Wellness Wednesday - Cutting the Cord

Today's post is about why Whitney and I stopped subscribing to cable TV and how it has affected (this being Wednesday and all) our wellness. Two years ago is when we originally canceled cable and we haven't looked back!

Why we canceled cable

We had long been dissatisfied with several aspects of our cable service and the value we were getting for our money, but when our promotional rate ended, it pushed us over the edge to finally cut the cord. Now I'm fully aware that cable companies pretty much play a game of "name your price" based on how much effort you're willing to put in to manipulating various retention representatives (so I could have gotten my rate reduced back), but this absurd pricing scheme that rewards confrontational customers and punishes non-complainers with constantly rising rates is one of the major reasons I wanted to cancel cable.

Another major reason for canceling was the availability of a superior alternative for our purposes - over-the-air TV! I know for many sports fans the lack of ESPN and other cable sports channels makes this a non-starter, but lucky for us this is mostly just an issue during college basketball season. Most of the programs we were watching were on over-the-air channels, with the main exceptions being a handful of HGTV and Comedy Central shows. We figured we could just watch them online, but ultimately we never did and only missed them a little bit.

Why was over-the-air TV superior for us? The DVR that we were renting from the cable company was terrible - it was super old and slow to respond, it had a small hard drive forcing us to delete recorded shows regularly, and it was even prone to overheating (despite ample ventilation) which would mess up our recorded shows. By connecting an antenna and TV tuner to our computer, we're able to use Windows Media Center as our DVR and record shows on our large computer hard drive, which is a much better overall experience. Another issue I had with cable was the inferior picture quality compared to broadcast; with our cable service I could usually spot compression artifacts (pixelated "jaggies") around overlaid text or graphics, but I haven't had this issue with broadcast. Lastly, over-the-air TV is free!

Our recently installed attic antenna. Our house is at a lower elevation
than our last place so the rabbit ears couldn't get all the channels simultaneously.

Now that I've covered our reasons for canceling cable, here are Whitney's thoughts on how it affected our wellness.

How it influenced our lifestyle

After we canceled cable we added Netflix to fill the void we imagined would result. We picked up and watched a few series this way (Breaking Bad and Mad Men to name a few) but have found that we're not really logging into Netflix anymore. We are, however, big House of Cards fans. Once cable was canceled and the plethora of channels wasn't available at the push of a button we slowly changed our watching habits. We began watching something on DVR or pulling up Netflix for a specific show. Gone are the days of channel surfing. If we're watching TV then you can bet it's something that we pointedly chose to watch. It's been two years since cable was canceled and we're learning that life still goes on even if we're not tuning into the the predictable House Hunters. We've also been watching less and less TV. A few of the shows we were watching ended their series and we didn't replace them with new shows. So what do we do in the evening?!

  • Watch just one show on the DVR (before we might end up watching 2 or 3 shows a night)
  • Go to bed earlier and get a better night's sleep (before after we'd watch 2 or 3 shows we usually just stayed up for 11pm news)
  • Play a game
  • Read a book (Patrick is currently going through Game of Thrones)
  • Play with the cats!
  • Or ... have a conversation with each other!

Don't think we're against TV - we've just learned not to revolve our evenings around it. We still enjoy trashy reality TV - you can bet we tune in to everything Bachelor - and if it's on ABC chances are we watch it. Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder are our favorites.

The wellness aspect really comes in when you examine what we've replaced the television with. So many people I talk with who have also "cut the cord" are exclusively referring to cable. They're still watching TV just through other means. And Patrick and I probably thought we would too but we're realizing we're enjoying not being tied to watching TV every night. Reading is improving our intellectual wellness and eight hours of quality sleep is improving our physical wellness.

Concluding thoughts

As Whitney indicated, we're not trying to smugly one-up the other cord-cutters by cutting TV altogether. In fact I think a big reason we watch less TV is our house layout; we can't see the TV from the kitchen and it's not on when we're dining, so it can't be the default or background for us, and we have to make a point of watching something. It's been fascinating watching the popularity of cord-cutting rise, and hopefully it leads to more consumer-friendly options for TV in the future.

Canning!

I have a new favorite pastime - it's canning! Canning quickly became one of my new favorite things to do. It's so rewarding to spend time in the kitchen and leave with such a big accomplishment that isn't immediately consumed. So far I have just been water bath canning which is for acidic produce; this means I've been canning tomatoes and fruits. Less acidic produce like vegetables require pressure canning which processes the jars at a higher temperature than water bath canning. Water bath canning is basically a large pot; the jars must be fully submerged in water in the water bath canner.

