Belize: Starting Our Adventure

So Belize was, as anticipated, amazing. Waking up this morning to 18 degree temps was such a letdown after leaving such a balmy, tropical, gorgeous place! Luckily, I brought back a pretty serious sunburn to remind me of my vacation adventures : )

I’ll run through our most notable Belize highlights this week on the blog. This vacation was a fairly even mix of jungle adventure and beach-y relaxation, so we have some pretty awesome stories! One main theme, though, is that it’s pretty awesome to vacation with friends. I adore Evan, of course, but adding more people to the mix means that we have more ideas and options, and a greater chance of pushing boundaries of our comfort zones. Suffice it to say, spending the week with Rachael and Mark was delightful!

So, we landed in Belize, rented our SUV, and made our way to our Jungle Lodge. We travelled for about two hours on a paved road, then made a last turn onto nine miles of rocks? Limestone? Who knows? It was bumpy, so we were crawling! We finally arrived at Moonracer Farms and…something.

IMG_3772You should know- at the end of the trip, we adored the lodge and the family that took care of us. Also, we knew full well what we were getting into when we booked our vacation. But arriving in the jungle, with 85 degree heat and high humidity and checking into your room with no AC, no fan, no electricity? It was a tiny shock to the senses. Here’s where we stayed:

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IMG_3711Julio is the father of the family that manages the farm, and his wife Janet makes the most amazing food for her guests! It was truly the two of them, and their family, that made our stay there so wonderful. On the first night we were there, though, Evan and I came back to the room well after dark. Evan was sweeping his flashlight back and forth, to scan for spiders, and stopped on a place on the wall- it was a scorpion! I went to ask Julio how to deal with it, and he brought his machete to chop the tail off. So…that was definitely a character building experience for us.

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IMAG0525We also trekked through some gorgeous scenery on our first day- we were trying to get to Big Rock Falls, but there was a misunderstanding in translation with the directions. We ended up at a scary looking camp, but then also a brand new set of cabins over the river. No one was around…so we hiked down, ending our day with a gorgeous sunset.

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Friday Five

Right now, we’re in Belize! We’ve spent the week doing awesome things like hiking through the jungle, exploring underground cave ruins, and trekking into Guatemala. Then, of course, we hung out on the gorgeous beach and did some snorkeling around the reef. All in all, it’s been a pretty amazing week!

One thing that Evan and I like to do while we’re on vacation is plan our next one. It might seem like we’re rushing through things, and not taking time to enjoy the trip we’re on, but that’s not it at all! We like to have something to look forward to, and coming home from a vacation is sort of like the day after your wedding- all that planning, and now it’s over. So, we like to start our brainstorming early, to lessen that feeling of loss. With that, today’s Five are five places that Evan and I have on our bucket list- there are tons more places, but there make the top of the list!

  1. Italy. This is our number one top priority in terms of travel. I am desperate to visit Rome, for all of the gorgeous architecture, and the history aspect. Evan would love to go to Lake Como, and Milan. We both want to eat all of the pasta and drink all of the wine. Pretty much, this is our dream vacation, we hope to take it before we have kids.rome
  2. Alaskan cruise. I was actually pretty shocked when Evan suggested this one, since he’s usually more of a beach and pool type of vacationer. But then, neither of us has ever been anywhere even remotely arctic, so this would be a good choice to get out of our comfort zones. I’ve also heard that it’s incredibly relaxing- I imagine that gliding through the icebergs would have a certain amount of serenity associated with it!
  3. Greece/Mediterranean. Ah, yes, back to the beach vacations J Evan’s sister and her husband did a two-week trip to the Meditarranean, and they loved it. I think they stayed at two separate places, and mostly went to the beach or wandered into town or went out on boats. That sounds lovely, obviously, but I would also want to be sure to explore as many ancient ruins as we have time for.bali
  4. Bali. How gorgeous does Bali look? There’s a beach, certainly, but there are also tons of temples and museums to explore, and a safari park, and outrigger paddling trips and, as near as I can tell, plenty of nightlight entertainment to be had. And, let’s face it- Indonesia is much, much different from any traditional vacation my family has ever taken. It’s an immersion into another culture, which can be a bit of a challenge…and I really like to embrace the struggle of taking myself out of my comfort zone.
  5. Ireland and Scotland. Like Bali, Ireland is not a place that I picture when someone mentions a ‘dream vacation’. My family is from Ireland, though, and it would be amazing to see the castle that is my namesake. I’ve also heard that both Scotland and Irish are crazy beautiful. Plus, I mean, all the distillery and brewery tours to be had 🙂

So where would you go for a dream vacation? Everything in my list is international- is there a place within the US that you’d like to visit?

