Saturday, October 26, 2013

Chicken Soup for the Freezer (and the Soul)

What do you do when you accidentally have four extra cans of Chicken Broth in your cupboard? You make chicken noodle soup on a Saturday afternoon and freeze half!

Why the accidental broth purchase, you ask? Well, Bob and I got in the habit of splitting up the grocery list for efficiency's sake, each attacking the grocery store from opposite ends and meeting in the middle at the checkout lanes. But apparently I had put chicken broth on both of our lists. We realized when we got home. Oops. 

I found a recipe on allrecipes.com and after a quick dicing of carrots, celery and onion the soup was on. The 1 1/2 cups of egg noodles the original recipe called for seemed so low that I ended up dumping in about 3 cups worth and adding an extra 14 oz of Vegetable Broth to make the recipe stretch a bit further.

Chicken Noodle Soup
1 Tbs butter
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
1/2 lb of chicken, cooked and shredded (use the paddle attachment/KitchenAid mixer trick for a quick fix!)
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried basil
salt and pepper to taste
4 14.5 oz cans chicken broth
32 oz vegetable broth
2 1/2 cups egg noodles

Melt butter in a stockpot and add celery and onion, cook about 5 minutes until tender. Add chicken, chicken broth, vegetable broth, oregano and basil, salt and pepper and uncooked egg noodles. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 20 minutes.
We hosted my sister's family for the day, so it was soup all around with a side of simple grilled cheese (albeit Whole Foods' crusty bread/aged cheddar type of grilled cheeses). 
We served up 5 bowlfulls and had plenty left over. The rest of the soup went in the freezer, which - along with a batch of my favorite meatballs and spaghetti sauce recipe - helped me cross my goal of coming up with more freezer meals off my list.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Diorama Rama

I've been jonesin' for another Pinterest Project that isn't food related for awhile now. So when I was searching through the holiday pages and saw this little guy, I thought, "hey, I could make that!"
photo source
I gathered up my Michaels coupons, but was dismayed to find only orange craft pumpkins at my local store, two weekends in a row. I broke down and bought one (50% off!) on the second trip there and decided to paint it black instead.
First, I penciled in the rectangle to cut out of the front and that went to town with the knife. After surprisingly coming away injury free - what can I say, Bob is the carver in our house - I broke out the craft paint. 
A couple layers later, on both the inside and the outside, and we're none the wiser that an orange layer lives underneath. 
I didn't want to re-create the Pinterest image completely, but wasn't exactly sure where to take the scene. As it turned out, my over spending habit at Michaels came in handy this time. I had grabbed a few 3D sticker sets on clearance and realized the Haunted House and full moon were the perfect size to stick inside.

By the way, if I can rant for just one second - it was only October 18 and already the Halloween decor is on clearance and reduced to half an aisle, while Christmas has exploded in the back of the store. They really aren't making it easy on all of us last minute people who still want a full selection of Halloween goodies, are they? Ahh well, this is also coming from the girl who spent an hour of her September vacation to Vermont in a store called The Christmas Loft.

I stood the house up in the back and it just barely scraped the top, which actually worked out very well in getting it to stay in place. I covered the bottom with moss leftover from an Easter centerpiece project and stuck my little raven inside. 
As for the moon, I hot glued a pin to the back of it and stuck it into the ceiling of the pumpkin. Hopefully gravity won't come back to haunt me (pun intended) and it will stay in place. 
To shed a little light on the subject, I threw in a fake orange tea light to give the inside a flickering glow. I made some space on an eye level bookshelf for the diorama so that you can really get a gander at the whole scene when passing by. Why look, there are two past Pinterest projects on the same shelf: Martha Stewart Jar O'Lanterns (made before I ever knew what Pinterest was) and my little yarn ball felt owls.
Not bad for 20 minutes work on a Sunday afternoon!

Linked to Tatertots & Jello Link Party Palooza

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Bedded & Breakfasted

As mentioned in this post, our New England nights were spent mostly at Bed & Breakfasts. Here's a little recap of how we vetted the places we booked, the B&B features that seemed to weigh above the rest and the answer to the question, "would we stay here again?"

I spent a healthy amount of time one weekend sourcing Trip Advisor, Google, Expedia and more to find the places we'd end up along our route. I started with figuring out the general breakdown of how many nights we'd be in each part of a state. 3 days in Vermont, 2 in New Hampshire, 4 in Maine and 2 back in Boston before heading back to Chi-town. I opened up the radius, not holding us to one particular town in each general area and this helped widen the search.

We stayed at:
The Inn at Long Trail in Killington, Vermont
Made Inn Vermont in Burlington, Vermont
The Ballard House Inn in Meredith, New Hampshire
Acacia House Inn in Bar Harbor, Maine.

So what features made one B&B stand out over another?
- Private Bathroom. Any mention of "shared facilities" automatically got the boot. 
- In-room fridge. To be honest, this didn't stand out as much until we actually were checking in to the places and realized that a fridge to keep our cooler full of car snacks cool was indeed a good thing. 
- The Breakfast. Mouth-watering photos of french toast and omelets made us clamor for the credit card to put down a deposit.
- Wifi. Not that I wanted us spending the whole time on our phones, but I brought along the iPAD so we could plot out our activities for the next day. And finish watching The Wire via HBOGo!