Over the summer I visited my dad at his house and he pulled out a water bath canner and pressure canner from his barn that had been in the family. Now with renewed interest in canning and the official canning pots I set off on my canning adventure!

It all started with this jar of tomatoes:



At the Lee County Cooperative Extension Center I took two canning classes - 1) an introduction to canning and 2) canning tomatoes. For the canning tomatoes class everyone brought in tomatoes and they were processed from start to finish during the class. The picture above is the quart of tomatoes that I canned that night. This hands-on class answered all of the questions that I had after doing lots of googling and Internet research. Sometimes you just need to see something to understand how to do it!

Then over the next month or two this happened...


So much fun! Unfortunately I was really getting into canning at the end of bountiful summer production. I can't wait for next summer! I also can't wait for some fall canning. Last week I canned 14 pints of applesauce and 8 pints of dilly beans - they'll be on the blog soon! I think I'll feature a fall canning post because I also want to some pickled beets. Here's a breakdown of the jars and links to the recipes, most of which have already been featured on the blog. Zesty Salsa is a new feature and the recipe is below!

5 half pints of
Peach Rum Sauce


10 half pints of




13 half pints of
Zesty Salsa


Zesty Salsa from Ball Fresh Preserving
Ingredients
   For Half Recipe (full recipe can be found at the hyperlinked title)
5 cups chopped cored peeled tomatoes (about 13 medium)
2-1/2 cups chopped seeded green bell peppers (about 2 large)
2-1/2 cups chopped onions (about 3 to 4 medium)
1-1/4 cups chopped seeded chili peppers, such as hot banana, Hungarian wax, serrano or jalapeño (about 7 medium) I used jalapeno
3/4 cup cider vinegar
1 to 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 Tbsp finely chopped cilantro
1-1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp hot pepper sauce, optional I did not use this
3 Ball® (16 oz) pint or 6 (8 oz) half pint glass preserving jars with lids and bands
   I processed in half pint jars

Directions
   Prepare boiling water canner. Heat jars in simmering water until ready for use. Do not boil.  Wash lids in warm soapy water and set bands aside.
   Combine tomatoes, green peppers, onions, chili peppers, vinegar, garlic, cilantro, salt and hot pepper sauce, if using, in a large stainless steel saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and boil gently, stirring frequently, until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes.
   Ladle hot salsa into hot jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace, if necessary, by adding hot salsa. Wipe rim. Center lid on jar. Apply band until fit is fingertip tight.
   Process both pint and half pint jars in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes, adjusting for altitude. Remove jars and cool. Check lids for seal after 24 hours. Lid should not flex up and down when center is pressed.

It's Always Caturday
Naps, naps, and more naps

Meal Plan Monday Post

Happy Monday! I can't believe that October will be here by the end of the week. We have had a very productive September. Without any trips this month we were able to take full advantage of weekends at the house and complete lots of house projects. We installed a rain barrel, finished our compost bins, aerated the lawn and spread grass seed, installed an attic antenna, cleaned out the garage and installed storage shelves, raised our table legs on the dining room table, glued back together a broken recipe box, dug a drainage ditch in the backyard, and started painting our kitchen table and chairs. Never has more gotten down in the house in such a short time span! And all the while we were cooking in the kitchen. Here's what went down last week:

Meal Plan for Monday September 21 - Sunday September 27

Monday - Orecchiette with roma beans
Tuesday - Separate
Wednesday - Salmon cakes, okra, steamed cabbage
Thursday - Quinoa with roasted eggplant salad and vinaigrette
Friday - Pork chops with balsamic-rosemary marinade, green beans, arugula
Saturday - Breakfast Oatmeal with apples and cranberries
   Lunch Macaroni and cheese
   Dinner Orzo with ground pork and eggplant, fresh tomato sauce
Sunday - Brunch Bacon, eggs, and grits
   Dinner Leftovers

 It's Always Caturday
Dupree napping in the game box top

Caprese sandwich and wilted spinach-squash side

Patrick requested caprese melts the other weekend. Sometimes I'll ask him for meal plan requests and he pulls out the strangest requests but I'm always happy to oblige him! This is a good example of that as I'm not sure we've ever done caprese melts before! Oh! And now I remember what else was so strange about this request ... we have a white board on the refrigerator where I'll write the weekly meal plan so when it was a blank slate I asked him to put in something he would like. I turn back around and see that he's written caprese melts with roasted red pepper and garlic aioli. Silly Patrick, does he think I'm running a gourmet cafe in our kitchen?! I knew caprese melts were definitely do-able but if he wanted garlic aioli he would have to tackle that.


