Monday, January 31, 2011

Another Week, Another Muffin Recipe

We go through muffins in this house much more quickly than I'd like to admit.  I actually had to make these on Friday, which means our 2 1/2 dozen pumpkin muffins lasted. . . not long enough.  The first time I made these banana muffins was for a brunch I had for my parents and in-laws.  They were a big hit.  Here's the recipe:

Banana White Chocolate Muffins
1 3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup white chocolate chips
3 large ripe bananas
1/2 cup unsalted* butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs, slightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla

In large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and white chocolate chips.  In medium-sized bowl, mash the bananas (I like using a potato masher).  Add the melted butter, beaten eggs, and vanilla; combine.  Lightly fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, just until combined.  Don't overmix; this will cause the muffins to be stiff.  Spoon batter into greased muffin tins.  Bake 20-25 minutes at 350.  Place on wire rack to cool for 5 minutes before removing muffins from pan.  Makes 12-15 muffins.

*A note on butter:  in baking you should always use unsalted butter.  Regular butter contains salt, and since each brand and variety of butter contains a different amount of salt, it's easiest to just always use unsalted butter when baking.  Too much salt in a recipe can overpower delicate ingredients, like herbs or vanilla.  If all you have on hand is salted butter, you might want to decrease the amount of salt in your recipe by a little.  It's best to try a recipe with either salted or unsalted, and see what should be altered to your liking.

Enjoy baking!  And Happy Monday!

Source:  recipe adapted from Joy of Baking.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Saturday Afternoon

My nails are painted this cheery color
by essie

I'm drinking a delicious Java Chip Frappuccino with peppermint
love Starbucks

I'm reading this intense Chris Cleave book
from B&N

And sunshine is streaming through the window, falling perfectly on my back to warm me up and angled perfectly on my book so I don't need to turn on the light. I love Saturday afternoons.  What are your weekend plans?

Friday, January 28, 2011

In Search of: Black Clutch

In the next few months, I am in a bridesmaid in two weddings, each with a different short black dress.  So obviously I need the perfect clutch to go with both dresses.  The only formal clutch I have is pretty bling, and as I'm not trying to make a statement at either of these weddings, I'd prefer to find a more subtle black one.  When I was shopping in DC last week, I found a black clutch I liked in Nine West.  Since then I've been searching for The Perfect Black Clutch.  Here are some of the options so far:
Nine West

Jessica McClintock


Kate Spade

And then there's also this one and this one and dozens more.  What do you think?  Do you like any of these?  Or have you seen a different one that could be The Perfect Black Clutch for me?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Spot of Sunshine

I've been growing weary of winter and snow and cold weather and wind.  I just want to go lay on a beach and be warm and soak up some vitamin D!  So I decided today that I need to introduce some yellow into my life.  Yellow is such a happy color!  Research shows that when we see yellow, more serotonin (the feel-good chemical in your brain) is released, and who doesn't want to feel good?  Yellow also makes us feel more optimistic, speeds up our metabolism, and helps us to concentrate and be creative (hence the yellow legal pad)!  All wonderful reasons why we need splashes of yellow.  Here are some ideas to brighten up your home:
Cutting board from Crate & Barrel

A cute chair, from Etsy

Love this Marc by Marc Jacobs tote, at Bloomingdales

Pretty journal at Barnes & Noble

Everyone needs Hunter Rainboots!

Or if you need cheering up faster than standard 3-7 day shipping, have your husband grab four or five lemons at the store and throw them in a pretty apothecary jar to brighten up your bookshelf or kitchen counter, like I just did.  Please note that these are all relatively small yellow items.  Because yellow is the most difficult color for our eye to take in, an overdose of yellow causes irritability and frustration.  So don't go buy a yellow couch or paint your whole kitchen yellow or anything.  Just a touch of yellow here or there and it will cheer you up!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Matchbook Magazine


Back in November, Katie Armour announced that she and Jane Lilly Warren were launching an online magazine in a few months' time.  Matchbook, Field Guide to a Charmed Life came out late last night, and I just spent the last two hours poring over every word in the first issue--and I enjoyed every minute of it.  It's chock full of great interviews, fashion and beauty tips, adorable illustrations (by Katie Evans), and even a list of 50 classics you (or at least a Matchbook girl) should find in her closet.  I only have 18 of the 50, so I guess I have some work to do, but I do love this magazine.  It's witty, charming, and you should definitely check it out here.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Swimsuits! But in January?

