Pasta-Making Class

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetIt’s been a whirlwind around here, literally speaking, as Dallas has experienced lots of crazy (to us!) weather, including tons of snow and, this week, lots of icy rain. But the skies parted last Wednesday and the weather was beautiful – sunny and warm(ish) and blue skies. It created the perfect backdrop for possibly one of the best dates of all time: a pasta-making class.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetJames and I spent our evening at Central Market, our favorite grocery store – it’s gorgeous and filled with the very best goodies, and it’s also home to an excellent cooking school. We’ve contemplated the idea of taking cooking classes there for a few years now but they fill up so quickly (usually a month or two in advance) that we never found ourselves with tickets to attend one. This time we planned ahead, poring through Central Market’s website in early January to find just the right class to take. There were so many good options (Jamaican food! risotto-making! French cuisine! knife skills! sushi-rolling!) but we finally settled on the pasta-making class. We rarely make pasta at home so it felt like such a treat to spend an evening learning how to prepare it and, of course, indulging in a plateful (or five) of homemade noodles and sauces.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetThe class exceeded all of my expectations – I had hoped it would be wonderful but I had no idea how elated I would feel throughout the entire evening. The cooking school’s kitchen was immaculate and spacious, filled with top-shelf appliances and pretty countertops. A long table was set in the middle of the room with pretty plates waiting to be filled and appetizers to munch on during the initial demonstration. The instructors were talented, patient, helpful, and fun, and they were quick to refill our wine glasses. We got to make so many treats – spinach pasta, fettuccine with lemon cream sauce, tonnarelli with butter & rosemary sauce, pasta with pesto, ravioli with ricotta & parsley, Naples-style green lasagna with basic tomato sauce. It was HEAVENLY. We also learned how to make our own basic egg pasta, which was so extremely easy that I couldn’t believe it was true until I tried it myself. It caused James and me to add a KitchenAid mixer (+ attachments!) to our wish list. We got to take our dough home with us, so it will be waiting in the freezer until we have the right equipment to transform it into noodles.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetJames and I had so much fun learning new things, cooking together (one of our favorite hobbies), and indulging in the most delicious pasta we’ve had in a long while. We can’t wait to sign up for another class!

It’s OK

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetHappy March! (Wait, really – March already?!) James and I had the best weekend hosting my mom, dad, and brother, who were all visiting Dallas. The weather was icky, which initially felt like a disappointment, but it ended up being a total blessing because it meant that we got to all hunker down together and do absolutely nothing but enjoy one another’s company (okay, and lots of really delicious food and wine). Our family has gotten to travel to so many places together, doing fun activities and exploring new cultures all the while, and that has conditioned us to always be on the go, which is so very enriching and life-giving. But the flip side of that is the moments of stillness, the ones that really let you connect and laugh until your belly aches. There’s a very special sacredness in the quieter moments, and I was reminded of that this weekend. It feels so good to rest and connect and snuggle (Callie got a lot of love, too, as you can imagine). The weekend was just perfect.

This parallels an ongoing struggle I’ve faced over the course of several months, one in which I beat myself up for not feeling motivated or inspired to tackle a specific project or write a new blog post or put one more event on my calendar. I am an overachiever, to be sure, and I feel guilty when I don’t make headway on certain goals because I’ve just chosen to nap or watch shows on Netflix or try a new recipe or go to yoga class or meet a friend for a cocktail instead. This feeling is self-imposed, of course, a sort of internal attack that causes me to focus on the few things I don’t do instead of all of the lovely things I do accomplish and get to share in with people I love.

I was talking to Korena about this a few weeks ago and the overall response she gave me, which instantly flooded me with a sense of calm, was that it’s okay. She followed that up with some really lovely advice about honing in on things that bring me joy in order to regain the motivation and inspiration that may be lacking, about, in her words, nourishing my soul in the areas most important to myself. That was the brilliant part, I thought – nourish my soul in the areas most important to me, not in the areas that are most important to society or my friends or anyone else. She encouraged me to slow down and focus on spending time doing things I love – cooking, planning a trip, decorating our home, snuggling with Callie, taking pictures – and just enjoying them instead of worrying about achieving a certain outcome or checking an item off of my list. I loved that, and ever since I’ve put it into practice, it has really and truly worked.

So now, every time I look at my brand new It’s OK banner in my office, I’m reminded of my new mantra – that is more than okay to simply soak up the simple pleasures of everyday life, reflecting on the joy they bring and the peace they provide. Doing so will bring me all of the motivation and inspiration and pleasure that I could ever imagine…and more.

