Friday, April 29, 2011

Eggscellent

This blog is nothing if not timely. Please read on for some ideas for an Easter centerpiece. . .one week after Easter.
We dyed a few eggs last weekend, but instead of enjoying some hard boiled eggs after keeping them hidden from view in the fridge, we "blew out" the insides to leave us with hollowed out eggs that can be rinsed out and left out for decor. And we got an omelette out of the yolk and whites, not too bad! Bob proved to be better at this task than I - not strong enough lungs. The process involved poking a hole in each end with a pin and blowing on one end until the insides all trickled out. I cheated by poking a giant hole in the bottom and just hiding that side in the display bowl.

I also played with the display by making little containers out of a couple of the eggshells - filled with colorful small jelly beans I think they turned out pretty cute.
We tried "marbelizing" a couple of the eggs following some Martha instructions: dye eggs one color and then roll in another color that has 1 Tb olive oil mixed in. Sometimes things don't turn out as well as they do in the Martha Stewart Livings. . .I tried to make a brown color for the second layer and failed - could only create purple. Ahh well.
Hope you had a good Easter yourself! Onto the next holiday!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Crepes of Wrath

I don't think I ever ended up sharing this story, but way back around Valentine's Day we tried our hands at savory crepes. On one of our first dates, Bob and I made asparagus chicken crepes so the pancake wannabees hold a special place in our heart. I also shared the recipe for crepes and a description of some blueberry crepes we made here.


Bob is quite the expert at making crepes, hitting perfection by the fifth or sixth one he cooks up. This recipe combined apples and blue cheese with shredded chicken and a thickened cream sauce. Lay in a baking dish, top with the leftover sauce and bake for 15 minutes.
Since we had already made the sweet crepe batter for breakfast the day before, we used the leftover batter for this meal, though Joy of Cooking also has a recipe for savory crepes (basically, leave out the sugar!).

Very tasty!

Friday, April 22, 2011

What a Trip - Hits and Misses

Before I overshare all the details of our recent Egypt/Italy trip, I thought I would start with a breakdown of what we saw as hits and misses when it came to our planning and preparation for the trip. I hope some of these help you in your next big trip!

Hits
Itineraries - great for both our own organization and appeasing worried mothers like mine who weren't sure about their little daughter headed to post-revolution Egypt and would receive a copy! The 7 page word document contained all flight and train information, confirmation numbers, hotel addresses and screenshots from GoogleMaps, restaurant recommendations with map screenshots, tipping information for both countries, our plans for each of the days, our confirmation emails from our pre-purchased tickets to the Vatican and Colloseum and more. Why was it important I printed two copies, one for each of us? Because I proceeded to lose mine within the first day. I think I left it in our travel companions' room and never checked back for it. Woops!


Audio Guides - When I pre-purchased tickets for the Vatican (such a smart move after seeing how long the line for non-reservations was!) I did not book a guided tour. We tried to upgrade when we got there, but the tours were all filled up. Instead we paid 7 euro each for an audio guide and I'm glad we did. I was impressed with how many statues and pieces throughout the museum linked to the guide, and it was great to be able to go at our own pace instead of keeping up with a group. Bob also somehow had two sets of earbuds in his bag that day so we didn't have to keep holding them up to our ears.

Travel Alarm Clock - I knew our phones wouldn't work overseas, and neither Bob or I wear a watch. I also know that it is rare to get an alarm clock in B&B type rooms we'd be staying in. We spent $6 at Target the morning of our flight on this little guy. Small enough to throw in my purse so we had a timekeeper when we were out and about, and also a reliable wake up call, the travel alarm clock came in handy - I almost forgot to buy batteries before we left so that could have been a fail!

Culture Week - our trip to Rome happened to coincide with the start of Italy's Culture Week where a plethora of museums and sites were open free to the public. Did not include the Vatican but did include the Colloseum. But wait, we pre-paid for our tickets! Never fear, when we picked up our reserved tickets they let me know we had already been refunded. Of course, I did not get refunded a $3 online booking fee. Ahh well, still saved us about  $35! Thank you Italy!

Inspiration - Heading into a Rome shop that reminded us of World Market, Bob not only found his new favorite hat, but we also found some decorating inspiration. Although we did not buy these pillows, the color scheme got us thinking ahead to a master bedroom rich in oranges, browns and bronzes.

Okay, all good stuff. But what about the misses?