Walk through stores, flip through catalogs, scroll through online stores and you will see swimsuits everywhere!  Swimsuits in January is like Christmas in July.  It's awkward sounding and just doesn't seem right.  I actually think bringing out a swim line in January is a big scam.  It's a ploy to get us to join gyms and go to tanning beds because the thought of parading around in a swimsuit in our pale, New Years-Resolution-to-lose-weight bodies is just plain frightening.  Well I am not going to fall for this trick.  I am remaining calm, continuing to boycott tanning beds (and the gym for that matter), and am only allowing myself the pleasure of looking at the swimsuits I want.  Not buying them.  I repeat, I am not buying any swimsuits.  Until at least April.  Here are some of my favorite pieces:

Yes, those are lobsters!  So fun from Anthropologie

Simple but cute, at Target

Check out these frills!  From Net-A-Porter

A one-piece I actually like! from J Crew

In case you're afraid of getting lost at the beach, from Jcrew
How will I ever choose?!  Ugh summer hurry up and get here so I can justify buying a new swimsuit!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Muffin + Coffee break

Today has been a busy but productive day.  I went grocery shopping, had a lot of patient charts to type, put dinner together and threw it in the Crockpot, and cleaned the whole house.  I even cleaned those annoying spots that I usually skip over - like underneath the toaster, the top of the DVD player, and the floor molding in the bathroom.  So I am finally now sitting down to my cup of coffee for the day.  We aren't eating dinner until 7 and my peanut butter and apple from lunch is struggling to keep me satisfied, so I decided to add a muffin to my cup of coffee.  One of the rules of our household is that we always have muffins on hand.  The muffins for this week are pumpkin chocolate chip.

Yes, we eat pumpkin muffins beyond Thanksgiving.  Some of you may remember the pumpkin shortage we experienced early last fall.  For all of you who don't believe it, yes, it really happened.  Stores were without canned pumpkin, so people reverted to selling their own canned pumpkin on eBay for $35.  It was a tough time.  So when I was finally able to find it back on the shelves, I went a little crazy and stocked up.  Three months later I'm trying to use it up to make room in my cabinets for other canned foods.  But no worries, because my mother-in-law's pumpkin chocolate chip muffin recipe is a favorite.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins
4 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 (15 oz) can pumpkin
1 cup oil
3 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

In large mixing bowl, beat eggs, sugar, pumpkin, and oil until smooth.  Combine dry ingredients; add to pumpkin mixture.  Mix well.  Fold in chocolate chips.  Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups 3/4 full.  Bake at 375 degrees for 21-29 minutes or until just starting to darken.  Cool briefly before removing from pain.  Makes 2 1/2 - 3 dozen.

Now a comment about the coffee I am drinking:  my friend Aimee gave us a bag of coffee for Christmas.  It's coffee from Gobena, a ministry that invests 100% of their net profits from coffee into the lives of orphan children around the world through charity programs, such as Lifesong.  Purchasing just one bag of coffee supports an orphan for an entire month.  It is good coffee, and it's such an easy way to feed an orphan in Ethiopia.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Decorative To-Do List

Yesterday in Real Simple I saw an idea for a decorative alternative to a dry erase board.  This is exactly what I need in the kitchen!  It's perfect to write down errands I need to run, things I run out of in the kitchen but never remember by the time I make a grocery list, and chores I need to finish around the house.  When we were out shopping last night, I picked up a simple black frame from Target and some pretty fabric from JoAnn's.  The result:

It has the functionality of a dry erase board without the tacky factor.  And I have enough fabric leftover that I will probably make another one to hang near my desk in the office.  The simplicity and practicality of it is what makes it so great.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Baked Rigatoni

Last night I created what might be my new favorite Italian dish.  It was super easy, and although it should have served at least four, Caleb ate half of it.  Here's the recipe:

Baked Rigatoni
12 ounces rigatoni
1 Tbsp olive oil
half of yellow onion, finely chopped
half of green pepper, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced (or 1 tsp of minced garlic from the fridge)
1 pound ground beef
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 (26 oz) jar spaghetti sauce (I used Ragu's tomato and mozzarella variety)
1/2 cup ricotta
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
2 cups grated mozzarella

Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Cook pasta according to package directions.  Drain and put noodles in large mixing bowl.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion, green pepper, and garlic, stirring occasionally until softened.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Add the beef, breaking it up with a wooden spoon and cooking until it's no longer pink.

Pour the spaghetti sauce and meat mixture into the bowl with the pasta.  Stir to coat the pasta.  Add the ricotta, 1 cup of the mozzarella, and 1/4 cup of the Parmesan.  Stir well to combine.  Pour into a 2 1/2 quart baking dish.  Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup of the Parmesan.  Top with remaining 1 cup of mozzarella.  Bake until hot throughout and the cheese is melted, about 12-15 minutes.  Enjoy!

The Day I Met the First Lady

A couple of summers ago, I studied abroad in China with the Critical Language Scholarship program, a program of the U.S. State Department, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.  As an alum of the China program, I was invited to an event Mrs. Obama was hosting this past Wednesday.  She was going to be speaking to a group at Howard University to support programs and funding for educational exchanges with China in particular, as Chinese President Hu was in the U.S. for an official state visit.

I really wanted to go to the event, so I invited my mom to go with me and we headed to D.C. on Tuesday.  Tuesday night we checked into our hotel, went out for dinner, and spent the evening shopping in a fun area downtown.  Wednesday morning I met up with the rest of the CLS group at Howard.  There was a large crowd of Howard students waiting to get in to the auditorium, and then there were several groups in addition to mine with the State Department.  We went through metal detectors, had our bags searched, and were wanded down at Security.  Once we got through security, a woman who works for the Office of the First Lady asked if our group wanted to sit on stage behind Mrs. Obama as she spoke.  Of course we agreed and began furiously texting our friends and family to let them know.