Easy Chicken Parm

Whenever we have Chicken Parm at my house, I think of the night Evan proposed to me. I was at work, and working late, and he spend the entire day preparing dinner. There was a ton of food, so after the proposal I asked why he had made such an elaborate spread. He said that he was nervous the whole day, and so he just kept making things to keep his hands busy. He’s sweet, my Evan.

I don’t know that we’d ever made it at home previously, but now Chicken Parm is on regular rotation at our house. We bake the chicken, instead of frying it, and we make our marinara from scratch, so it’s a kind of healthy take on it. There are a lot of steps, but I’d still argue that this is a pretty easy dish to put together. And nostalgic. So, it’s a win for us.

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Easy Chicken Parm

  • 28 oz whole tomatoes (san marzano really do taste the best, but I’m not above the grocery store brand)
  • ½ yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 chicken breast halves, trimmed of fat and pounded to about ½ inch thickness
  • 1 egg beaten with ¼ cup cream
  • 1 cup bread crumbs, panko or traditional
  • Salt and pepper
  • Mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • ½ lb pasta, whatever shape you like, cooked to al dente

For the sauce:

Heat the pan to medium-low heat, and drizzle in about a tablespoon of olive oil. Saute the onions for about five minutes, until they are softened and a bit translucent. Add the garlic, and cook for about a minute. Add the can of tomatoes, season with plenty of salt and pepper, and cook on low heat with a lid for about five minutes. After five minutes, the tomatoes should be soft enough to crush with a fork or a potato masher. If you really need chunk-free sauce, you can either use pureed tomatoes, or purée yourself with an immersion blender. Keep on low with a lid on until you are ready to use the sauce.

For the chicken:

Heat the oven to 375, and prepare a baking sheet with a cooling rack on top, so the heat can circulate under the chicken. Scramble the egg with cream and set aside. In another bowl, season the breadcrumbs with salt and pepper and set aside. Season both sides of the chicken with salt and pepper. Dip chicken first in the egg mixture, then in the crumbs- be sure to really get a good coat of crumbs all over the surface. Place the breaded chicken on the cooling rack on the baking sheet, and repeat with other two pieces. Bake the chicken for 15-20 minutes, or until cooked through. When the chicken is cooked through, cover with shredded mozz and return to the oven for a minute or two, so the cheese is melted.parm1

Assembly:

First, divide the pasta between three plates. Ladle sauce over the pasta, and op each plate with a piece of chicken. At this point, every person that I cook for will add other seasonings as desired- it might be hot sauce, or pesto, or more cheese, or red pepper flakes. Everyone’s a chef when it comes to seasoning 🙂 Enjoy!

What I Read, February 2014

I surprised myself with the amount of reading that I got through in this short month. Unfortunately, I didn’t love alot of what I read, so I’m afraid that I’m not reliable for many good recommendations this month. In any case, here are my reviews. Let me know if you agree or disagree with any of these!paris wife

The Paris Wife, by Paula McClain, is the story of Ernest Hemmingway’s middle life, told from the perspective of his first wife, Hadley. This book was a bit difficult to get into, and I found myself hating the characters at various points.On the other hand, I really appreciate historical fiction, and loved the descriptions of ‘jazz age’ Paris. So this book was kind of a wash for me. Yes, I enjoyed it, but I don’t know that I would read it again. I wouldn’t warn anyone off of it, but I don’t know that I would recommend it particularly highly, as an excellent read or anything.

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You may have read The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd, in school- I think I read it for the first time in eleventh or twelfth grade, when it was brand new. The story is told from the perspective of a young girl in America in the 1960’s. Lily, with her housekeeper, runs away from her father, who is prone to violence. They run to the home of the Boatwright sisters, hoping they can tell Lily something about her mother, who died traumatically when Lily was very young. The story was lovely, and placed an emphasis on motherhood (not necessarily biological motherhood) but I found it very wordy, and sometimes hard to wade through the descriptions of the setting. Overall, a good book, but you might have to actually want to read it, if that makes sense.

