Monday, July 30, 2012

Bright Spark

I'm chopping up a pineapple to put on a homemade pizza for dinner and Steve walks into the kitchen and wraps his arms around me from behind.

Steve: "How do you do it?"
Me: "Do what?"
Steve: "Make my life so bright"

Marriage is happiness.

Image credit: Applemoon Photography

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Summer Plum Crostata

When my best Italian friend, Francesca, was here two years ago for an internship at my work, she made us a a sweet little summertime dessert called a crostata. Crostata's are traditional Italian dessert tarts that are filled with any jam or fruit you desire. One of the things I learned about Italy from Franci was that they use weights for measuring out amounts of ingredients rather than quantities like we do. Francesca's mother sent her family recipe all written out in grams, and Franci had to convert all of the weights to teaspoons and cups!

I was flipping through Food & Wine magazine earlier this month and came across a Summer Plum Crostata recipe! When I saw it, it brought back such fond memories of that summer with Franci and the delicious tart she made. It was also perfect timing because our plum tree was completely packed with plums and I needed a creative solution for using them up. So, I gave it a try!

Summer Plum Crostata
6 servings

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1/2 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick cold unsalted butter, cubed and chilled (this is important!)
  • 1/4 cup ice water
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
  • 1 pound firm-but-ripe plums, pitted and cut into eighths
  • 1 large egg yolk mixed with 1 tablespoon of water

In a food processor, add the 1 1/4 cups of flour, 2 tablespoons of sugar and the salt. Pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle on the ice water and pulse until the dough just barely comes together. (You don't have to use the entire 1/4 cup of ice water - just add until the dough comes together). Gather the dough and pat into a disk. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate until chilled, about 30 minutes. 

Preheat oven to 425 and position a rack in the lower third. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Working on a lightly floured surface, roll out the disk of dough to a 12-inch round and transfer to the baking sheet. Chill the dough until firm, 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine the remaining 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of sugar with the cornstarch, cinnamon, and orange zest. Add the plums and toss well. Let stand, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is mostly dissolved, about 15 minutes.

Arrange the fruit in the center of the dough, leaving a 1 1/2 inch border all around. Fold the edge of the dough up and over the plums. Brush the rim with the egg wash and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake the plum crostata for about 50 minutes, until the crust is golden and the fruit is tender and bubbling. Let the crostata cool on the baking sheet for 30 minutes, then cut into wedges and serve. 

The pastry disk can be refrigerated for up to 3 days if you want to make ahead.

I also made extra filling and put it into quart size freezer bags to use up all of our surplus plums!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Set in stone

The first tile came off the wall on January 14th. We've come a long way since then. Maybe a little slower than one would hope, but nevertheless we are making BIG progress on the bathroom! I am so proud of Steve for doing every little thing himself with zero experience, but lots of patience, love, and determination! If you are wondering why it has been 6 months, and all we have to show for it is a tub, well here is how it works in this household. Steve has to learn every step of the process from scratch. He researches by reading books and watching youtube, and then he researches some more. He spends countless hours at Home Depot carefully choosing the materials, then has to take back those materials because he bought the wrong ones, then he goes back to HD to buy new materials. All of this makes him want to read again, watch another video to make sure, measure, measure, measure, and then take a couple of days off to recuperate from all of that planning. So, basically each step is a two week long process. This is OK by me, because as long as I have a functioning shower and toilet, I am fine. 

Two weeks ago we spent the weekend finally installing the bathtub. I feel like I have mentioned that we were installing the bathtub months ago, but it has been a lovely fixture in our living room while he installed plumbing, the new valve, some 2 x 4's, followed by lots and lots and lots of leveling and measuring, and testing the placement of the tub. We literally carried that tub into the bathroom at least 100 times over the past two months. I even bought some new gloves just for this exercise. Apparently, you have to set the tub in concrete to make it secure in place. (Know how they always tell you to lay in the bathtub during a tornado? This is why!) So, it's a huge deal to make sure to get it right. Removing concrete is not something we wanted to do!