Callie’s Birthday

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetToday is Callie girl’s 6th birthday, and if you couldn’t tell, we are fairly obsessed with our pup. She is truly the greatest companion, the sweetest face to come home to at the end of a long day. She is our family, so we treat her as such, of course! To celebrate her special day, we took Callie to our local pet store, where we stocked up on toys and treats, including an adorable pupcake that she quickly devoured.

It may seem silly or trivial to celebrate the life of a furry companion, but in the midst of the darkness and sadness that plagues the world, we certainly believe in the power and beauty in cherishing all of life’s moments and God’s gifts. The joy that Callie has brought to our lives is certainly worth celebrating. Happy birthday, puppy girl – we love you!

P.S. Remember when we threw Callie a birthday party and tons of our friends (and their dogs) came and celebrated alongside us? We love our people.

 

Ina Garten

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetLast night my girlfriends and I went to see Ina Garten speak at SMU. I have always loved the chef’s show, Barefoot Contessa, so I jumped at the chance to snag tickets when we learned that she would be in Dallas. The only two words I can think of to describe how I felt as I listened to her speak are in rapt. I was totally captivated by her, this incredible powerhouse of a woman who is so completely intelligent, humble, talented, hardworking, and hilarious. I loved learning about her background (I had no clue that she was formerly a White House nuclear policy analyst?!), her sweet marriage to her husband, Jeffrey, the way she likes to spend her day (with coffee and oatmeal for breakfast, a morning walk to the beach, a day full of filming/cooking/editing, an afternoon yoga class, and dinner with friends), and her favorite recipes from her newest cookbook, Make It Ahead (the marinated feta and the chocolate cake with mocha frosting).

One of the things that struck me most is how hard Ina works. I didn’t realize that she owned her specialty foods shop, Barefoot Contessa (which was already called that when she purchased the store – I had always wondered about the meaning behind the name), for 18 years before deciding to try her hand at writing cookbooks and then, fortuitously, ending up in the world of television. She told us the tale of how her love affair with food began, and I have to recount it here because I found the story to be so fascinating. While traveling and camping throughout Europe on her honeymoon, Ina said that she learned that beautifully simple foods are the most pleasurable ones to enjoy. She and her husband, Jeffrey, were on a strict budget of $5 per day – if they spent $6 one day, they could only spend $4 the next. Though they experienced some cold temperatures at the beginning of their trip, they decided against purchasing a $35 camping heater because it meant they would have to cut their trip a week short. So instead of eating in expensive restaurants, they spent lots of time shopping in the affordable local markets, selecting freshly baked breads, oozing slices of Brie, and decadent peaches to eat as they picnicked in fields and on park benches. Those experiences taught her about the inherent beauty in simply prepared, local, fresh foods. This set the tone for how she cooked when they returned back in D.C., where she increasingly grew weary of her job at the White House. She found so much more joy in throwing dinner parties for her loved ones on the weekends than advising on nuclear policies during the week.

One day she read an ad in The New York Times about a specialty food shop that was for sale in the Hamptons. After discussing it with Jeffrey, the couple decided to put in a low bid on the store. The very next day, the shop owner called Ina and told her that her offer was accepted. She was shocked (I think she said her exact reaction was, pardon my French, “Oh, shit,” which sent the audience into a fit of laughter), and she realized that her life was about to change in ways she couldn’t imagine.

Ina bought Barefoot Contessa in March, when the Hamptons were devoid of visitors. For weeks, as she worked alongside the former shop owner, there was little cash in the register at the end of each day. They hardly made any sales, causing her to wonder what she had gotten herself into. She officially took over the store on Memorial Day Weekend, at the height of New Yorkers flocking to the Hamptons for respite from the city for the summer, and suddenly everything changed. On the Friday of that weekend, Barefoot Contessa sold every food item on the store’s shelves. Every single one. Blown away, Ina asked the shop owner how they would ever be able to replenish their stock by the time the store reopened in the morning. Pointedly, the shop owner told her they would be staying up all night, baking and cooking and stirring and sautéing as they recreated all of the treats they put in the store’s display cases, and that’s what they did. Early on Saturday morning, after the women had cooked as much as they possibly could, Jeffrey went to the next town over and bought every muffin, pastry, and croissant at a local bakery, cramming all of the sweets into his Fiat and bringing them back to Barefoot Contessa to resell. Ina laughed as she recounted the tale, mentioning that she hopes she never runs into the family who ran that bakery. What she learned, though, is that in order to really and truly purse your wonderfully scary dreams, those amazing jobs or career paths that terrify you, you have to “jump off a cliff and learn how to fly on your way down,” just like she did when she bought Barefoot Contessa. I love that sentiment – it’s so brave and bold and beautiful, just like Ina.