This caprese melt is more of a throw together. I originally thought I'd make it into a panini but then we were making this on a Sunday evening after his orchestra rehearsal and I was too tired for all that fancy stuff. So the mozzarella was toasted on the baguette and then basil, balsamic vinegar, and tomatoes were added to the baguette!

Served with a side of steamed squash and wilted spinach.

Grilled shrimp and squash with green beans

This dish completely blew our taste buds out of the water! It surpassed all expectations for deliciousness. I chose this recipe out of our Weeknight Fresh & Fast cookbook (one of my favorites, by the way) because it seemed like a clean, simple dish that utilized fresh veggies and a seafood protein. The Dijon vinaigrette is wonderful, ties the whole dish together and makes it a show stopper.

The original recipe is just the shrimp and squash. I was planning to serve the green beans as a side but as I was finishing the shrimp and summer squash I decided to toss everything together for a one-dish meal!


Grilled Shrimp and Summer Squash with Green Beans inspiration from Williams-Sonoma Weeknight Fresh & Fast
   Serves 4 | Time 45 minutes
Ingredients
2 tsp Dijon mustard  
Grated zest of 1 lemon 
2 tbsp . fresh lemon juice  
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing 
1 small serrano chili, seeded and minced or jalapeno
1 tsp minced fresh marjoram we subbed oregano
1 tbsp minced fresh basil 
salt and pepper, to taste 
1 1/4 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined with tails intact 
8 summer squash, cut lengthwise into 3 pieces each 

Directions
   Soak bamboo skewers in water to cover for 30 minutes if using a gril. Prepare a medium-hot fire in a grill. We used our grill pan.
   Put the mustard in a small bowl. Add the lemon zest and lemon juice and mix well. Gradually whisk in the 1/3 cup olive oil, then mix in the pepper, marjoram and basil. I used a small food processor. Season the sauce with salt and pepper. Set aside. 
   Drain the skewers. Thread about 4 of the shrimp on a skewer and then thread a second skewer through the shrimp, parallel to the first, to prevent the shrimp from spinning around on the skewers. Repeat with the remaining shrimp. Place the squash and shrimp on a large baking sheet. Brush the shrimp and squash with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. 
   Arrange the squash on the grill, cover the grill and cook, turning once, until tender and lightly charred, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate. Place the shrimp on the grill and cook, uncovered, turning once, until just cooked through, about 4 minutes per side. Remove the shrimp from the skewers and cut the squash crosswise. 
   Meanwhile prepare a medium pot with boiling water and a steamer basket. Steam green beans until crisp-tender and bright green, about 8 minutes.
   Transfer the shrimp and squash and green beans to a bowl and toss with the lemon-herb sauce. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately. 

Wellness Wednesday - House Cleaning Schedule

Happy Wellness Wednesday! Today's post is venturing out into the environment and not so much our individual efforts towards achieving personal wellness like our past Wellness Wednesday posts have focused on. The environment I'm talking about is our home. In my mind the home is the base of wellness. If our home takes away from our wellness then all of our wellness efforts are in vain.

Today I'm sharing our housecleaning schedule! In a few weeks I've got a Wellness Wednesday post that will focus on what I'm housecleaning with.

Before I dive into the details of our housecleaning schedule I'd like to say that a housecleaning schedule (and one that I'm sticking to) is a new concept to me. As in my mom's jaw is probably dropping that this is the case. She was no clean house fanatic but I did grow up seeing her clean the bathrooms, vacuuming, and dusting somewhat regularly. It's been nearly ten years since I left home and have been living on my own - in college dorms, renting with friends, and now living with my husband in our own home! There was such a big transition from renting to owning to me. I have a stronger desire to keep my own home clean and decluttered versus the transient lifestyle of renting and moving every year or two. During those times I certainly wasn't keeping a dirty house but I just cleaned more when I noticed something needed it or company was coming.

