal

{kale & quinoa salad}

This begins a long narrative about my kitchen counters and table. It does end with a point. But you've been warned.

A couple months ago, I was in the kitchen one weekend afternoon prepping food for future dinners. One of our cats, Elliott, ran into the kitchen, jumped right up on the counter behind me and started across our warm stovetop. I didn't even have enough time to turn around and stop him before he jumped back and ran out of the room. I checked him out, and luckily he was fine.

So first, yes. Yes, the cats jump up onto the counters and sometimes walk across the stove. It's not ideal. I always wipe them down with a cleaner before I prep or cook anything. I've tried to keep them off, but it's not worth me stopping what I'm doing or getting up every 2 seconds to get them down. They're cats and they are going to jump on things. They like to be up high. They are cats. So I'd rather just have to clean the counter tops and stove before I start working in there.

{homemade pizzas, at the dinner table!}

The night after the almost-burned paws incident, Steven and I were in the kitchen fixing dinner. Elliott was on the kitchen table and I remarked that I was sorry that he hurt himself, but I was glad he didn't want to be on the counter tops. Steven said that he shouldn't even be on the table. And I responded by saying something like "Who cares if he's on the table, we don't use it anyway. Only if people come over for a meal." You'll typically find us at the coffee table eating and watching TV simultaneously.

When dinner was ready, I suggested we eat at the table. Steven agreed. We ate and actually had a real conversation that wasn't about the dumb show on the television!

{grits with collard greens & roasted tomatoes, crab cakes & chipotle aioli, 
cheesy quinoa cakes & roasted green beans, chicken parmesan}

We cleaned up the kitchen and were heading back to the living room when Steven said "How about this. How about any night you cook dinner, or I cook dinner, and it's not take-out or delivery, we eat at the table. No phones, no computers."

I was very happily shocked. "Deal."

I had thought about suggesting the very same thing for a while, but figured Steven would object. I was glad he made the suggestion. :) We've been at it for over three months and are still going strong. It has also encouraged me to keep up with meal planning and cooking meals at home because I enjoy the time so much.

We're both enjoying our dinner time. I hope we keep it up forever.

xoxo, christa

Monday, April 14, 2014

flower bed · starting from scratch

{the front bed as of saturday - April 12, 2014 - we've owned the house for one year!}

When we moved into our house, the flower bed along the front of house was ugly and in bad shape. And the pest inspection alerted us that the mulch layer was too high, making it easier for termites and other nasty bugs to get inside.

{the front bed on the day we bought the house - April 12, 2013}

So besides the fact that the trees and bushes were all dying, except one little guy, we had to remove several inches of mulch and dirt anyway. And we don't really care for the look of red mulch (did you know a lot mulch is dyed?!). By the time we finished cleaning everything out, it was time for the wedding and we were deep into summer - much too hot to plant new bushes or shrubs.

{the front bed as of March 2014}

So this is how it sat from June 2013 until late March this year. We were basically starting from scratch. We added that ugly black downspout last summer to divert the rainwater that comes pouring out of that spout. It washed the mulch (when it was there) away and then a giant puddle formed.

We still needed to remove a couple inches of dirt, because it was still too high and most of what's there is a rocky clump of hard clay soil. And I've heard that plants like soil that will, ya know, actually drain. 

So we started our work this spring by fixing the downspout. We spent part of a day digging a trench and burying the downspout that used to pour right into the flower bed. So now it's buried and won't cause a issue once we plant the new shrubs/bushes and lay down the mulch. There is a temporary drain cap pictured, we purchased a pop-up drain that will soon replace it. 

{trench dug | downspout extender buried | temporary drain cap extending into the yard}

So then it was on to prepping the bed. We rented a tiller from Home Depot (the least expensive option in our area) and loosened up the top layer of clay soil so we could remove a bunch of it. We needed to lower the dirt level so once we add the mulch, it's not sitting up on the bricks again.

Then we dug a small trench along the grass line to put in the metal edging. Eventually we'd like to add a row of bricks or stones, but this was step one.

{metal edging installed}

On to the plants. I spent a decent amount of time researching plants. I checked to find out our zone (we're a 6) so I could identify plants that would grow well in our yard. The state botanical garden website was an awesome resource, as was a local nursery.

{the front bed, before clean up. you can see the foundation!}

I knew that I wanted a row of boxwood in front of the windows. They are an evergreen so we'll always have a little bit of color up there. We liked the idea of putting something tall in front of the brick, like one of the previous owners had done. So I looked at variations of boxwood that grew tall and thin. I found japanese sky pencil holly and we bought four in two different heights to flank the windows. They grow to about eight feet tall, one foot wide.