Misses
Travelers Cheques - One comment by a colleague regarding some difficulty at an ATM in the middle east got me worried about our access to money. I pushed us to put some of our money in travelers cheques form. What could be the downside? Just that no one takes them any more! They burned a hole in our pocket all through Egypt. I had to cash the US currency I had so we could get out of the Cairo Airport, and then we ended up going to the ATM a couple times: multiple banks just shook their heads when we asked if they exchange the cheques. We encountered pretty much the same thing in Italy. We found one place at the airport and did enough to get by for the first couple days, thinking we would just find an American Express office in Florence. Closed. Another trip to the ATM. We planned ahead and mapped out where the office was in Rome and headed there on Saturday afternoon. Closed at noon and not open again until Monday. Back to the ATM we went, and in our travel pouch the cheques stayed. We brought them back to our bank to replenish our account, but are still out the $25 fee for getting them in the first place. Fail.

Convenient Travel Toiletries - I thought these were cool when I saw them at a travel store a few months ago and bought them at $5 each for Bob's Christmas stocking. Individual sheets that would turn soapy or liquidy when met with water. Except they didn't work at all! The sheets got sticky but didn't disintegrate like I thought they would so I couldn't get much action when it came to getting clean. These met the garbage can before we got too far into the trip.

My Health - As our plane landed in Cairo I thought to myself, "Hmm, I have a little tickle in my throat. Must be from the dry plane air." Later that night it became a full-fledged sore throat and 24 hours later I had no voice. This can't last more than a day, right? Wrong! I didn't have a voice for 4 1/2 days! I couldn't believe it. I kept drinking hot tea and eventually broke down and went to a pharmacie for some lozenges (which I hate). Of course, you don't need a voice to enjoy the pyramids so I didn't let it get me down. However, by the time we hit Florence I was in full cold mode. All stuffed up. I was happy for the 4-pack of travel tissues I had picked up before our trip and some nasal spray and Tylenol PM helped me get through the nights. 

On top of that, on the train to Florence I bit down on a peanut M&M and proceeded to break (and I think swallow) one of my fillings. With half a tooth going on, I was convinced every bite of pasta and gelato would be pain but luckily that wasn't the case and I was able to enjoy everything just fine. A dentist appointment is happening next week!

I finally felt better on our last couple days of the trip, but I didn't let my health issues get the better of me. Still an amazing trip and I was never so sick that it prevented me from participating in activities or spending the day walking. A week later and back in Chicago Bob proceeded to get sick and the cycle continues - I'm going on Day 5 of this leg of the cold and hope some rest this weekend will perk me back up.

So there's a quick list of hits and misses from the logistics side of our trip. Hope you find a take away or two out of this list for your next trip - and please send any and all "get well soon" balloons and fruit baskets my way.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Pound for Pound Cake

A few weeks ago we spent a sunny afternoon at my sister's house and enjoyed some homemade pound cake. Alanna got to try out her rose-shaped cake pan and did a marvelous job getting the thing out in one piece. I meanwhile made a pumpkin bread this weekend and impatiently turned it over while it was still cooling - not smart. Ended up with half a pumpkin bread.
With some extra batter, a couple mini loaves were made up - a whopping $1 each investment from Michaels, the crocks to bake these in are great to stock up on and give little breads as gifts!
Pangs for summer began after we enjoyed the tasty dessert with fresh blueberries and whipped cream. Did I mention it snowed here last night??
This isn't the exact recipe, but here's one to get you thinking about making a pound cake yourself.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

What a Trip - Introduction

If you are wondering why I have been MIA for two weeks, you can blame the travel bug. Bob and I took our much anticipated Egypt and Italy trip and just got back a couple days ago! It was an amazing time, and I'm planning on sharing stories and insights from the trip over a few posts including:

- Hits and Misses: What did we plan successfully, what did we think would make our trip better and ended up a dud (here's a hint: travellers cheques were the bane of our existence)
- Food, Glorious Food: Lydia discovers her "natural shot of food" setting on her camera
- Budget Breakdowns and Savings Plans: How did we plan ahead so we aren't paying off a credit card for the next eight years?
- Overall Recap: lots of photos and a history lesson or two for you

Friday, April 1, 2011

Taco Night

For a spin on the regular old ground beef tacos, we have recently switched to serving up chicken tacos at home. One of Costco Impulse Buys last year was a giant thing of Taco Seasoning. Why, I ask myself, why did we buy this thing. . .ahh well. Makes us get creative with some Mexican-themed meals.

We start with grilling a couple chicken breasts, Bob took the skillet right to the grill this time around. We then shredded the chicken and added it back to the skillet with water and taco seasoning.
While the tortillas get a little warmed on the grill, I finalize all of the toppings. Bob made a salsa out of cilantro, tomato, onion and a surprise ingredient for sweetness - a plum!
Instead of shreds of lettuce, I put one big leaf on the tortilla and filled it with the rest of the toppings.
 Mmmm. . .tasty!