With a routine housecleaning schedule I no longer worry about whole house cleaning binges because someone is coming over. I can confidently count on the house being clean, and with the exception of tidying a few areas like the kitchen table, couch, and coffee table, I can count on the house always being presentable. Some of this is due to tidying up after reading Marie Kondo's the life changing magic of tidying up book and then the rest is due to a routine housecleaning schedule! I'm also learning that by sticking to the schedule cleaning regularly has become maintenance. Regularly cleaning is less time consuming since it doesn't get too dirty. Wondering what exactly the schedule is?! Here it is...


And this is how we keep a clean house! I've broken down the weekly tasks to one a weekday which really makes things possible. The bi-weekly tasks are alternated each week and the monthly tasks are divided between the beginning and end of the month. I set up a google calendar just for cleaning and hide it from view. Each task is set with an email reminder and I can't delete it out of my inbox until it's done!

Even though I complete most of the cleaning tasks Patrick is always up for some cleaning if I ask him. Patrick pulls his fair share of housekeeping throughout the week by cleaning the kitty litter box every night. He apparently thinks that I don't do a good enough job cleaning out the box and he's got the only capable hands of perfectly scooping the poop.

Ever since I started this schedule I've really seen the benefits of a clean, decluttered house. I love having clean countertops and a neat living room. This makes the cleaning effort all worth it.

Cheers to home wellness!

Bread diary - Banana bread

This banana bread is my new go-to banana bread recipe! I've dabbled with a few banana muffin recipes before (see here and here) but this blew them out of the water. This banana bread is really tasty and if you eat it right out of the oven then there might not be any for later.

The first time we made the recipe I baked them in silicone mini loaf pans. But the cats have since gnawed on the silicone mold and I'm back to using aluminum pans. I knew making two large loaves would be too much for us so I decided to slice all the loaves up and freeze them in individual slices. Now we'll have yummy banana bread for breakfasts when we need something quick!

Recipe may be doubled for two loaves!
Banana Bread inspiration from Cook's Illustrated New Best Recipe

Ingredients
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups pecans, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 tsp baking soda
3 very ripe bananas, mashed well (~1 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup plain yogurt
2 large eggs, beaten lightly
6 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp vanilla

Directions
   Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and preheat the oven to 350F. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9x5 loaf pan; dust with flour and tap out the excess.
   Whisk the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and pecans together in a large bowl; set aside.
   Mix the mashed bananas, yogurt, eggs, butter, and vanilla with a wooden spoon in a medium bowl. Lightly fold the banana mixture into the dry ingredients until just combined and the batter looks thick and chunky. Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan.
   Bake until the loaf is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack.

Breakfast of champions - banana bread, eggs and bacon, strawberries
Served to Patrick before his road trip to a bachelor weekend

It's Always Caturday
Dupree taking over Patrick's side of the bed

Meal Plan Monday Post

Here we are with another Meal Plan Monday! We are enjoying fresh produce from our CSA and still getting the end of summer produce with all of this unseasonably warm weather. Green beans, tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers were all in our box last week. We cooked a few new recipes (shrimp fried rice and the slaw) and had quite a few of our favorites in the mix this week (crockpot BBQ chicken and fake bake). Also notable - the green bean and cherry tomato salad was a new recipe at the beginning of the summer and we've now made it three times! It's fresh, crisp, and bursting with flavor.

Meal Plan for Monday September 14 - Sunday September 20

Monday - Shrimp fried rice
Tuesday - Steak, green bean-cherry tomato salad
Wednesday - Crockpot BBQ chicken, squash, slaw
Thursday - Seperate
Friday - Dinner Club @ Fullsteam Brewery with the Chirba Chirba Dumpling Truck
Saturday - Breakfast from the pantry
   Lunch Pizza and kale salad
   Dinner Fake bake
Sunday - Brunch Whole wheat waffles
   Lunch Kale chef's salad [with avocado, turkey, cucumber, tomato, cheese, and green onions]
   Dinner Tomato pie

It's Always Caturday
The boys reading the Sunday paper with us

Living & Dining room furniture

At the beginning of the summer Patrick and I checked off living in our new home for one year! How quickly time flies! When we moved into the house the upstairs bedrooms were quickly filled with existing furniture pieces and a few pieces that we picked up shortly after moving in. As a reminder here's a look at the bedrooms.

The downstairs left a little to be desired however. We were still rocking everything from Patrick's bachelor pad and you could tell. We had a Walmart table in the dining room and dark leather sofas in the living room. After the holidays and throughout the spring season we worked to update the two spaces (dining room and living room) to really make it our own and how we envisioned our home.