So, finally two weeks ago we (he) were ready! Here is a picture of the sub floor prep. Steve marked out where the concrete was supposed to go.

And here is where the pipe on the tub has to go into the pipe in the floor. I was in charge of getting the two to go together once we brought the tub in. And I did it!

We got one of those big plastic party drink tubs to mix the concrete in. Good idea, Steve.

I couldn't snap any pictures of the process because it was a race against time. But, Steve splattered on the concrete into the marked area, and then we brought in the tub and gently set it into place. Then, I lined up the pipes and Steve stood in the tub so that it sank into the concrete nicely. And ta da! Our new tub is SET IN STONE! :)

Getting closer...!!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

If they took all the trees and put em in a tree museum, I would definitely pay a dollar and a half to see them

Day two of Myrtle Beach was exactly what you think of when you think VACATION. We played my favorite beach game, smashball, drank ice cold beer, dodged some more waves, and reminisced with the cousins. We spent the majority of the day with our toes in the sand, searching for that perfect seashell and digging up sand crabs (who, by the way, scared the living daylights out of me when they decided to wriggle around my crotchal region when the tide came in and washed up over me while sitting peacefully in a beach chair). 

Wednesday night, Steve and I stayed up late for a walk on the beach after midnight. We wandered along the deserted shore, watching shooting stars, not taking for granted the warmth of the air at that hour. We frolicked along in our bare feet for over an hour, hand in hand, by the light of the moon. I told him of years past during our reunions where all of us young cousins would go off exploring together or drive into the town for a night out. We'd spend hours together playing marco polo in the pool, catapulting water balloons to unsuspecting passersby, and making up dance routines to entertain. Things are different now. We all have our own families, new babies, new marriages, new jobs. We get excited about fancy chef knives, fruit trees, the latest reality show, dollar beers, nice dinners, and private bathrooms for proper bowel movements. But, I like where life has taken us all now. My cousins are all so smart, cool, witty, and stylish. They are amazing parents. They lead creative and interesting lives. They take risks and move across the country. They fall in love. They are simply the best.

Sage and Dave planned an evening out at a minor league baseball game, which ended up being a fantastic night all together! There were 17 of us, with the perfect seats behind home plate. The Pelicans gave us a good show and my dad almost caught a foul ball! They sold tall can beers and frozen daiquiris and gave away free t-shirts by shooting them from a cannon in between innings (which my dad caught!!) One foul ball knocked the power out and we had to wait awhile for the field lights to come back on. And at the end of the game, after a big Pelican win, they put on the BEST firework show ever. I can't remember the last time I was at a baseball game, and those of you who know me are probably really surprised I am saying this, but it was a really, really fun time and I would definitely do it again! Blues Baseball anyone?? :)

Here is an iPhone shot of some lush, gorgeous trees standing humbly next to the parking lot at the game. I couldn't believe this "forest" was just sitting there in a parking lot. Those southern trees really dazzle me!

My man with his long lost man hair! He wanted to shave his head earlier this summer and I told him he should wait until after Josh's wedding. Well, guess what? It's a month and a half later and he still has a head full of luxurious, wild, sexy man hair! So, shh, don't remind him about shaving! (Although, I am focusing my happiness this month on marriage and a shaved head makes Steve oh so happy, so perhaps during my Week of Extreme Nice I will offer to give him a haircut) :)

Dave, Sage, Elspeth, and Zac

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

And we got coordinating Lei's

I am thankful that I had my iPhone to capture some photos from the trip, but even more thankful to have a professional photographer take family photos on the beach! I haven't seen any of the photos yet, but I have a feeling they turned out lovely. I will definitely share some with you when I get them! 