I can’t wait to dig into my copy of Make It Ahead (which came with a signed bookplate, so special!), and then I’ll have to start a collection of all of Ina’s cookbooks! Do you recommend any of her books in particular? She is my new favorite person, I think. I would love to meet her someday!

Homework

studio-tour-2

I have been thoroughly enjoying everything about my French class – my beautiful Parisian professor, my lovely classmates, taking copious amounts of notes in a new, pretty notebook, even the homework. Actually, especially the homework. I know, I know, homework can be tedious, laborious, and even unnecessary in a lot of cases, but the completion of my homework seems so imperative now that I’m learning a new language. I was out sick a few weeks ago and I had to miss my beloved French lessons, so I wasn’t in class to receive my packet of homework for the following session. I felt totally lost when I returned to the classroom – it was almost as if I had stumbled into the room where the Mandarin Chinese lessons were being taught, that’s how foreign French sounded to my ear that evening. Conversely, I spent plenty of time working through a packet of homework this past week and I felt totally prepared (and super smart!) as we went through the answers in class last night. It made the hugest difference. I guess I hadn’t realized the importance of thoroughly, intently completing my assignments until I didn’t have the opportunity to do so and really experienced the feeling of being far behind.

This mindset about homework translates to real world experiences, too, I think. In my early years in the non-profit world (or even while on job interviews after college), a time or two I definitely made the mistake of not doing enough (okay, or any) research on the person/company I was meeting with prior to our time together. I didn’t put enough effort into my homework, making me completely ill-prepared and poorly equipped to have a productive conversation. I don’t think this was because I intentionally chose not to prepare or because I was lazy – sometimes I think I just didn’t know the proper etiquette, forgetting that while people wanted to get to know me and my work, I also needed to get to know them and theirs. This goes for writing, too, in the fact that extensive research needs to be done before submitting a pitch to a publication. It’s this kind of extra work and thoughtfulness that can make your pitch or presentation stand out. Completing my French homework reminded me of the distance that you can travel if only you make the effort to do some legwork in advance.

So, aside from grammatical structure and key vocabulary words, my French class is teaching me a lot of things, things about life and preparedness and the value of homework. I’m thankful for the opportunity to stretch and grow and learn in a whole myriad of ways.

Image via Kimberly Chau for Sugar & Cloth

Happy Valentine’s Day!

how-to-arrange-supermarket-deli-flowers-cupofjo-roses

Happy Valentine’s Day! I have always loved this sweet day, thanks largely in part to my mom, who always celebrates this holiday with gusto. She hosted heart-themed parties for me and my girlfriends when we were in elementary school, helped my brother and I craft the perfect valentines to distribute in our classes, and, to this day, creates thoughtful care packages filled with gift cards and chocolates from our favorite hometown shop to send to us. She instilled within us a desire to celebrate Valentine’s Day with all the loves of our lives, whether that be family or significant others or friends. This day has always been special to me and my family, and I hope you feel special all day long, too!

Now break out the bubbly and some sweet treats and enjoy some fun Valentine-themed posts from around the web!

This chocolate and wine-tasting outing looks like the most festive way to spend a day devoted to love. I want in next time!

I hereby vow to host a Valentine’s Day brunch to remember for my girlfriends someday, reminiscent of the fun parties my mom threw for me when I was young. I’m bookmarking this girly get-together to serve as my inspiration (those waffles!).

I love this post on three ways to style grocery store flowers. Trader Joe’s always has lovely, affordable blooms but I’m never quite sure how to arrange them. I need to put some of these tips to good use.

Here’s another promise: I will treat myself to a Valleybrink Road gift box someday, mark my words. They are so gorgeous and filled with all of the best goodies!

Even though James and I love to go out for dinner, especially when we’re trying new restaurants, we’ll be staying in tonight, enjoying take-out Thai and an ice-cold bottle of Champagne. I love that staying in on Valentine’s Day seems to be more of a trend these days – friends and family alike have been mentioning that they have the same plan, and the blogosphere seems full of people who have the same idea, too (this reference was my favorite – it sounds like I could have written it, even down to the fact that this is our first married Valentine’s Day!). Sometimes date night in is better than date night out, right?

Image via A Cup of Jo

Sunday Blues

tumblr_n600e8ayEm1rlcp9oo1_1280

I read a great article in this month’s issue of Real Simple about combatting the Sunday blues. I love my weekends and try to maximize every ounce of free time, but I often find myself winding down on Sunday evenings thinking about the week ahead instead of remaining present in the moment. I’ve gotten into the habit of settling in on Sunday afternoon, doing household chores and cooking dinner and enjoying a glass of wine. These are good, relaxing things, but instead of reveling in them, I find myself being reminded of my to-do list for the week once I begin my routine, as if the pattern triggers some sort of weekend-is-over mode.

