Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Blog or Sleep?

Well, the lovely date function on my posts tells me it's been over a month since I last posted!  I promise, there's a good reason.  Several of them, in fact.  So much so I'm going to list them I think.  

1. First, my hubby and I are in the process of MOVING!  OUT.OF.STATE!  It seems crazy to me to think that I'd be excited about leaving DC, since it really feels like my home and I feel like the area really fits me.  However, about, I don't know, 9 months ago or so, my hubby and I started talking about our future and what we wanted to happen next.  We had been married for a few months, had recovered somewhat from the shenanigans before, during, and after our wedding, and we were ready to start planning. Something. Anything!  Right about that time we went back to my hometown, had a wonderful and much needed visit with friends and family, and found ourselves not wanting to leave.  Thus the seed was planted- could we really move to what Paul affectionately calls a "fly over state" (i.e. a state he had only ever flown over before he met me)?  I have to admit, I still wasn't sold.  I was mostly worried about what I would do there professionally.  DC has an incredible amount of opportunities and I liked my job.  But, Paul pointed out that since the cost of living would be significantly cheaper, there were potentially more options for me. 

We moved on with life and got to the holidays, which we again spent with my family.  Only this time, we found out my beautiful baby niece, Addie Rose, would be joining the family in February!  On our way home, we started talking about how we didn't want to leave yet again and this time I was talking about wanting to come back much more often.  My fam would be busy with the baby so I'd want to do the traveling!  Naturally, the impending birth of my sister's first child brought up our own conversation about when we'd want to have kids.  We hadn't really decided on that yet, but the idea of having our kids grow up with cousins their own age and have family close by really sealed the deal for me. 

With that, we started job searching and we've really picked up the pace in the past month.  I'm hoping that things are going to work out soon.  Our current lease is up in October, so we're going to move one way or another by then.  Hopefully, we'll be ready for the BIG move!

2.  I have been sick what seems like all year so far.  In fact, I've had 4 sinus infections and bronchitis since December.  I have no idea why, but it keeps happening, and the worst started around the end of May.  I was seriously out of commission.  I had left a voice message for my boss two days into the antibiotic and later emailed saying "I may have been rambling, I'm not really sure."  He responded the next morning with " weren't kidding!"  Despite this long-winded post, I can tell you that that is not very characteristic of me. :)  I just finished another antibiotic for the bronchitis on Monday and, wouldn't you know it, I'm coughing again.  I had done the whole rest and relaxation thing for several weeks (i.e. not even posting to the blog!) and I'm over it.  So, we went to NYC for our anniversary a couple weekends ago and now I'm just going to work through it.  Perhaps that method will work....

3.  Throughout all of this, work has been a bit of a zoo, particularly for the past 4-6 weeks.  Figures, right? Long and short of it is that we were recently given a bunch of money to hire a bunch of people and we do not have nearly enough space for them.  Also, I started working from home 4 days a week and several people are taking vacations or have been on work-related travel.  Bottom line is that they recently decided to triple us up in each office (hence only having one day in the office now).  They are one-person offices for sure.  So, my office decoration project is gone.  Don't worry though, I've already used that plan to design/plan for our office in the hopefully-soon-to-be-purchased house after our BIG move.  :)

4.  Now that I've gotten my blogging feet wet, I've decided to move the blog to a different platform.  Blogger just isn't working for me anymore.  I will let everyone know when the new site is up and running but, for now, I'm going to be working on learning the new system, designing the site, and moving content. 

I will very likely post a few things here and there in the interim, unless, of course, we're all of a sudden moving next week.  :) 

Thank you to everyone who has been following the blog!  I didn't realize how many there were until I started getting questions about why I wasn't posting.  Also, thank you to everyone who has been pinning my stuff in Pinterest!  It has been going crazy lately!

Until next time....