The boxwoods and mulch will come next. We may not get any flowers in the ground this year, but I'll just be glad to have something other than dirt to look at! And I'm sure our neighbors will too.

xoxo, christa

Monday, April 7, 2014

chicken bacon ranch & bbq chicken bacon flatbread sandwiches

There is bacon involved, so don't tell me I have to convince you to try these! If you prep the ingredients ahead, they are great sandwiches to make when you need a quick meal.

Steven & I love the chicken bacon ranch combo and I was jonesing for bbq chicken. So I made one of each and we each had half. :)

I poached two chicken breasts cubed them, and split them into two bowls. Then I mixed it with the ranch and bbq sauce and stuck them in the fridge until I was ready for them. You could even do this with leftover baked chicken.

I recently started making bacon in the oven - what a time {and splatter!} saver! I stick mine in the oven at 400* and let them cook until our preferred doneness. I usually flip the slices over once or twice.

I layered the ingredients onto the flatbreads and stuck them in the oven to heat through and allow the cheese to melt. So we have cheddar cheese and chicken on one side, bacon and cheddar cheese on the other. I usually add a little more dressing/sauce before putting them in. I also like to add a dash of italian seasoning to the chicken bacon ranch sandwich.

After the cheese is melted, I close up the sandwiches and let them go for another few minutes. Then I pull them out, slice them up and we get this deliciousness...

{chicken bacon ranch flatbread sandwich}

{bbq chicken bacon flatbread sandwich}

chicken bacon ranch or bbq chicken bacon flatbread sandwiches
cooked chicken breasts, cubed
cheddar cheese slices
cooked bacon slices
ranch dressing of your choice
bbq sauce of your choice
flatbreads {we use flatouts}

There is no real recipe for this - it kind of depends on how many sandwiches you want and how big they will be. I cooked two breasts, but didn't use all of them for our two sandwiches - and they were pretty stuffed! You can use as much or as little sauce as you want. I used two slices of bacon and three slices of cheese per sandwich.

Super delicious and super easy. In fact, I think this is what we're having for dinner tonight. :)

xoxo, christa

Friday, March 28, 2014

do clams smile? · a life update

 {my new ampersand from make29}

I'm still very much alive. Happy as a clam, actually! {By the way, how do we know that clams are happy? It's not like they smile, right?}

I just don't feel like I have anything profound to say lately. Life is chugging along, but I can't really write about what is hovering over my mind lately. So writing about every day life is a little challenging. Let me tell you what I can though:

Marriage is going quite well. I'm pleased to report that our relationship hasn't changed much at all, except that now we call each other husband & wife. And that's exactly the way I think it should be. :)

{the first snow we experienced while living in our house. much too much followed}

The house is good! I am waiting until we have some brighter days to take updated photos of the interior. We got our fence installed in November, we will be staining it this spring. We are currently doing some garden planning for the outdoors. {I am planning a post for that!}

I'm also getting ready to tackle some spring cleaning and reorganization. After living in the house for almost a year, I have a better idea of what should go where. I'm also ready to do some more purging. Lack of closet space has influenced that!

I've been meal planning on a regular basis now. Trying new recipes is keeping things interesting. I will work on some more recipe posts once I have tried the new recipes more than once or twice. And when the sun comes back into my life - I need that for good pictures! Food posts are what I find most enjoyable right now.

 {ice skating in st. louis with our besties}

We've taken a handful of trips to St. Louis already this year. Our good friends live there and we're really enjoying getting to know the area better, and eating at restaurants that offer more than pizza or a cheeseburger. The Columbia restaurant scene could use a little big-city influence! 

I am NOT pregnant, so no need to speculate about that! :) I'm healthy, Steven is healthy.

The cats are pretty much the same. We took them out to explore the fenced yard for the first time a couple weeks ago. They loved it! Baby Rusty chipped one of his fangs, which I may have slightly over-reacted to. It just made me so sad! Toby is good, but still goes through cycles of over-eating. It's hard to feed three cats differently, but I try to distract him after I think he's had enough. Elliott is actually becoming a little more friendly. Older age must have imparted some wisdom. Ha!

Life in general is pretty much same ol', same ol'. Go to work, cook and clean, hang out with friends, go on dates with Steven, do nothing at home, etc.

So there is a little update for ya. If anyone is still reading, that is! Hopefully I'll be back with some new posts soon. :)

xoxo, christa

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

life lately · cold

I've come here frequently in the past few weeks, trying to type out anything that will flow from my brain to my finger tips. But there isn't anything flowing right now. I keep willing myself to 'just write about anything!' and then... nothing. I'm going to chalk it up to winter sads. It's been so brutally cold. I really thrive on sunny skies.

