Plane Ticket In Hand! Hallelujah!

I'm going "HOME" this summer!!! Woo hoo!!! I cannot express just how excited I am to have a confirmed plane ticket with my name at the top (thankfully Eric has one too!!)...Destination: Europe - Hallelujah, rejoice!
What a fun activity to click "Redeem" on the delta website, effectively wiping out all the frequent fliers Eric and I have been carefully saving for over 3 years for this trip! Geez, it takes 60,000 miles a person now round-trip! That's 120,000 for both tickets!! And let me tell you...it is worth every mile to have that ticket...
Ah...now the planning starts...this week just got a little sweeter...ok a LOT sweeter... :)


Dinner with the Birthday Boy

So much has happened this week - I think I will need about 20 posts to catch up.

But here is my favorite thing that happened this week - I went to Chris' house and we made a birthday lasagna together for him and chocolate chip cookies!! It was so much fun, as usual, and I laughed my head off all evening. That newly 22-year old sure knows how to have a good time. :) He's so silly.... :)

Here, Chris is instructing us all on how to build a delicious lasagna. Word to the wise: go easy on the ricotta cheese. Apparently the quote-unquote "lasagna teacher" wasn't being very attentive or instructive and the ricotta had a hay day. But who doesn't love a little ricotta in their lives and on their hips?

The end result! Aaahhh....cheesy, tomato-y, noodles with garlicky French bread....hmm......this meal was all about rustic, tasty comfort food.

Chris, I have cherished all of the fun, discussions, activities, milestones, growing, etc! we have shared over our lifetime. Just think, we are just getting going - there is so much to experience left! I couldn't have survived childhood without you - we've been two peas in a pod. And I DEFINITELY could not have survived furlough or road trips across the US without you! :) I cannot express how deeply BLESSED I have been to live so close to you during your college years (at least undergrad)! Your passion and zeal for life is so inspiring. I love you!!

Also, if anyone is wondering - do not waste even $0.50 on "B'Loonies" - it is quite possibly the dumbest toy invented to man. Now, if you are buying it for a couple of good laughs or to substitute for 'flubber', then you came to the right place. If you don't have a clue of what I am talking about, just ask the man in the picture below....


Glorious Butternut Squash - 2 Ways

I love, love, LOVE butternut squash. love. Have I been vague? I love everything about it: price, color, nutrition, taste, consistency; it is a perfect food for me. I think you get it! Ok, so for dinner last night, I ate an entire beautiful winter squash by myself. 'While the cat's away, the mice will play' is sometimes how I feel in my kitchen. If my dearest husband isn't going to be present for a meal, I can get carried away with experimentation. :) In this case, it was to my advantage! I had quite a ball playing with ideas for this fantastic food item, which helps me keep my mind off the fact that my hunny isn't there to eat with me.

Roasted Butternut Squash - version #1: so easy and delicious

1 butternut squash
2 tsp olive oil (more depending on size of squash. I used a fairly small one)

Preheat your oven to 350-400 degrees. Cut top and bottom off the squash, then peel the skin off with a potato peeler (or paring knife if you trust yourself with that type of thing) until it is peeled all the way around. You want to really make sure you are at the flesh part, sometimes you have to make two rounds with the potato peeler. Then cut it in half length-wise and scoop out all the pulp and seeds. Once you have scraped all that out, cut into 1-inch cubes, trying to keep them all roughly the same size so they cook evenly.
Put all your cubes on a baking sheet (lined with foil for easy clean-up in my case) and drizzle with 2 tsp olive oil and a dash of salt/pepper. You could definitely play around with the spices used here, but I kept the flavor simple last night to focus on what the squash brings by itself. Toss the squash with tongs to make sure everything is lightly coated. Then bake in 350-400 degree oven for about 40-50 minutes, checking every 15 min or so to toss them around. The squash is done when it is tender and soft, usually slightly browned on a few edges.

Now, for Roasted Butternut Squash - version #2:

1 butternut squash
1 c. water
1/2 - 1 Tbsp butter (more or less depending on size of squash...this time, I used a medium size)
1/2 - 1 Tbsp maple syrup (REAL stuff, not pancake junk)

Preheat the oven to 350-400 degrees. Cut the squash length-wise and scoop out seeds/pulp (do not peel skin off this time!) Place face down on a baking sheet and add 1 c. water to the pan (that is basically just so it helps steam/tenderize the squash flesh). Bake for 40 min-1 hr until tender, usually the skin is cracked and beginning to brown. The scoop out all of the squash into a food processor (or blender) and add the butter & maple syrup. Whir away until the consistency is like velvet. It will already be mushy/puree-like when you take it out of its skin from roasting, but the processor/blender make it into magic so I really encourage this step. Pour into a bowl and enjoy (believe me, the enjoying part will be easy!)