<3 Alicia Rose

Monday, May 13, 2013

Grilled & Seasoned Chicken Tacos with Chipotle Cream

As our main entree for our cinco de mayo party we used a recipe from the Weight Watchers Tastier Than Takeout Cookbook and made a few changes.  Their version, Tostados with Pork and Chipotle Cream, used tostada shells and pork, which we've actually used before.  However, we chose chicken for this party and went with lower calorie soft tortilla shells instead.  We were trying to balance out all of our other eats, including our guacamole, southwest egg rolls with southwest ranch dip, and sopapillas.  We've also used steak before- whatever you choose, it's delicious and, coming in around 7 points depending on the shells and meat you use, should easily fit into your day.  Here are the chicken and peppers we used:

We also used the chipotle cream on steak fajitas we made last week (recipe coming soon!):

Here's the recipe (WW's original ingredients noted in parentheses):

Grilled Jerk-Seasoned Pork Chops with Mango Salsa

Paul made these beautiful pork chops for dinner last night and I had to share them right away.  It's based on a Weight Watchers Power Foods Cookbook.  We added the mango salsa and grilled veggies, which just made this recipe into summer on a plate.  Best part, all together, this is just 4 points!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Fun Photo...Uh...Sunday

I snapped this shot at sunrise last week using our 50mm. 

Speaking of sunrise, this week I found myself wishing yet again that more things were open before 7am.  That's when I start working and I'm almost always up in time to run an errand or two.  Then again, if I had been able to run an errand, I wouldn't have made it home from grabbing coffee in time to snap this photo.  :)

Sopapilla Cheesecake Bars- Updated Recipe!

Last week I posted the recipe for the sopapilla cheesecake bars we made for our cinco de mayo party.  Well, I had forgotten to take pictures of the delicious final product, which was just bugging me, either because of my type A personality (the post was a little too imperfect for me) or because I really wanted to make them again.  Regardless, I decided I was going to make them again and bring (most) of them in to the office for my coworkers.  I ended up making them again a few days later.  I forgot to bring them in to the office. Oops!

Anyway, in making them this time, I made a mistake in mixing the ingredients and found out that I actually preferred them that way.  It involves more butter-what's not to like?  SO, here's the updated recipe with updated final pictures.  As always, enjoy!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Guacamole- That "Green Stuff" is SO Good!

It's been a busy week so I'm slowly getting around to filling in the details from our Cinco de Mayo party last weekend.  Paul made his famous guacamole and it was a huge hit as always. 

To explain the title, the last time we made it in Cincinnati, someone asked us "what's that green stuff?"  We repeat that every time we make guacamole now and chuckle. 

Anyhoo, here's how we make the green stuff:

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Southwestern Egg Rolls with Southwest Ranch Dip

One of the most popular things we made at our cinco de mayo party was the southwestern egg rolls and the southwest ranch dip.  Here are the recipes for both!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Sopapilla Cheesecake Bars- Our Cinco de Mayo Party Dessert

We hosted a Cinco de Mayo game night last Saturday and our food was my favorite part of the party prep!  Below is a recipe for the sopapilla cheesecake bars we made for dessert.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Most DELICIOUS Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe EVER!

I'm not kidding around, I think these are by far the best chocolate chip cookies I have ever made and the recipe (which I got from m hubby) is pretty simple to follow.

Our Kitchen Has Been Busy & I'm Sharing the Recipes

Last week was a very busy one, particularly in our kitchen.  Paul and I made lots of tasty dishes last week and we remembered to take pictures of moooooost of it.

This week I'll be sharing the recipes and a few tips I learned along the way.  First up, I think will be the most DELICIOUS chocolate chip cookies I've ever made. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

Container Gardening- Common Mistakes & Fixes

In researching for our container garden, I came across an informative Real Simple article entitled Readers' Top 10 Gardening Mistakes.  I found that several of the mistakes and fixes were relevant even for container gardening and I've listed them below:

1. Over Watering

As I've noted before, it's important to pay attention to the information that comes with the seeds or plants you purchase.  Over watering or not having adequate drainage can cause your roots to rot.  Real Simple gave a helpful tip for determining when you've watered just enough.