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Three Sisters, by Susan Mallery, was a pretty easy read- something that I might call chick lit. As the story goes, Andi (the main character) is a doctor and was left at the alter. She sought refuge in a small town, where she bought a house that was in a state of disrepair. As the house is rebuilt, so is Andi’s spirit. She finds romance with a pretty predictable character, they go through a difficult patch because she’s a doctor and he’s a blue collar worker…on so on and so forth. I didn’t dislike this book, but it’s not something I would recommend to a friends- basically, if you need something to read for a few hours that you don’t want to focus on, this is a book for you. Otherwise, maybe try harder to find a book of substance.

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State of Wonder, Ann Patchett, was certainly a book with a bit of substance. Dr Singh is the main character, and she travels into the Amazon to find more information regarding the death of her colleague. She also reviews the work of Dr Swenson, who has discovered a local tribe of jungle inhabitants who are able to bear children well into their sixties and seventies. There are several layers to the plot of this book, so I never felt bored reading it. In fact, I’ll probably add it to my list of books to reread- there were several complex stories in this novel, and I’m certain that I’ll find new information in a second read. So, yes, I would happily recommend this book to a friend.

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Orphan Train, Christina Baker Kline, is also a book that I am confident in recommending to others. This book is a story within a story- first, Molly is helping an elderly woman clean out her attic, as a service project. As they sort through boxes, though, Vivian is distracted by her possessions, and we hear the story of her childhood. Vivian was an Irish immigrant whose family died when she was very young, and so was placed in a number of foster homes. The story of her childhood is heartbreaking, but the author is very good at drawing the reader in. This was a book that I couldn’t put down, I was so engaged.

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The Secrets of Mary Bowser, Lois Leveen was another incredibly engaging novel. In fact, at one point my OverDrive app deleted this book, and I had to manically go back into the library to finish it! Mary is a very young slave in Richmond, Virginia. She and her mother are freed by their owner, but her father is not. Mary’s mother chooses to continue to work in Virginia and send Mary to Philadelphia to attend school. Mary gets mixed up in the work of the Underground Railroad and, after her mother dies, returns to Virginia to care for her father. This book is incredibly compelling- perhaps the best book that I read last month. I cannot recommend it more highly.

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I also recommend Reconstructing Amelia, by Kimberly McCreight, which was a page turner in its own way. First, Kate is called to the school when her daughter, Amelia, is acting out. When she arrives at the school, though, it turns out that Amelia has actually committed suicide. The rest of the book is written from the alternating perspectives of Amelia and KAte, and reviews Amelia’s life leading up to her jump, and the efforts after her death to discover the truth of what happened. One of the themes in this book, bullying, is pretty timely. Many people would also compare this book with Gone Girl, due to the many mini-mysteries that must be solved in order to find out what really happened to Amelia. Overall, I found the ending to be a bit of a let down, but was really impressed by the complexity of the story, and would likely recommend this book to others.

 

Friday Five

I grew up in a house with four women and two men. My brother was the oldest, then me, and then I had two little sisters. I was always a little bitter that didn’t have an older sister, because that meant I was the most awkward. I had a perm, and I wore weird 80s clothes, and there was no one to tell me that my bangs were unfortunate, or wide legs jeans weren’t doing anyone any favors. My sisters, on the other hand, were using my straightener and shaving their legs and generally avoiding the worst of their awkward stages, because they had access to all of my things.

Now, though, we’re all adults and one of my favorite things is sharing our beauty tips, specifically our favorite products. Although we’re each about two years apart, we still have a very similar beauty routine, and we still depend on each other for new recommendations. Today’s Five are five things that my sisters and I all use and love.

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1. Dove soap, specifically the pink bar. The three of us have used Dove soap since we were in our teens- it’s been at least fifteen years that this bar has been a part of our routine. We use it in the shower, on a loofah for our bodies and at the sink with our hands, to wash our face. For us, it’s the only thing we can use to get our faces clean, and not have other reactions due to sensitivity.  It’s perfection.

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2. Secret deodorant. For whatever reason, my family are a sweaty people. I’m not particularly athletic, but both of my sisters were college athletes and, as you can imagine, sweated with the best of them. We’ve tried a number of deodorants out there, including the clinical strength one, but the ‘white’ Secret has been our best bet.