Now, I loved both. A lot. And depending on the consumer, occasion, other menu items, etc, both cooking methods have their place. BUT, if I absolutely had to pick my favorite, it would be version #1.
I cannot wait to make both versions all fall/winter long. Also, I think version #2 would be great to use in all types of recipes as a puree....breads, muffins, mac n'cheese, pie, souffle, gosh, anything really!

Now, I did take a few pictures, but it was dark so the lighting was terrible and our blasted camera is just plain old poor quality. So! I have borrowed a few pics of exactly what it looked like so you could get an idea...

Version #1:
found at kalynskitchen.blogspot.com

Version #2
found at seattlefoodgeek.com


PERFECT afternoon pick-me-up

I have the sweetest husband. We had the best weekend together: we watched a movie in the middle of the afternoon, we picked out a pumpkin to carve together (we are doing 'Frankenstein'..scary, eh?), we went for a long walk on a beautiful fall afternoon, we threw a football for a while, it was just the epitome of a relaxing autumn weekend. Well today is a teacher's work day for Eric and he is busy writing comments all day. Yes, he actually has to write a unique comment about every single student he has, commenting on their progress so far in the semester...it takes him hours and hours. Anyway, this weekend, I told him about how I have been craving the pumpkin spice latte at starbucks. I hardly ever go to Starbucks (last time was in July), but I do love an occasional treat of coffee out... Now that Maria is back in FL, though, I don't have anyone to go with!

So today as I am sitting at the typewriter at work (I'll leave that for another post. typewriter? yes. my office is a bit behind the times... ok, decades), I hear a familiar voice and my handsome husband is walking into my office holding a scrumptious pumpkin spice latte just for me!! YUMMY! :)

That definitely made my day!! Such acts of love are welcome any time! :) Thanks Babe!!


Reflections this week

Ya'll, its been a long week. A REALLY long week. A co-worker was out sick. all. week. Talk about working on overdrive. I will say I had a little chuckle about my "late" night this week; I left after working a 9 hour day and thought, 'huh, so this is what it was like at PwC every day'. Then I literally laughed out loud. A 9 hour day? Who am I kidding - that was a easy-breezy, walk-in-the-PARK day at PwC! How the Lord has blessed me with a low-stress (aka NO stress), low-key job. Right now I would be going through Volvo's hard-close at PwC and this time last year, I worked 8:30 am-10 pm most days thru the month of October. That is not including the inventories I did at least two weekends (all day Sat affairs) and having to go into work at Volvo one weekend (ps - that is working 3 out of 4 weekends). You can imagine how much time that left for family, friends, church, and my husband for crying out loud! How overwhelmed I am with the blessing of leaving work at 2:30 pm every day one year later. My hours have been cut by at least 50% without any travel/weekend work required! Praise the Lord!
(Please don't think I am anti-PwC, I'm not! I learned more there than all my college years put together and made a few lasting friendships, as well as having a beloved brother still employed there. But I treasure dearly what I have now because of what my experiences were there)

It isn't just work that has made this week long - foster kitten urine/feces on our couch had a lot to do with it (I'll leave the details at that), working "extra" hours, it being rainy/drizzly today, and a very unpleasant headache that I can pin point stemming from a particular knot in my neck. But all in all, it was nice to have an epiphany moment that makes me so grateful for my life at this moment. There is no better time than now to experience a little gratitude for what I have.

Last night I made a big, hearty, manly steak sandwich for Eric for dinner. I have been making so much of what I love to eat lately: salad, lentils, beans, quinoa, butternut squash, veggies, aka fresh and healthy (can I squeeze cheezits in this food category? no?) He has been THE best support I could even imagine - faithfully eating (and seemingly) enjoying whatever I put before him. Having said that, there is nothing better than pleasing my man with food he likes and I could just tell he was getting antsy for a meal he recognized, especially after Wed's dinner. I made a delish mexican casserole that had "beef", corn, beans, rice, salsa, & tomatoes in it. The "beef" is in quotations, b/c it was actually scrumptious boca burger crumbles made entirely of soy. Seriously, though, you wouldn't know! You can't diss it, 'til you try it. Anyway, he cheerfully ate that unknowingly (I told him after...I'm so sneaky, bahahaha) and had the leftovers for lunch. So, back to the steak sandwich and gratitude and cat feces - I'm about to tie it all together. That's a sentence I never thought I'd say... So, Eric sits down to this juicy, saucy sandwich with a nice side of potatoes topped with cheese (could a man ask for more?) and was truly happy. It didn't matter what had happened at school that day or what he still had to do later that night. Dinner made everything good (example of 'ups'). Well little did we know that later that evening, the kitten would deposit a certain amount of diarrhea right on our couch cushion. *shudder* If you think reading/thinking about it's gross, think about having to clean it. I am entirely open to suggestion/past experience on this one! If you have no prior experience, take this moment to experience a little gratitude yourself!! Well Eric was not so happy about the discovery of such stinkiness. In fact, at that moment, the situation made everything bad (example of 'downs'). Life is so unexpected, isn't it though?