As we were making decisions on what to put into our home it was really important to us that the pieces were "live-able" (and cat-friendly). We didn't want to ever be stressed about messing up the furniture and we wanted to make sure that they could hold up to daily use. So we selected furniture pieces that were durable or not super expensive in case they would need to be replaced because we lived and enjoyed the furniture!

Without further ado enjoy our reveal! Up first is the living room and then below is the dining room! Dupree makes an appearance too so be on the lookout for him. Cats never do what you want them to!



Updates
Sofa - Dark leather sofa replaced with khaki sectional
Coffee table / ottoman - Wooden coffee table replaced with ottoman to match the sectional
Rug - Striped 4x6 neutral rug replaced with 8x10 jute rug



Updates
Table - Farmhouse style table replaced with custom pedestal base table with extension leaves
Chairs - Coordinating farmhouse chairs replaced with khaki upholstered chairs
Rug - No rug before! Added a fun navy floral print rug
Chandelier - Lights facing down with frosted glass shades replaced with candlelights facing up 
Buffet - Added a buffet


Here are a few more snapshots of the dining room furniture. We worked with Under The Table, a Wake Forest, NC based company that specialized in making custom furniture from local wood. I had a very specific idea of what I was looking for in a table. I wanted to be able to seat 8 at a square table (2 people on each side) so that when we had dinner parties couples can sit next to each other! Well Patrick convinced me that our dining room wouldn't accommodate a square table so I settled for 50"x60". The width is slightly longer than average and can easily sit two on the shorter ends. We also have two 10" extension leaves for the table so that the table can seat up to 10! We opted for a pedestal base to give it even more flair. Needless to say I am in love with the table! Under The Table also offers coordinating pieces and we chose to get a buffet as well. This room desperately needed some storage. We purchased a corner China cabinet when we moved into the house but it had limited storage space. This buffet allows us to store everything in it that a dining room should have in it.

And remember how I said custom? Below is my rendering for my ideal buffet. Good thing they made it to my measurements and not my drawing!


We are loving our new finished living spaces. The furniture pieces add style and functionality to our space. Patrick jokes that the cats use the sectional more than he does! This living and dining room redo happened at our pace and we weren't rushed throughout the process. Next up is a bit of color on the walls!

Pumpkin ravioli

Patrick and I fixed up this simple pumpkin ravioli a few weeks ago. Even though it's September and all things are officially now pumpkin this ravioli was made with a bag of frozen pumpkin. I thought it would be best to work on using up things in our freezer before they would get replenished. We don't use a whole lot of pumpkin but I do really enjoy breaking down the pie pumpkins in the fall, roasting them, and then pureeing them to have on hand for pumpkin things. And this pumpkin ravioli is a pumpkin thing!

We whipped up this ravioli with pantry things on hand and it turned out really well (which means we didn't have any ricotta and needed to find good substitutions)! Read on to see what we did.


Pumpkin Ravioli
   To make the pumpkin filling combine 2 cups plain pumpkin puree with 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese, 1/4 cup breadcrumbs, 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, and salt and pepper to taste. 
   Meanwhile prepare pasta dough (2 eggs combined with 200 grams flour in the food processor) and roll through a pasta press. Using a ravioli maker lay out the pasta and fill with pumpkin filling. Top with another pasta sheet and press out of the ravioli molds. 
   Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook ravioli until it floats (just a few minutes). 
   Serve the pumpkin ravioli with arugula. Top with Parmesan cheese and a good balsamic vinegar. 

It's Always Caturday
Nacho wanted to help pick out a new recipe to try from the cookbooks



Grilled Japanese eggplant with ricotta

I haven't been watching as much TV lately and that includes daytime television and The Chew. Patrick and I have been staying busy around the house and checking things off the to-do list plus we're realizing there's just so many other fun things to do besides watching TV like reading books! Well the DVR has still been recording The Chew which is one of my favorite shows. So the other afternoon I sat down in an effort to buzz through some of the 30+ episodes that had been recorded. And boy am I glad I did! This Japanese eggplant dish jumped out at me and I knew I wanted to try it immediately. Off I ventured to the farmers market and found these beautiful eggplants.


Also purchased at the market were fresh tomatoes and an onion for the sauce and a bunch of fresh basil for the dish. This dish comes together remarkably fast. The tomato sauce doesn't simmer a long time and the eggplants take no time to grill. I served this dish with a whole wheat pasta so it would make a filling entree for us. I definitely plan to make again!