"When you can grab a handful [of soil], squeeze it together, and form a loose ball, it’s just right."  They also gave a another trick: "Plant a so-called indicator plant—one that wilts much more quickly than the others—such as a hydrangea or lettuce."  Once it starts to whither, you know it's time to water again.   

2.  Not Taking Wildlife Into Account:

Real Simple noted that there's a reason daffodils are left alone- they contain poisonous crystals that are a no no for the squirrels.  They also note "other rodent-repellent (read: poisonous) bulbs include snowdrops, winter aconite, and fritillaries.  Critters from raccoons to deer to the family dog will inevitably try to eat your produce, and the only fail safe way to protect your precious plants is to install a fence around the garden." 

Now, for our balcony garden, set way above the road, we don't really have to worry about rodents.  We do occasionally have to chase our pup away from the seedlings growing just inside the window.  Reap Simple's tip for that problem is to toss "a few chew toys into the garden to tempt [her] away from your plants."  We definitely have that covered!

3.  Not Giving Plants Enough Sun

Real Simple phrased this for those who have a choice of where they plant their garden.  Since we're container gardening in a small apartment, there is only one real outdoor spot in which we can work.  Either way, the real point of their mistake was not paying attention to the sunlight.  It really is the key (in addition to water) to having a green thumb as opposed to a black one.  If you're container gardening in a confined or limited space like we are, you have to choose plants that will thrive in whatever amount of sunlight your garden will regularly get. 

Real Simple noted that "tomatoes are sun worshipers that thrive in direct sunlight.  The plants need a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight . . . Similarly, vegetable plants such as chiles and eggplants and most herbs should be planted in the sunniest part of your yard.  Others, like lettuces and peas, can stand to be in shady areas." 

4.  Spreading Too Many Seeds:

Real Simple used the example of planting too many pumpkin seeds, not realizing that they are an aggressive plant that will sprout many vines that will grow far and wide from just a couple seeds.  The take away here for container gardening is that it's super important to read the packaging or information that comes with your plants.  The packaging should explain how many seeds to use and how far apart they should be planted.  Keep in mind that some can be invasive and others grow significantly larger than others.

5.  Planting too close together:

Again, it’s important to follow the planting directions on seed packets and plant info cards.  Real Simple's expert noted, however, "if you choose to plant more aggressively, experiment with layering plants . . . Growing shrubby plants such as basil under tall vining plants like tomatoes yields two plants in one space."

Now that we know about these common mistakes, hopefully we won't be making any of them. Fingers and green thumbs crossed!

Fun Photos Friday & Date Jar Update: Go See the Sun Set (& Take Pictures)

Well, for some reason this post, which was scheduled for Friday, was published on Thursday.  Anyhoo...hope you enjoy it a day early!

As I've said in my other posts, I was trying to name a series of blog entries that would be posted on Wednesday to help get us over the hump.  Well naming this series for Wednesday just wasn't happening.  I mean, Winsome Wednesdays was the best I had come up with?  Then, Fun Photos Friday popped in my head and I was sold!  And just in time....

We had a free night recently and decided to pull one of our ideas out of the date jar (check out our other ideas)!  Ok, well technically we didn't pull the popsicle stick randomly out of the jar.  Ever since the weather turned and spring began, we've been wanting to go down to the Tidal Basin and take pictures.  We had the whole "at sunset" part in the back of our minds ever since we made the date jar.  So, while technically we didn't pull the popsicle stick out first, the spirit of the date jar lived on!

Here are some of my favorite (unedited) pictures from our date:

I took these with my phone & Instagram (by the way, you can follow me on Instagram by clicking the button on the home page):

Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Container Gardening- Tips & Steps for Planting!

First, let me start out with the final product!  Here are some pictures from our finished balcony garden:

We've actually added a few more and I'm just now noticing that we don't have pictures of it yet.  I'll have to come back and add them tomorrow. 

As I blogged about earlier this week, there are several things you'll need to consider when planning your container garden, including the size of space you have to give to your garden and to prep and plant, the type and amount of sun and wind your garden will get, and what you want to gain from your garden (something beautiful for your space or edible plants to use when cooking).  Of course, you'll also need to consider your budget and the season(s). 