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3. Venus razors. Growing up, we used the cheap, disposable razors with two blades and I always had nicks and rashes as a result. Now that we’re grown, we spend the money and use the Venus Embrace. It has five blades, and I’ve never been nicked. Legs, underarms, bikini area- everything is safe and smooth with this razor- it’s well worth the expense.

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4. Covergirl LashBlast mascara. Here’s the thing- the Maybelline mascara in the pink tube may be the classic choice, but we hate it. It doesn’t stay on your lashes throughout the day, and it doesn’t wash off at night! No, thank you. We prefer the LashBlast line. We’ve been through each version (the orange, the pink, the yellow, the green and the black tubes) and we love them all! Right now I’m using the green tube (clump crusher, maybe?), and it’s awesome. My lashes are longer and darker, nothing migrates to underneath my eyes throughout the day, and it all comes off with Dove soap.

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5. Revlon lipstick crayons. These are a new product for us, but we love them! We’re so excited for spring, and Revlon just released a new line of super bright pink and coral colors. They’re easy to apply, and don’t get on our teeth. We like to wear them alone, or with a swipe of Burts Bees over top. They’re a really reasonably priced way to spice up our makeup routines, and we highly recommend them!

Does anyone else have any products that they absolutely love to recommend?   

Product Review: 7 Day Keratin Smooth Treatment

I’m not really sure what’s happened with my hair. When I was in college, I had varying shades of blonde and blonder. I spent some time abroad, and dyed it super dark. Then I came back and tried to return to my formerly blonde ways. Evan prefers me not super blonde, so last fall I started having lowlights added. Now, my hair is sort of dark blonde with lighter and darker streaks throughout.

My hair, over the past ten years or so...

My hair, over the past ten years or so…

All of this to say, the texture of my hair has suffered. When it was blonde, I know my hair was damaged, but it felt a lot better! It was nice and smooth and air dried into some reasonably soft waves. Now that it’s darker, if I wash it and don’t blow dry it or straighten it, it gets coarse and kind of….gritty? I’ve thought a lot about a seriously expensive keratin treatment, and then I started seeing commercials for Tresemme’s 7 Day Keratin Smooth Treatment. I found a coupon in the paper, so I practically had to buy it, and I figured I would share my experience with you.

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I know, I know, I know- when you review a product, you should use it exactly as directed, so you can review it as it was intended to be used. Spoiler alert- I didn’t follow the directions precisely. Here’s the thing- I don’t have the resources (time/money) to try to fit an entirely new system into my routine, unless it’s amazing. I need something that can fit into my life as is. So, no, I didn’t use the corresponding shampoo and conditioner, as recommended.

Moving along…the directions tell you to divide thick and coarse hair into six sections and use two pumps of product on each section. It was easier for me to divide my hair into four roughly equal sections. Then, I applied two pumps of the product to each of the bottom sections, and three pumps of product to each of the top sections- and that felt like an alarming amount of product. Then I brushed it through, blow dried, and carefully flat ironed in very small sections.

The result was amazing! Even Evan commented that my hair was incredibly soft, right after I straightened it. I prefer not to wash my hair every day, so I used some dry shampoo the next day, and re-straightened a few sections that needed it- still very soft and smooth. I shampooed on the third day and let it air dry (let’s be honest, I just took a shower before bed and slept on my wet hair). The result was really impressive- it was my old, soft waves that I’d been missing! I straightened my bangs, and added some glossing cream, and my hair was perfectly fine to leave down. I straightened and used some dry shampoo on the fourth day, and that was another great hair day. After I shampooed on the fifth day, I was starting to get back to my normal, rougher texture, and I had to straighten it to go out in public. But, after I straightened it on day 6, it was still noticeable softer. When I shampooed on day 7, we were back to a coarse, not pretty wave.

As a reviewer, I would give this product 4 or 4 ½ stars. The only reason I take away a few points is because it’s kind of a pain/timesuck to have to wash my hair, apply the product, blow dry and straighten in order for the product to be effective. On the other hand, I think many people actually do that on a regular basis, so it might fit seamlessly into your routine! Other than that, I was really pleased with the change in texture of my hair, and will probably continue to use this product every Sunday. Though it takes some time, having my soft waves back was a blessing, and meant I didn’t necessarily need to straighten my hair every day. Success!

A Baby is Coming…

So, my sister-in-law had her first baby shower this past weekend. It’s so exciting- this is the first baby of my generation in both of our families, if that makes sense. I’m so excited to be an aunt, and have a baby around!