The article (“Take Back Your Sundays” by Yolanda Wikiel) was revolutionary for me for a myriad of reasons. As noted in the beginning of the piece, Monday can wait, which is a lesson that I need to take to heart. And here’s how we can make that happen:

Do Sunday on Saturday.

This really rang true to me, as it’s something I’ve unintentionally implemented over the course of the last several months and I’ve loved the way it’s freed up the final hours of my weekend. By doing chores typically reserved for Sundays on Saturdays (namely, for me, grocery shopping), there’s more free time at the end of the weekend for rest, relaxation, or play time. Now I’m going to try incorporate a few additional tasks – house-cleaning, laundry, etc. – into my Saturday routine so that Sundays can be reserved for free time.

Be a Social Animal.

As you now know, I am an outgoing introvert, so I really, really, really value my alone time. I especially crave time to myself on weekends, so it’s not uncommon for me to hunker down for hours (and hours and hours) with a great book. There’s nothing wrong with this, certainly, but, according to Wikiel’s findings in the article, “there is plenty of research that shows that people who are less social tend to be less happy. And a Sunday already potentially mired in the blahs is when you’ll need contact with others the most.” Truth! I find community at church and in our Sunday afternoon small group gatherings, but I have found that I feel so uplifted when I do something with family or friends in the early evening hours, like going for a long walk at the park or meeting on a patio for margaritas. I don’t anticipate evolving into a “social animal,” necessarily, but I like the idea of incorporating more social interaction (whether planned or spontaneous) into my Sunday afternoon routine.

Make Over Sunday Night.

Thanks to this Real Simple article, this is something that I already put into practice this past Sunday – and it totally worked! Here’s what Wiekel had to say:

“Why is it that 7 p.m. on a Sunday feels like 11 p.m., but on every other day of the week 7 p.m. is just the start of the evening? Maybe because our idea of ‘doing nothing’ – say, binge-watching Game of Thrones – is not necessarily the best medicine for relieving the Sunday blues.

Active leisure – a book club, practicing yoga, or even going to the movies – will make you happier than choosing something that is passive. ‘If you’re engaged in an activity that keeps you moving, you’re absorbed in the moment and your mind has much less room to allow workweek worries to sneak in and take hold,’ says Cassie Mogilner, Ph.D. So while we’re forever grateful to HBO for transforming Sunday nights, you may want to DVR you favorite episodes and watch them on a night less fraught with anxiety – say, hump day.”

After small group, our friends Bri and Jordan, who host our weekly gathering, invited James and me to stay for dinner. My first instinct was to say no and head home so I could straighten up the house and generally prepare for the week ahead. But with the Real Simple article in mind, I said yes. We spent the afternoon mixing up whiskey sours (Bri added muddled blackberries and sage to ours – holy delicious!), playing with their adorable children, chasing Callie around the backyard, enjoying the weather, and creating a delicious dinner that we ate together around the table as we talked and recapped the day. When James and I looked at the clock at the end of the evening, we realized that we had been at their house for eight hours. And instead of feeling intimidated by all that I still had left to do or anxious about the week ahead, I realized that I felt refreshed, rejuvenated, and restored. My Sunday night was certainly made over, and it set the tone for a great week.

So, what do you think? Will you implement any of these tips in an effort to combat the Sunday blues?

Image via A Gentlewoman

Week & End

325348c2dc8ccaf7872e680798ef5960Happy Friday! We’ve had dreary weather here in Dallas lately but the forecast has taken a turn – the high is supposed to be in the 70s for the next week! So that means tomorrow Callie is going on a long walk at White Rock Lake with her furry friend, Franklin (Kyla’s sweet pup). Tonight I’m meeting my girlfriends at Mi Cocina for our favorite Mambo Taxis, which I think is just the most perfect way to cap off the work week.

Have a wonderful weekend, and enjoy some links from around the world wide web!

Last week, the daughter of Touch A Life’s co-founders, Tatum Cope, wrote an incredibly moving blog post about meeting her birth mom in Vietnam this past summer. You’ll have to keep reminding yourself that she is only 16 years old – her wisdom definitely transcends her age.