Once you know what you want to plant, there are a few basic things that you'll need to get started, which include the plants or seeds you want to grow, potting soil, and something to put them in.  You also will want some access to water, whether it's a hose or a watering can, as well as some type of fertilizer.  Here are 4 easy steps to follow:

1.  Pick Out Your Pots & Soil

Pots: Size, Type, & Color

Size:  Yes It Matters!

It's really important to pay attention to the packaging or information that comes with your seeds/plants so you know the size of pots you will need for each.  It's usually a good idea to use a pot that's a little larger than necessary so the roots have more room to grow and you have a better chance of bringing your plants to maturity.

Now, I think the normal way to go about things is to pick what you want to plant (based on your needs and wants, the type or duration of sunlight, and the climate, as I blogged about here) and then find the pots or planters to put them in based on their growing requirements.  As I blogged earlier in the week (here), I actually happened upon some pots that I just loved first.  Then I thought about what I could grow in them, given their size and the fact that our balcony got about 6 hours of direct sunlight each day.  We did decide to plant a few other things, like peppers, which meant we needed to go out and get a bigger pot and a trellis.

Type: Plastic, Clay, Ceramic, or Wood?

Plastic pots are typically the least expensive and so they can be the most budget-friendly.  They also tend to hold their moisture longer than clay or ceramic pots and are lighter and easier to move.  Then again, they sometimes deteriorate faster and are often the least attractive option, so you have to consider your budget and where these pots are going to go.  For us, they are right off our living room on the balcony, so it was important that they were attractive.  Then again, we're not sure if we'll need this many pots in the future, so we felt fine getting a couple plastic pots. 

Clay (terra cotta) pots are also on the less expensive side and you can usually find all different kinds of patterns and colors.  They are porous, which allows the air to move easily through their walls so your roots can breathe.  Then again, this also could mean that your soil is going to dry out faster and you may have to pay more attention to them. 

Ceramic pots also come in a wide variety of patterns and colors.  Then again, they may not come with a drainage hole.  If you read my Friday blog post, you'll know you can easily drill your own holes with a ceramic and tile drill bit (which you can pick up for about $10 at any hardware store). 

Wood containers are another option but they may be susceptible to rot unless treated with chemicals (which may not be good for your plants or what you want around the food you're about to eat).  You can invest in redwood or cedar containers, which can be used without being treated and typically do not rot but they can be among the most expensive options you'll find.

Color: Light vs. Dark, It May Matter Too

Keep in mind that you'll want to coordinate the color of your pots with your surrounding area as well as the color of the plants you put in them.  Also, the darker the color, the more it will absorb the sun (and the heat of the sun).  This again may mean that you'll need to water the plants more than you would in a lighter colored pot, depending on the amount of sunlight you're getting. 

Soil: Yes, Go Ahead and Get Potting Soil

You will definitely want potting soil for your container gardening.  The soil is formulated to give the nutrients your plants need in that environment.  You have several options, including organic varieties and moisture retaining soil. 

Fertilizer: Especially Important for Container Gardens

Annuals and certain types of edible plants tend to use nutrients very quickly, particularly when they are planted in containers.  On our balcony, our containers are not getting nutrients from anywhere else, so we have to add them.  The fine folks at Home Depot recommended using fertilizer with every other watering.  Again, there are all different kinds, including organic varieties.

2.  Prepare Your Pots

Drainage: Not Too Much, Not Too Little

You need to have adequate drainage in each of your pots.  When there is too much moisture in the pot, your roots start to deteriorate.  If you're putting the holes in yourself, do not make the holes any larger than 1/2", because you'll start to lose soil.  However, if your pots come with too many holes or holes that are too big, you can easily remedy this by placing pieces of styrofoam or pieces of broken clay pots over the holes before you fill it with soil.  This will allow the water to drain out as needed while making sure you don't lose your soil.  Also, if you find you are losing too much water, or if you are losing clay pots, you'll want to put a plate or saucer under the pot to keep from losing too much moisture too quickly.