We all have ups and downs in our days, weeks, years of life. No way around it. So this week, the key for me has been focusing on the ups - the joys - what I have to be thankful for. If there was a list compiled of all such things, I can tell you what would be #1 on the list right now - that it is Friday today. Do I hear an amen?


Apple Orchards and Leaves

Yesterday I went walking/hiking through an apple orchard in the Brushy Mountains (isolated "spur" of the Blue Ridge Mountains) with my Mom/Dad, hubby, and my favorite little brother, Chris; the scenery was beautiful. I love the vibrant colors on all the autumn leaves and the views are always breathtaking and spectacular! We found some delicious orchard apples to take home and some spicy, sweet apple cider that I can not WAIT to enjoy heated up with a cinnamon stick on a not-so-distant cool evening. YUM!

One conversation my Mom, Eric, and I had while walking around the orchard was about our favorite months and I've decided that mine are October & November. I love the whole season of autumn; October is when we get to experience lots of pumpkins, apples, and when its finally cold enough to see your breath (at least in NC). I love November b/c it is still fall and has Thanksgiving in it. It really kicks off the whole holiday season and I absolutely love the holidays. I love being cozy, being with family, enjoying good food, listening to familiar songs, and celebrating traditions. ;) After all the fun we had yesterday, I'm ready to make a trip to the Brushy Mountains an annual tradition! Homemade apple crisp anyone? How about applesauce? Or apple muffins? Hmm...what else?


Body Sabotage

Ever wonder if your body is against you? Hmm, sounds crazy, but sometimes I do wonder... allow me to illustrate...

Yesterday morning I woke up and started about my morning routine as usual. I took my thyroid medicine (which is what I do the first second I wake up, b/c I have to wait 30 min-1 hr before food consumption, but still need breakfast in before arriving at work) and drank my full water bottle that I keep by my bed (I'm supposed to drink between 2-3 glasses of water with the medicine - kind-of demanding stuff, huh?). I then got up, went to the bathroom and debated whether to go back to bed to cuddle with Eric and snooze for a few or to just get up and finish getting ready. Well fully awake at this point, I decided to turn the alarm off and get up so I could have a few extra min to actually sit down to eat breakfast rather than grabbing on the go. As I reach down to turn my alarm off, I think to myself, 'you know? I never actually remember having heard it go off. I wonder if I'm up a few min early...' Yall, the clock read 4:07 am. FOUR-ZERO-SEVEN. ugh! Under my breath, I mutter, 'oh mi gosh.' and angrily laid back down. It took me a good 15 min to drift back off and when my alarm actually went off at 6:45 am, I can't say I was the happiest camper about the events that transpired 2 hours previously! So I head towards the bathroom to get the shower going and *S-M-U-S-H* My bare foot cuts right through a nice pile of cat throw-up. Same emotional reaction as previous misfortune, only this time stronger, "UGH. OH MI GOSH. GROSS!" as I hobble to grab a tissue to clean it off the floor and then straight into the shower to wash my foot off. Later, Eric saunters into the bathroom and says cheerfully, 'g'morning, sweetie. how'd you sleep?', I could have practically growled at him (not because it was his fault, I was just that cranky). Eric apparently had heard the cat hacking, whatever I stepped in, up earlier and figured he would clean it when he got up. Well when he saw nothing on the floor, he asked innocently, 'hon, did you already get the cat throw up in here?' and I exasperatedly answered, 'yes, my bare FOOT found that this morning, thank you very much!!' He only naturally laughed (b/c I won't lie when I say I've laughed at his occurrence of the same unfortunate event before) and apologized for my minor calamity. Sheesh, what a way to start the day. Did I mention I spilled coffee grounds all over my kitchen floor that morning (including into the cat's food and water bowls)? Good times.