Grilled Japanese Eggplant with Fresh Tomato Sauce from ABC's The Chew & Clinton Kelly
   Serves 4-6 | Time 30-45 minutes
Ingredients
  For the grilled eggplant
3 Japanese eggplants, sliced in half lengthwise
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
   For the fresh tomato sauce
1 small yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
4-5 medium- large farm fresh tomatoes, chopped
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
kosher and freshly ground black pepper
   To Serve
1 cup fresh cow's milk ricotta
freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 bunch fresh basil
1 lb pasta of your choice (we used whole wheat rotini)

Directions
   Preheat grill or grill-pan to medium-high heat.
   Season eggplant with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Place eggplant on grill and cook for 10-15 minutes, until the exterior is charred and the interior is cooked through.
   In a medium sauce pot over medium heat, add olive oil, onion and garlic. Cook until fragrant. Add the fresh tomatoes, simmer for 20 minutes, until the flesh breaks down, season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat. Sauce can be made ahead of time and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. When ready to serve, heat in a small saucepan over medium heat.
   Meanwhile boil water and cook pasta according to package directions.
   Serve the grilled eggplant halves along with tomato sauce and pasta. Top with a generous dollop of ricotta, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, and torn basil.

Peach Rum Sauce

Here today with another canning recipe! While I was browsing the Ball Fresh Preserving website for recipes this Peach Rum Sauce immediately caught my eye. I don't think I even read through the recipe before deciding to make it. Who wouldn't want a Peach Rum Sauce?! The recipe calls for the sauce to be processed in half pint jars which I think is the perfect amount. We were able to use it up in about three desserts - one with ice cream, another with pound cake, and then finally a mini cheesecake [pictured below]. The sauce is definitely sweet so it's a good thing to splurge on.


Peach Rum Sauce from Ball Recipes
Ingredients
6 cups chopped pitted peeled peaches, treated to prevent browning and drained
2 cups lightly packed brown sugar
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup rum
1 tsp grated lemon zest
7 half pint glass preserving jars with lids and bands 

Directions
   Prepare boiling water canner. Heat jars in simmering water until ready for use. Do not boil.  Wash lids in warm soapy water and set bands aside.
   Combine peaches, brown sugar, granulated sugar, rum and lemon zest in a large stainless steel saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly, until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat and boil gently, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 20 minutes.
   Ladle hot sauce into hot jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and re-measure headspace. If needed, add more sauce to meet recommended headspace. Wipe rim. Center lid on jar. Apply band and adjust until fit is fingertip tight.
   Process filled jars in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude. Remove jars and cool. Check lids for seal after 24 hours. Lid should not flex up and down when center is pressed.

Meal Plan Monday Post

September is rolling right along! We're having a very relaxed September - no travel plans and all our weekends at home to do as we please. We're taking advantage of these weekends at home and doing a lot around the house. This past weekend was working on the lawn. We mowed, aerated, and seeded the lawn. Hopefully we'll have some pretty new grass soon! Despite no travel plans we are keeping ourselves busy with fun local events. Last Thursday we went to an outdoor concert at the American Tobacco Campus, spent Saturday at the UNC football game, and then went to the 1 year anniversary party at The Glass Jug Craft Beer Store on Sunday afternoon! And here's the meal plan. I'm doing my best to keep cooking and having some splurges at these local affairs.

Meal Plan for Monday September 7 - Sunday September 13

Monday [Labor Day] - Brunch Tomato ricotta tarts
   Dinner Quesadilla leftovers from Sunday and homemade apple pie and ice cream for dessert
Tuesday Almond crusted chicken, fried okra, and spinach salad
Wednesday - Everything but the kitchen sink pasta... using up all the veggies in the fridge for this throw together pasta dish!
Pasta with red peppers, onions, roma beans, cherry tomatoes, and leftover almond crusted chicken
Thursday - Picnic at an outdoor concert: pimento cheese sandwiches, grapes, broccoli salad, blonde brownies

Friday - Pork tenderloin, sauteed apples, spinach salad
Saturday - Breakfast Hash brown frittata and pear
   Lunch leftovers
   Saturday dinner at the UNC football game
Sunday - Brunch hosted some Junior League ladies for a potluck brunch
   Lunch BBQ sandwiches at the Glass Jug 1-year anniversary party
   Dinner pimento cheese sandwiches and a plum

Happy Monday and happy meal planning!