I will say that we've had a pretty busy January, especially considering it's only the 22nd! Getting the house cleared of all holiday decorations, cleaning the house in general, lots of time with friends, going to the gym, searching for a new dryer...

The gym we belong to has four locations and I've always gone to the one closest to my office. One Saturday morning Steven took me to the location closer to our house. I'm always a little apprehensive when I walk into a new gym, so it was good to go with him since he's been before and knew where everything was. Then, since I had MLK day off, I went to an ab lab class, did a mile on the treadmill and a couple miles on the bike. My abs were hurting!

I'll be honest and say that we still have a handful of christmas decorations out. And the one's I've pulled down are piled in our guest room waiting for me to organize and store them. Most things can go up in the attic, but I don't want to put anything up there that can get ruined if they melt or freeze. Maybe I'll do that this weekend...

Steven and I have had a couple of date nights this month. We spend almost all evenings and weekends together, but somehow putting the title on it makes it seem more special! One night we went to see Nebraska at a small, locally-owned theater. Before the movie we went across the street to a new-ish 'european foods' place. They have the most delicious Belgian waffles and scrumptious bretzel sandwiches.

We've also doing all sorts of stuff with our friends lately. In fact, last week we were out till about midnight three week-nights in a row. That is unheard of for me. But I can sleep with I'm dead. Or when I take that nap after work the next day. ;)

Our dryer stopped working almost three months ago. We're limping by while debating on what to do next. I've drug our wet laundry all around town, using my sister's dryer and most recently the laundromat dryer. I finally called a repair service to come diagnose it a couple weeks ago. And it's dead. Well, I mean technically it can be repaired for about $200. But we paid a quarter of that for the used (but in good condition) dryer five years ago. So we're now deciding if we want to buy a used dryer to get us by for a while longer so we can save more money for a new washer/dryer set, or if we want to buy a new, but less expensive set now.

So life is moving along. We're getting back into meal planning this week, so hopefully I'll have some new recipes to share soon!

I hope you guys are surviving winter - we're doing our best here in Missouri!

xoxo, christa

Sunday, January 5, 2014

soup sunday · cheesy ham & potato soup

Oh, winter. You're powerful, and you've made that perfectly clear today. We've gotten almost six inches of snow, it feels like -13 degrees out there and there are 25 mph gusts of wind. Tomorrow, the high is 0. Nasty.

I'm so glad that our new house is right off of a P1 (first priority, plowed first) road. And all the roads between home and work are P1. I haven't been nearly as stressed out when driving in the snow, I know I'll be able to get home!

In preparation for today's storm, we did our grocery shopping yesterday morning. Steven and I were both craving some bone-warming soup and this cheesy ham and potato soup fit the bill perfectly!

It's super easy. I added a few extra steps because of our preferences, but I'm sure they were worth it! We each had a big bowl and a grilled cheese with fontina... oh so yummy.

4 cups diced potatoes  
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
1/3 cup finely chopped celery
3/4 cup diced cooked ham
4 1/2 cups chicken stock   
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste  
1 teaspoon ground pepper, or to taste 
5 tablespoons butter
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour  
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 cups shredded cheddar jack cheese 
adapted from this recipe

In a stock pot, melt two tablespoons of butter and saute the onions and celery until translucent and tender. Add in two cups of stock and bring to a boil for a few minutes (I do this to cook down the onion and celery further - I like them super soft in soups).  

Add in the last two and a half cups of stock and the ham. Bring to a boil and then add the salt, pepper and potatoes. Return to a boil and immediately drop the heat to medium, letting the potatoes cook for 15-20 minutes.

In a separate saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring constantly until thick, about one minute. Slowly stir in heavy cream to prevent lumps from forming, doing the same with the stock until it's well combined. Continue stirring over medium-low heat until it started to thicken, about 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and add in the cheese. Whisk until completely combined and set aside.

After the potatoes are fork tender, stir the cheesy roux into the stockpot until combined. Bring to a boil, cover and take off the heat. Allow the soup to sit for a few minutes before serving. Now is the perfect time to make those grilled cheeses for dipping.

Delicious. I had a big bowl for lunch today and I might just grab another for dinner too... It's cheesy, but not heavy. The potatoes are cooked just perfectly and the salty ham is wonderful. Yum.

I hope everyone is staying cozy and warm at home. This soup has certainly helped us. :)

xoxo, christa

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