Well this morning, my body was out to trick me again! I woke up sneezing (which happens during ragweed season sometimes). One, two, three, four, five sneezes without let up. I realize I am going to need to blow my nose (gosh, I'm sorry this post is so uninhibited!!) to stop whatever is causing all the sneezing. So I blow my nose and think, well now that I am partially awake, I might as well get up. Then I mentally wised up and was like, 'OH no, you don't! Not another 4 am wake up call! Get back to sleep before you think any more about it!!' and promptly, I did. I still don't know what time that was, but I will say I dreamt between then and my alarm so I am confident I won that tricky battle my body almost played over my mind.

Some days, I feel like I am on alert against myself and I am just suggesting that it's a weird concept.

^So, looking back, I just realized this isn't the first 'morning grumblings' post that I've written and I'm beginning to think I'm not a morning person...that or I tend to have a lot of drama early in my day? I'll have to think about that... perhaps an explanation as to why Eric sleeps late when he can? hah! He's just bypassing the morning phase... ;)^


Losing hair & a kitten

Well I had some good news and bad news this weekend. Which do you want first? Seems like everyone wants bad news first, so I will cry myself a river as I tell you that my baby girl foster kitty got adopted on Saturday. Oh, I was so sad dropping her off at the pet fair. I brought her two favorite toys with and told the rescue coordinator, 'Her favorite toys are in her carrier. Please send them with her to her new home if someone adopts her.' As I was saying this to her, I completely choked up, glanced once more at this sweet little roly-poly girl looking at me like, 'where are you going, mom? and why am I in this cage?' and had to rush out of there while tears are streaming down my face. Gosh, let's leave the details at that because I am not over her yet and my forehead is getting splotchy with tears close at bay thinking about it!

Ok, so the GOOD news is: I got a haircut! Meg and I finally had time in our schedules for coordinating appointments together at the training institute at Chapel Hill (which almost got cancelled by Aveda at the last minute - but no, no NO, you don't, sweet Meg took care of that for me!) ;) It had been almost 7 months since my last haircut and let me tell you! I was in dire need of help!! I am really happy with it; I love having a short do that is easy to fix and let's be honest, it's nice to just have a style going again! Let me assure you, after 7 months, my hair didn't know what was going on most days! :) I will post a pic soon. I don't really have a 'before' shot, because trust me when I say, I wouldn't ever want documented evidence of my hair looking like it did!

So that was my weekend. Oh, and I made some awesome cream-cheese banana muffins. I LOVE that muffins freeze so well! I now have banana muffins and bran muffins that will last months in the freezer that I can pull out any morning I am running behind to just pop in the microwave for 30-45 seconds and they are as warm and fresh as straight from the oven. Did ya'll know that already? What a great trick, huh? Especially when you are married to a certain math man who a) doesn't eat breakfast every day b) doesn't eat baked goods unless we are talking about cookies c) well aren't those both good enough reasons to not be able to bake/eat a whole batch of muffins by myself without waste? But the invention of the freezer has resolved my problem! Thank you Carl von Linde! Leave it to a German to fix my baking dilemmas....

PS You can find the recipe for the banana muffins I made by clicking the link below:(http://pinchmysalt.com/2008/10/03/banana-muffins-filled-with-cream-cheese-yes-we-can/)


Peanut Butter Balls ;)

These are so good. They are a blast to make, and easy!! AND, the best part is, I always have these ingredients in my kitchen on hand, so I can whip them up anytime! Now go home and make them this weekend! You won't be disappointed, I promise.

Ready for the recipe? This is a Betsy/Maria recipe - which means, there is a list of ingredients, but quantities are to be determined by the cook/baker (aka you!). I am listing what I think I used to make them last night ( I can't quite remember though).

Oatmeal Peanut-butter Balls

1 c. Old-fashioned rolled Oats
1/2 c. Natural, organic, raw Peanut-butter (I use crunchy for texture, but you can use smooth if you prefer. Also, you CAN use non-organic, regular peanut-butter, but for your health, go natural!)
1 Tbsp honey (This can be omitted or increased depending on personal preference)
semi-sweet, dark, or milk chocolate chips

I warm up the peanut butter and honey in a small dish in the microwave to help combine with the oats better. Are you ready for the instructions? Place in a bowl - combine all ingredients - roll into balls and place on wax paper. DONE! I told you it was easy!! now, plop one into your mouth - YUMMY! Crunchy, chewy, sweet, salty...does is get better than that?
The original recipe I used (thanks Joy!!) said to melt the chocolate chips, and coat the peanut butter ball rather than incorporating the chocolate as chunks in the balls. Either works - I just prefer to skip that step, because then you have to wait for them to cool, harden, etc.! We're just wasting precious time, people!! It is my excuse to be lazy and get to the eating part faster. Also, it allows for less chocolate if you happen to prefer that (which I do).
Here is a picture of what they will look like...these have a little higher ratio of peanut butter to oats. I will be honest, sometimes they are hard to get to stick together with the organic, natural pb. But again, it is worth it! Just squeeze them into balls with your palm...also, sometimes they don't come out perfect spheres (my math man informed me of the proper term), but who cares? They still taste great! And nutritionally offer fiber, folate, protein, need I go on??