Family- my BIL's sister, my SIL, me and Evan's cousin

Family- my BIL’s sister, my SIL, me and Evan’s cousin

Anyway, for the shower, I devised a plan to give her a set of month-by-month onesies. I don’t know if you’ve seen them on Pinterest, but they’re the onesies that say ‘one month’ and ‘two months’ and so forth, so that you have a onesie for each month, and you take photos so that you can see how the baby grows. Evan has a small uniform and embroidery business, and so I thought he might like to help with this gift.

Onesies1Guys, Ev is such a kind man! I know that he wasn’t into it at first, but after we got started and he kind of saw what we were going for, he seemed happy to make them. He even suggested a newborn one, with the caption on the bottom- he reasoned that newborns stay curled in the fetal position, so the bottom was the best place for it 🙂

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When his sister opened the gift and learned that Evan had made each one, she burst into tears…which I took as a sign that she liked them. I think they turned out pretty well! And, of course, I can’t wait to see photos of the baby in each one.

Paperwhites, Revisited

paperwhite4So, remember how excited I was about my paperwhites, a few weeks ago? Everything has been so brown outside for so long, and I was desperate to see something growing and alive and beautiful!

paperwhites5Well, my bulb experiment was a success, and these flowers bloomed incredibly beautifully! Unfortunately, they stink, so much. The smell got so bad that first, I had to hide them in a guest bedroom so they could fully bloom, and then I had to throw them out entirely. The scent was awful- an unlikely combination of dog pee and electrical burning.

 

paperwhites3But, while they lasted, they certainly looked lovely! Maybe next time I need flowers, I stick to the grocery store variety…

Dark Chocolate Cake with German Chocolate Frosting

This past weekend we celebrated Evan’s birthday, and we had the most ridiculously delicious German chocolate dessert. Evan loves the traditional German Chocolate Frosting, but he requested a cake that was darker and more chocolately. I fiddled around with my favorite fudge brownie recipe and was so pleased with the results- this cake turned out impressively dark,  and super moist without being fudge-like (Evan is the only person I’ve ever met that doesn’t prefer ‘fudge’ brownies or slight under cooked cookies- he likes his baked goods cooked through).

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This frosting is devine. This was the first time I’d ever made Coconut Pecan Frosting, so I used a recipe that my mother in law gave me, but cut back the butter and the sugar. The frosting was still plenty sweet and rich, so I don’t regret anything! My only concern was knowing when it was done- my MIL suggested ‘you’ll know when it’s ready’ and I didn’t really find that to be the case. In the end, I just sort or crossed my fingers and hoped for the best- and it turned out splendidly.

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Dark Chocolate Cake

  • 3/4 cup dark cocoa powder {I used Hershey’s Special Dark}
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup hot coffee
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla paste
  • 1 2/3 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350, and grease and flour a baking pan {I used a 10 inch tart pan, but you could also use a 9 inch square pan or a round cake pan}. Whisk together the cocoa and baking soda, and stir in the butter. Add the hot coffee, and mix until smooth. Add the eggs, sugar, sour cream and vanilla and, when all of that has been incorporated, fold in the flour and salt. Pour into the baking pan and bake until set- in my tart pan, what was about 16 minutes.

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Coconut Pecan Frosting

  • 1 can evaporated milk {I used fat free}
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste
  • 1 ½ cup pecans, toasted
  • 2 2/3 cup coconut, lightly toasted

In a saucepan, whisk together the milk, yolks, sugar and vanilla paste or extract. This mixture needs to come to a simmer and cook until thickened…whatever that means. For me, it was about eleven minutes until I noticed a notable change in the viscosity, while I was whisking pretty regularly. At that point, stir in the pecans and coconut. The frosting needs to be cooled to room temp before you pile it on your cake.

Full disclosure: I wasn’t sure, after I added the coconut and pecans, that my frosting was as thick as I wanted it, so I cooked it for another few minutes. It definitely firmed up in the fridge, though, so it would have been fine! I’m completely manic, and forgot to take that into account. Moral of the story: it’s okay if it’s a little too thick, or a bit too thin- this frosting is delish either way.

This Guy

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I settled down in the office on Saturday morning to catch up on some paperwork, but Howie had other plans.

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I tried to distract him with a bone, but to no avail- he really, really wanted to play.

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So, this is my happy Saturday! I planned to get some work done but, really- who wouldn’t rather play with Howard?

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