I enjoy maintaining a healthy lifestyle, one that focuses on consuming wholesome, quality, unprocessed foods and exercising daily, but I always like to treat myself (see: Mambo Taxis). In this day and age, it sometimes feels like a crime to enjoy an occasional dessert, a beautifully-garnished cocktail, or, my favorite, a glorious pizza binge. So on that note, Sarah Yates’s hilarious definitive guide to healthy eating cracked me up. The blogger is actually a very clean eater (her healthy diet is a tool she uses to fight against Crohn’s disease, a condition from which she suffers) so to see that even she is annoyed by the contradictions present in everyday media was a relief. I think she sums it up best here: “There is no one right answer, no one right way, no one size fits all approach to health.” Amen!

Kyla was the first person to tell me that, in spite of my (mostly) outgoing personality, I am actually an introvert because I gain energy from being alone (vs. being with others). I found this to be quite the revelation, so I’ve shared the insight with others, including Korena, who realized that she is an outgoing introvert, too. She sent me this hilarious link and I confess that it. is. so. me. Especially #3, #4 (sorry, Mom!), #6, and #7.

I have been slowly but surely making the transition to using more natural beauty products, and based on this recommendation, I snagged Thayers Witch Hazel Toner with Rose Petal. I love it already!

Last night we made these black bean burritos and they were delicious (we also learned how to make quick-pickled onions – who knew it was so easy?!). The bean filling would be good with just about everything. In fact, I used the mixture to make a quick breakfast taco this morning – so tasty!

Image via lark & linen

My Favorite Verse

Weak-End-Club-4

Today I am so motivated and inspired by my favorite verse:

“He has made everything beautiful in its time.” – Ecclesiastes 3:11

I have always loved this verse. I remember that it first struck me profoundly during my senior year of college (while I was running on the beach, specifically – those were the days!) as I was considering what I wanted to do with my life. I have always felt that God speaks to me most clearly through the people I love – through family and friends, especially – and through books, speaking engagements, and powerful quotes. So it was surprising to me on that when I asked God what I was supposed to do with my life, I heard Him whisper this simple response: It will present itself to you. It was profound and overwhelming and comforting all at once. The verse from Ecclesiastes came to the forefront of my mind shortly thereafter, jumping off the page at me and becoming my daily mantra. Over and over and over again the verse has presented itself to me, providing me comfort and guidance and direction. And it has always proven true, always – even though things may not turn out how I imagine the would, they always end up transpiring beautifully, completed within God’s very perfect timetable.

Do you have a favorite go-to verse that provides you with motivation and inspiration when you find yourself looking for help or comfort? If so, share it in the comments section – I’d love to add it to my arsenal!

Image via Trendland

Recipe Testing

3e4d4c12ece789356fcc9905169ffc7eRecently I’ve been devouring my cookbooks as though they were novels, poring over them as I lie in bed each night. I take notes on which treats I want to try and, as a result, we have been cooking a lot lately. Reading my cookbooks has also inspired me to try out all of the recipes I’ve bookmarked online over the months (okay, let’s face it, years). We’ve discovered so many new kitchen staples, so I thought I’d share some of my favorite recipes that we’ve tried here. Nearly everything we’ve made has been a winner! Some are from those delightful cookbooks I’ve been pawing through (like The Forest Feast), and others have been gems discovered online. Take a peek at the list, and let me know if you try your hand at making any of these recipes yourself!

From The Forest Feast:

From It’s All Good:

From The Sprouted Kitchen:

From The Blogosphere:

  • Oven-Baked Chicken with Lemon & Thyme – Cooking chicken has always intimidated me, for some reason, but now I have a go-to method for making chicken that creates a flavorful, delicious, and juicy outcome. You must incorporate the lemon and thyme for extra special flavor that will have you coming back for seconds.
  • Soba Noodle Salad with Ginger Peanut Dressing – This is delicious and light, and it gets better each day that it’s left mingling in the fridge. I really liked taking this to work for lunch for several days in a row.
  • Green Detox Smoothie – I crave this delicious blended concoction on a daily basis and, as a result, have been enjoying it every morning for breakfast. I was scared of using the spirulina at first because it smells terrible but you can’t taste it at all and the superfood’s benefits are mind-blowing. The pomegranate seeds on top are a must – they are so yummy!
  • Thai Chicken Stuffed Sweet Potatoes – So much flavor! We ate these while I was cleansing so the sweet potatoes were perfect but the chicken mixture would be good on top of anything – rice, quinoa, noodles.
  • Chicken & Poblano Chili – If James had to pick a favorite from the bunch, I think this would be it. This chili is hearty and packed with great spicy flavor. (The original recipe calls for turkey, which would probably be delicious, too.)
  • Chocolate-Dipped Peanut Butter Cookies with Pretzels & Toffee – I mean, DELIGHTFUL.
  • Egg Muffins with Vegetables – Great for breakfast on the go.
 Image via The Everygirl