First up, the Inn at Long Trail. I knew we'd be exhausted after our 6am flight into Boston and subsequent drive to Vermont. I didn't think we'd have too much energy for a hike that day, but I wanted to make sure we were close enough to start bright and early the next morning.

I stumbled upon the Inn at Long Trail and knew it was a great option for our first night. A stopover for day hikers and longer term guests alike, the proximity to the Appalachian Trail was more than ideal (literally, "walk up the hill, right behind the inn.")

We checked into our room after a quick tour of the common area, which reminded me a bit of home what with all the northwoodsy furniture. An Irish pub on the premises meant we didn't have to go too far for dinner that night.
Our room had its own living room and fireplace, plus a mini fridge. We were both so exhausted from the long travel day we passed out pretty early, giving us a full night's sleep before breakfast at the Inn's restaurant and a hike on the trail!
Our trip was starting off pretty well considering this was our view after only an hour or so of hiking:
Later that day, we headed north to Burlington, Vermont (stopping at Ben & Jerry's on the way for a quick tour and dish of Americone Dream.)
I was most excited for our B&B in Burlington. I found Made Inn Vermont through Trip Advisor after being drawn in by the wonderful reviews. And then I visited their website. They had me at hello by using Peignot Bold, our wedding font, but beyond that the photos showcased a modern take on a Bed & Breakfast. No grandmotherly quilts on the bed or stale furnishings? Yes, please! This was definitely our splurge of the trip, both financially and comfortly (not a word, but it works for what I'm trying to say). 

I booked room 905, which seemed to be one of the larger rooms. A Barcelona chair, tripod lamp and ultra-soft cowhide rug took up one corner of the room.
And one of the more comfortable beds I've slept in welcomed us in.
Made Inn Vermont seems to have thought of everything, and hit up every thrift shop, estate auction and yard sale on the way to creating a collection of vintage curiosities throughout the place. Our room even had a chalkboard wall that past guests had written their thank you's on.
We loved our two nights (and days!) in Burlington, Vermont. But soon enough it was time to head east to New Hampshire.

I had the toughest time finding a B&B for this leg of the trip because I literally had the entire state to search through. I went from assuming we'd stay in Concord and making a day trip to the mountains, to considering a place right in the heart of the mountains. In the end, I thought about how much we'd have to drive to get to the place we'd call home from Vermont and did not want to make us spend too much time in the car any one day.

So, Meredith, NH and the Ballard House Inn it was!
We found out the house was built in the 1784 but each room was carefully made over and kept up with. We spent two nights here, in between a day trip to the White Mountains and Franconia Notch State Park. The views just kept on coming:
Speaking of views, here is the view from the back porch of The Ballard House. Yep, not a bad place to relax at the end of the day.
We were getting pretty used to be spoiled by now by full breakfasts of quiches, pancakes, french toast, maple bacon and more maple bacon. I was quickly off-setting all of the exercise we were getting through hikes and long walks by the amount of food I was consuming (and I haven't even begun to talk about lobster rolls!)

Before we headed out, Bob had to get a photo with the house dog, Newton. This was another plus I looked for online. Anyone advertising a B&B dog or cat went up a couple notches in my book. Made Inn Vermont had two of the most friendly cats ever and Newton was clearly a favorite among guests.
We met a few other guests at breakfast our last morning and got a few good recommendations for our stay in Boston while exchanging stories of where we had been and where we were headed for hiking that day.

I did not manage to get a photo of The Acacia House, our home for one night in Bar Harbor, Maine. It was a quick stay, but chosen for the award-winning breakfasts we had read about online. And yes, my omelet stuffed full of goat cheese was pretty darn amazing. It was also right in the center of town, which made walking to the shops and restaurants on the water a breeze. 

The last four nights of our trip were split between staying with gracious friends in Maine and 2 nights at the Sheraton Boston (what can I say, the rate was decent and I figured we might be ready for a B&B Break).

All in all, the research paid off - we went four for four in great B&B experiences. How about you, do you have any must-stops from your travels? Or maybe horror stories from not so pleasant experiences? Do tell.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Yarn Ball Overload

One of my goals for the year was to do something with the 150 yarn balls I made for our wedding centerpieces.
I am keeping one centerpiece in tact for memory's sake, but the rest have been staring at me from their bin for the last 14 months. Wow, has it really been 14 months?
Last fall, I took a Pinterest Project that was meant for the leftover styrofoam balls I had - just a few - and made a couple felt owls for my nieces. I tried out the same project on one of the large, yellow yarn balls and found it to be pretty cute.
This weekend, in anticipation for my aunt's upcoming craft fair, I churned out another 6 in various felt color combinations for her to try to sell. And if they don't sell, well, I suppose I'll have a little collection to display next year!