When we got on stage, I ended up in a seat at the very far right on the front row!  We sat up there for about an hour before the event started.  As it got closer to start time, more Secret Service began standing around the stage, by the doors, and even behind the curtains on the side of the stage - right next to us!  I felt so legit sitting up there on stage, waiting for Michelle Obama, surrounded by Secret Service who, by the way, looked exactly like they do in the movies:  huge, bald, wearing suits, speaking into the wrists, listening to their ear pieces.

photo from the White House Blog
Finally the event started.  The president of Howard spoke, then the Chinese ambassador's wife spoke, and then Mrs. Obama was introduced!  She came out on stage and all I could think was, wow she is tall!    She spoke supporting the President's 100,000 Strong Initiative and how all students in America should have the opportunity to study abroad.  I loved my experience studying abroad, so I totally agreed with her as she talked about howstudying abroad can have a huge impact on who you are a how you view the world.  (You can read her full speech here.)

After she spoke, there was a panel of students who briefly spoke about their experiences studying in China.  After the panel finished, Mrs. Obama came back up on stage, and walked straight over to me!  We shook hands, I told her it was an honor to meet her, she thanked me for being there and said it had been a great morning, and then she moved on.  What a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!  There was a live stream of the entire event, so here is the clip where I am talking to her!  I have such a goony smile on my face; I'm pretty sure I was thinking, I can't believe this is happening!  After Mrs. Obama left, CAORC took the CLS and Fullbright groups out to lunch at Bus Boys and Poets, where we talked about our different experiences in China.

The entire trip was great, from spending time hanging out with my mom to seeing some old friends to meeting the First Lady (!!!).  I am so thankful that I had this great opportunity, and it is certainly an experience I will never forget!

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Great Find

When I was shopping in DC earlier this week, I found the most perfect Christmas cards.  They're unique, beautiful, and have great details.  Plus, I got them for $3.98 a box instead of $13.99!  Sweet deal.  I realize I have my Christmas cards 11 months early, but these were too great to pass up.  I don't want to spoil it for those who will be receiving a Christmas card from us, but here's a close up shot of one of them.

I love the pops of color against all the black.  I love the double decker bus.  I love that Big Ben will be the cards we send out.  Did I mention that I love these cards?  They are made by Five Dollar Shake, a company in the UK.  All of their cards are made from renewable and sustainable forests, and they have everything from Valentine's Day cards to personalized wedding stationery.  I am a sucker for all things stationery, but the cards they make really are quite beautiful.  I think Papyrus is still my top choice for cards, but I may have found a close second!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

January is Red

Kate Spade is coming out with a different color collection for each month this year.  January is red, and the collection is to die for.  Here are some of my favorites:
Easy to find wallet in your purse.
Add flair to your finger. 
I'm in love with this trench.

There are great red finds
beyond Kate Spade, too.
This adorable purse at Nordstrom.

Cute rainboots by Banana Republic.

And this cardiganthis nail color, and this lipstick.  Or you can just fish through your wardrobe and pull out the reds you already have.

Monday, January 17, 2011

2010 in Review

January:  Traveled to New York City with my best friend to celebrate her 21st birthday.  We shopped, ate, went to the Met, and saw Chicago on Broadway.  Also celebrated the arrival of my third niece, Mallory Daire!

February:  Gave skiing a second try.  And for the second time, I did not enjoy it.  If you knew me, you would be impressed that I was outside all day in the snow, let alone with skis strapped to my feet.

March:  Got engaged to Caleb!  I was in love and ready to get married, and I finally had a diamond to prove it.

April:  In the throes of wedding planning.  Martha Stewart WeddingsBRIDES magazine, Michaels, and Starbucks each played a significant role in the planning process.  Oh and the matrons of honor and mother of the bride were a huge help as well.

May:  Went to the Florida Keys with my parents and Caleb.  Came home relaxed and tan.  Went to Boston to visit Caleb's brother and sister-in-law.  Saw some huge whales on our whale watching trip!

June:  Had our engagment photo session!  A bat also flew into Caleb's head one night at the end of the month.  Weirdest thing ever.

July:  Went to the beach with Caleb's family for a relaxing week.  Met some girlfriends in Baltimore for our first Jack Johnson concert!

August:  Last minute prep for the wedding.  Thought a lot about starting this new chapter in my life.

September:  Got married!  It was the perfect day.  I had the wedding of my dreams and went on a honeymoon with the man of my dreams.

October:  Settling into married life.  Visited the Biltmore in Asheville and left wishing I were Cornelia Vanderbilt.

November:  Experienced our first holiday as a married couple.  So very much to be thankful for!

December:  Our first Christmas.  Caleb learned how much I like gifts, both giving and receiving.  Our poor budget took the brunt of that.

In the midst of all this, I read 54 books.  Some favorites included Little BeeThe HelpThe Happiness ProjectThis Momentary Marriage, and Mini Shopaholic.  From the time we were married in September through the end of the year, I only repeated the same dinner twice.  I like to think of that as an accomplishment for this newly married cook.  A decade into the new millenium, and I like my life.