Cinnamon Rolls and Cat Love

The recipe turned out GREAT - they were so delish. This is my love gift to all - sharing the magic! :)
4 large egg yolks, room temperature
1 large whole egg, room temperature
2 ounces sugar, approximately 1/4 cup
3 ounces unsalted butter, melted, approximately 6 tablespoons
6 ounces buttermilk, room temperature
20 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 cups, plus additional for dusting
1 package instant dry yeast, approximately 2 1/4 teaspoons
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
Cooking Spray

8 ounces light brown sugar, approximately 1 cup packed
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
Pinch salt
3/4-ounce unsalted butter, melted, approximately 1 1/2 tablespoons

2 1/2 ounces cream cheese, softened, approximately 1/4 cup
3 tablespoons milk
5 1/2 ounces powdered sugar, approximately 1 1/2 cups

For the dough: in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whisk the egg yolks, whole egg, sugar, butter, and buttermilk. Add approximately 2 cups of the flour along with the yeast and salt; whisk until moistened and combined. Remove the whisk attachment and replace with a dough hook. Add all but 3/4 cup of the remaining flour and knead on low speed for 5 minutes. Check the consistency of the dough, add more flour if necessary; the dough should feel soft and moist but not sticky. Knead on low speed 5 minutes more or until the dough clears the sides of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface; knead by hand about 30 seconds. Lightly oil a large bowl. Transfer the dough to the bowl, lightly oil the top of the dough, cover and let double in volume, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. (B: I placed in warm oven to encourage dough to rise! It worked beautifully!)
Combine the brown sugar, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl. Mix until well incorporated. Set aside until ready to use.
Butter a 9 by 13-inch glass baking dish. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Gently shape the dough into a rectangle with the long side nearest you. Roll into an 18 by 12-inch rectangle. Brush the dough with the 3/4-ounce of melted butter, leaving 1/2-inch border along the top edge. Sprinkle the filling mixture over the dough, leaving a 3/4-inch border along the top edge; gently press the filling into the dough. Beginning with the long edge nearest you, roll the dough into a tight cylinder. Firmly pinch the seam to seal and roll the cylinder seam side down. Very gently squeeze the cylinder to create even thickness. Using a serrated knife, slice the cylinder into 1 1/2-inch rolls; yielding 12 rolls. Arrange rolls cut side down in the baking dish; cover tightly with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator overnight or up to 16 hours.
Remove the rolls from the refrigerator and place in an oven that is turned off. Fill a shallow pan 2/3-full of boiling water and set on the rack below the rolls. Close the oven door and let the rolls rise until they look slightly puffy; approximately 30 minutes. Remove the rolls and the shallow pan of water from the oven. (B: Again, do the pan with boiling water thing, but if you put oven on warm or turn it to 200 degrees, then turn off and close the door, it really helps the rising process! Also, it took mine more like 45 min to look extra puffy)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
When the oven is ready, place the rolls on the middle rack and bake until golden brown, or until the internal temperature reaches 190 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer, approximately 30 minutes.
While the rolls are cooling slightly, make the icing by whisking the cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer until creamy. Add the milk and whisk until combined. Sift in the powdered sugar, and whisk until smooth. Spread over the rolls and serve immediately. (B: I took 'immediately' as a direct order. So should you! Trust me on that one...)

Hmm....look at that gooey goodness! Hey, where did that missing cinnamon roll go? *Lick, smack, gulp*

Moving on, I have some adorable pics I caught as my little rescue kitten was giving my own baby some love. Here they are, like twins, just watching the world go by...

(sorry about the dark lighting. I didn't have time to set it up b/c Marzell is pretty self-conscious about appearing to enjoy her company...) They were just chilling, checking out the birds and anything else that moves outside. Don't they look like little twins? She's the kid sister who holds her own around my boys. I love it. Have I already mentioned how desperately I want to keep this one??

Now if this next picture doesn't make your heart melt, I'm surprised we made it as friends!

After a long day's work of baking and being the cat photographer (not a very good one, at that!), my kitchen was as pooped as I was.

Just keeping it real.

Trivia - any one want to venture a guess at what the TV screen has playing on it? I know, it's blurry - I'm sorry! Sigh, I do love my "Friends" ;) (I do the quotes, so you don't think I'm a crazy person).