Deconstructed sushi California roll

This deconstructed sushi bowl is my answer to Nacho Night! Nacho Night is a simple one-bowl dish with rice, black beans, cheese, salsa, sour cream, and avocado served with chips. Nacho Night morphed from taco night when we realized we just liked the taco fillings and chips. I love that Nacho Night is so quick and easy. It's one of our go-to meals for a weeknight.

Then I thought it would be fun to figure out an Asian Night. One day I saw the imitation crab meat hanging out in the freezer and a deconstructed sushi bowl just kind of came to me. This deconstructed sushi bowl gets its ingredients from the California Roll. Wikipedia describes a California Roll as "a kind of sushi roll, usually made inside-out, containing cucumber, crab meat or imitation crab, and avocado." Read on to see how we made it:


Deconstructed sushi California roll bowl
   Prepare 2 cups brown rice (we used boil in a bag) according to package directions. Meanwhile saute 1 8 oz package imitation flaked crab meat. Once rice is cooked and the crab meat has been warmed through, toss both together with 1 cubed avocado and 1 peeled and diced cucumber. Finish with soy sauce to taste.

It's Always Caturday
Dupree needed a tissue

Two year anniversary

Just last month we celebrated our two year anniversary! Our anniversary was on a Monday and I knew that I wanted us to have a quiet evening at home and enjoy dinner with our China and crystal. With that being said we still wanted to have a bit more pomp and circumstance for another year of marriage. We celebrated the week before at Revolution, a local fine dining restaurant in downtown Durham. Revolution was hosting a special Flavors of Tuscany dinner with wine pairing that seemed to be the perfect way for us to celebrate and it was!

After our wonderful Tuscan dinner at Revolution we enjoyed the rest of the week and came to the weekend. We put our marriage to the test as we refinished our back deck! On Saturday we stripped and cleaned the old wood then on Sunday we put two coats of stain on the deck. Lots of hard work but so worth it. And we make a good team - but no surprises there!

As I already mentioned I knew that on Monday we would want a quiet evening where we could relax and reminisce about our two years of marriage. I thought the perfect meal would be to take some pointers from our wedding reception remix dinner that I worked on for our first anniversary.

Our first course was a mixed greens salad with sweet tea vinaigrette.


Our entree was a lemon orzo stuffed chicken breast with peas, garlic green beans, and macaroni and cheese. 


And dessert was Daisy Cake cupcakes just like the wedding cake. We set the table with our Brocade China, Lismore Essence crystal, and sterling.


Cheers to two years and many, many happy years to come - I love you Patrick!

And here's the deck!

Portobello zucchini tacos

This portobello and zucchini taco filling is a healthy alternative to your typical taco fillings. Since we're subbing out the meat with these veggies this can be your next meatless Monday meal! I loved the flavor of the roasted veggies in the tacos. The roasted veggies give these tacos a different appeal than traditional meat and cheese tacos with taco seasoning. They are light and tasty - perfect meal for the ending of these warm months as everyone tries to savor daylight.

They come together pretty quickly too! While the veggies are roasting you can get everything else together - shredding the cheese and whatever side you want to pair with the taco. We served the tacos with a quinoa-rice blend topped with avocado, sour cream, and salsa to give the tacos their Mexican flair.


Martha Stewart's Portobello and zucchini tacos
   Serves 4

Ingredients
5 portobello mushrooms, stemmed and sliced 1/2 inch thick
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup water
salt and   pepper
4 zucchini, cut into 2-by-1/2-inch sticks
1 red onion, halved and sliced 1/4 inch thick
8 corn tortillas (4 1/2-inch size) [we subbed whole wheat tortillas]
6 ounces Monterey Jack, shredded (1 1/2 cups)
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered

Directions
   Preheat oven to 425 degrees. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss mushrooms with 1 teaspoon oregano, 1 tablespoon olive oil, and the water; season with salt and pepper. On another baking sheet, toss zucchini and onion with remaining oregano and olive oil; season with salt and pepper.
   Roast, tossing occasionally, until vegetables are browned and fork-tender, 25 to 30 minutes (zucchini may cook faster than mushrooms).
   Using tongs, hold each tortilla directly over a gas flame, turning, until heated through, about 5 seconds. (Alternatively, wrap tortillas in parchment, then foil, and warm in a 350 degrees oven.)
   To serve, fill each tortilla with mushrooms, vegetable mixture, shredded cheese, and tomatoes.