So how else can I get rid of these yarn balls? I sold some at our recent yard sale up in Madison, but did not get rid of as many as I would have liked. (I had a vision of someone walking up and saying, "I'll give you $20 for the whole bin!"). I haven't tried craigslist yet, but not sure they are something you would purchase without actually seeing them.
I typed "yarn balls" into Pinterest and found a few more ideas that are striking my fancy. I should note that these aren't true yarn balls - the inside is just a styrofoam ball and the yarn is not criss-crossed all over, so mine would certainly have their own look no matter which project I tried out, UNLESS I used leftover yarn to create the criss-cross look after the fact. . .hmmm. . . .

First up, I liked the look of this wreath. I went through a wreath phase a couple years ago (check out these I gave as baby shower and halloween gifts). 
photo source
A homemade mobile down the road if we ever needed a nursery could be a cute option. Although as I stare up at our ceiling seventeen feet above me, I wonder about the logistics of hanging a simple mobile. . . .
photo source
What do you think I should do with the rest?

Monday, October 7, 2013

11 Days in New England

Vacations are something that are near and dear to my heart. I try to do a small trip and a big trip each year. Small trips have included long weekends in Nashville, New York and - this year - Washington D.C. Big trips used to be tied to work travel and took me to Istanbul, Poland and Greece among others. Bob and I have picked up the slack from my lack of international work trips as of late and have headed to Egypt, Italy and Belize over the last couple years. This fall, I took a hint from the fact that I had been to nearly as many countries as states of America and we decided to focus on a domestic trip.

And what a domestic trip it was. Seeing the leaves of New England in the fall has been on my list for quite some time, so we planned out a road trip itinerary that took us through Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and Boston over an 11 day stretch in late September.
I'll be writing about the food, the Bed & Breakfasts and the culture over a few posts so stay tuned for the full details.

First up though, a few quick hit tips that helped make our road trip a success. Seriously, not one fight the entire time considering Bob and I spent 11 days straight in each other's sight (okay, one little fight, but more like a two-minute disagreement).

Itinerary Planning
Don't pack too much in. I stopped myself from adding one more sight to see, let alone one more state to see, on this trip. I knew that driving time would inevitably be longer than I anticipated and did not want to spend half the trip stressed out we weren't going to make it to the next activity on time. Of course, we had to pack in a 1:30pm re-enactment in front of the State House in Boston!
Embrace the location, but do what you love. We ate a lot of lobster. We went to a plethora of museums. We hiked our little hearts out. But we also spent our nights watching the last season of The Wire on our iPad and found the time to go see 2 movies. Now that made it a pretty perfect trip. Oh, and Bob convinced me to stop at one of the many mini-golf courses we passed along the way. I got a hole in one on Number 2, but Bob came out ahead overall.
Lengthen the Stay. We tried to stay at each location at least 2 nights (with 2 exceptions) so that it didn't feel as though we were constantly packing back up and leaving. This meant finding some centrally located spots. For instance, instead of staying a night in Concord, New Hampshire and another night further north, I found a Bed&Breakfast in Meredith, NH which meant we could stop at Concord on our way up and then drive north the next day to the national parks.
In the Car
We packed our collapsible cooler in one of the suitcases and made our first stop on the trip the Trader Joe's by the airport. I had a gift card so we piled up on car snacks and lunch fixin's to avoid stopping too often. We grabbed sliced apples, a bucket of animal crackers, bread/deli meat/cheese for sandwiches and a bunch of bottled water. Frozen vegetables acted as ice packs and our bed&breakfasts featured mini-fridges which helped us keep everything lasting almost the whole trip.
Our best purchase? A box of pita crackers and a cheese tray variety pack that provided mucho sustenance and lasted a long time (there were 40 slices of cheese and each were cut in half. That means 40 mini sandwiches each!)
I don't like to drive, so resigned myself to be the best 'lil navigator I could be. I was on cooler duty, making sandwiches and snacks as needed. Although, one incident resulted in ham water spilling all down my leg as I lost a grip on the packaging. Not cool. I opened Bob's drinks and manned the iPhone's GPS. Ahh, iPhone GPS, what would we have done without you? Probably still be lost on the Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire, that's where.
Packing
I would have loved to say we only carried on and didn't get charged $25 each way for a checked bag, but I knew we'd be struggling to fit everything in and that we'd probably end up with some liquids on the way home. On the flight to Boston, I had my carry-on roller suitcase packed full and my usual backpack I bring on trips. Bob had one small bag and we checked our larger suitcase. As mentioned above, the collapsible cooler took up some space in that large suitcase.
I packed a small duffel bag that folds up into a zippered pouch into my suitcase and we unfurled it for the return trip. Almost all of my clothes fit into this smaller bag, which Bob then carried on. 
Bob's clothes moved into my carry-on suitcase, and the large bag was packed carefully with all of our trip purchases. Some fragile (like our new Nutcracker we fell in love with at a Christmas shop), some liquid (like the lotions I found in an outlet shop, perfect for grab bag gifts) and some fragile liquids (like a bottle of Gin made with honey Bob picked up at a Vermont Farmer's Market.).

Until next write up - I'll leave you with one more shot of the views. Can we go back?