Courtesy of HGTV Gardens
Filler: When Your Pots Are Too Big

If you find that your pot is significantly bigger than needed and you do not want to fill it completely with soil (which will make it even heavier and harder to move, not to mention is more expensive), you can easily remedy this by adding cardboard or empty plastic bottles in the bottom of the pots before adding your soil.

3.  Plant!

Fill your prepared pots with soil up to about 2 inches away from the top.  

Yes, that's my shower stuff- we prepped this in our bathroom!
If you're planting seeds, make sure you pay attention to the instructions on how many seeds to use and how far apart they must be planted. 

If you're using a grown plant, make a crater large enough to fill your plant in the soil.  Take it out of the container in which it was sold and break apart the clump of dirt and roots.  Then place it in your crater.

Cover your seed/plant with soil, making sure to cover any roots already growing but not go too far up the stem.  

Firm down the soil around your plants and add additional soil as needed.  

4.  Water & Fertilize

The packaging will tell you how much water each plant will need.  If you just bought it from a gardening store or if you're using clay pots, you may want to add a little more water than you will for regular watering.

Once you've finished planting your container garden, all you have to do is sit back and enjoy their progress.  Oh, and water as required. 

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Container Gardening: Edible Plant Options

Now that our balcony garden is planted, we are probably the most excited about using the edible plants we've grown in the kitchen.  Of course, we have lots of herbs.  They are easy, small, and lend themselves well to growing indoors or out and in pretty small containers.  We also have a yellow bell pepper growing. 

After a little research, though, I found there are all kinds of edible plants that you can use in a container garden.  I've compiled a quick list in case you are looking for some ideas. 



Fruits & Vegetables:

Watermelon (golden midget-I had to look twice at that one too)
Meyer Lemons
Peppers- all kinds, hot and sweet
Squash- like acorn or summer
Swiss Chard
Sugar snap Peas

*These are fruit trees and will take a little bit more work.

Each plant has its own requirements for sunlight and space.  For example, squash, cucumbers, and tomatoes should be planted one plant per container and the container needs to be at least 16-18 inches deep.  Also, some of them, like peppers, grow vines that will require a trellis or climbing poles.

Make sure you read about them in advance before you buy your seeds or plants.  Happy Planting!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Container Gardening: Things to Consider When Planning

As I've blogged about before, we live in a 2 bedroom apartment in a high rise a few miles from the downtown area.  Our balcony is about 15 square feet and we do not have any dedicated green space so container gardening is really the only option for us.  Since this is the first time that I've made my own garden, I had to do a little bit of research first at our local hardware store.

I found out there are some things to consider when planning your garden, and honestly, you really do need to plan when you're working with such a limited space.

The first question is self-explanatory, but try to take advantage of vertical space as well.  I'll blog about some of those ideas soon.  The second will affect the types of plants you can get.  For the third, consider whether you are wanting something beautiful to look at or whether you want to actually use what you grow in the kitchen.

Now for us, we knew our 15 square foot balcony got about 5-6 hours of direct sunlight and, outside of a rare storm, it's not particularly windy.  Since the balcony is right off of the living room, we knew we wanted a mix of flowers and edible plants.  More specifically, we use a lot of herbs when cooking so that would be the bulk of our edible plants.  

As for the 4th question, the answer is not much.  The pots and planters I got (which I blogged about here) were going to take up most of the space.  We also decided to use on the balcony some old tables that we had sitting around so we could take advantage of some vertical space.  This left about just enough room for the two of us and maybe one or two more to stand and enjoy the view. 

As with a lot of our projects, this meant I had to find a place to do it first!  For us, the most logical place was our bathtub. Here's a look of our controlled chaos:

Yes, that is my soap and my brush.  When you live in a small space, you do what you gotta do!

Once you know have a good idea of what you want and what you need, you can gather your supplies and get started!  I'll be back with more tips for container gardening soon.