After out photo shoot on the first evening we went out to a delicious and entertaining dinner at BoneFish Grill and then hit the green at Rumble Golf, waaay past my bedtime. I think my favorite part of this vacation was the warm nights! Where we live, once the sun goes down, so does the temperature. But, in Myrtle Beach, it stayed well into the upper 70s/ low 80's all night long. Even being outdoors miniature golfing at midnight, I was not chilly in the least and I had on shorts and sandals! Wahoo! 

My cousin Carly and I

Dad, getting a practice shot in.

My cousins Zac and Abram, and brother Ryan


Ryan and Monae

I wish I had a picture of this, but Steve stayed behind while we were out golfing to work on a 500- piece fireworks puzzle. He was obsessed with this puzzle and when we got back hours later, he was sitting at the dining room table in front of that puzzle, dress shirt from the photo shoot still on and unbuttoned, and a can of bud in hand. When I went to bed around 1:30am he was still at it. At 3:30am, I woke up and he wasn't in bed yet so I went out to check on him and he was STILL putting that dang puzzle together! HA! Every time I went up to see how he was doing, he'd say, "just a few more pieces!" 

He finally came to bed and the next day he said he dreamt about fireworks all night. Haha! After breakfast, with my cousin Abram's help, Steve finished that puzzle! This was probably the highlight of the trip for Steve :) Thanks to Abram for getting the border started (and everyone else who found a piece or two) and helping him finish it so he would come to the beach with me! 

Monday, July 09, 2012

Myrtle Bermuda Triangle

Wednesday morning, Steve and I woke up refreshed and ready for a nice drive along the coast of South Carolina to Myrtle Beach. Part of the reason we flew into Charleston was so that we could enjoy a nice leisurely drive along the coast with expansive views of the crystalline blue ocean and sandy beaches. Here is what google maps shows:

Boy was I wrong!

All of the freeways in South Carolina (or at least all of the many freeways we were on) are lined with thick trees and vines and although beautiful and lush, after a few miles, all of those trees become suffocating!

Look how close to the ocean we were, without even the slightest bit of an ocean view. :(

I should have zoomed in before I planned this 2+ hour drive! Oopsy.

Myrtle Beach is a trip. It is literally a tourist trap - once you are in, you can't get out. And it's so dang tough trying to find your destination for a couple of reasons: 1) typical landmarks one might use like "look for a miniature golf place on the corner" or "there will be a big beachwear store on the corner" are pretty useless because guess what? There are miniature golf places on EVERY corner and giant beachwear shops across the street from every miniature golf place! I am not even exaggerating. And 2) if you go North on Kings Hwy or South on Kings Hwy, you end up in the same place. No joke!!

On our way into Myrtle Beach, we followed my GPS and as we were nearing the condo, I called my dad to tell him we were a few minutes away. We turned onto Kings Hwy, the main road running through Myrtle Beach, turned right on 33rd avenue, and the condo was supposed to be on the left as we drove down 33rd. Well, there were a few bungalow houses and then a cross street, Ocean Blvd. But no big, pink condo anywhere in site. My dad said we wouldn't be able to miss it, and that he would be outside looking for us. I went up 32nd, and back down 33rd. Still no condo. I pulled over to check the address in the GPS and my dad told me to make sure that I put North Myrtle Beach and 33rd Avenue South. I did not have the N or the S in there, so once it re-calculated, it said I still had 12 miles to go down Kings Hwy! Argh! Twenty minutes later, we turned right on 33rd avenue again, and sure enough, there was a big pink condo on the left, with the cross street Ocean Blvd! What the heck Myrtle Beach!?

But, now for good news you've been waiting for...we made it!!! 

We left all of the stress of travel behind us and were welcomed by warm hugs, cute accents, loads of pulled pork, ice cold beer and after stuffing our faces we headed to the beach immediately! The path to the beach warmed my heart...this is what the beach paths look like in movies! So worth it!

I couldn't resist jumping in the warm happy to finally be on VACAY! Once I got in, it was hard to get me to come out. I can't remember the last time I body surfed and did hand stands in a WARM ocean! I felt like a 12 year-old and loved every minute of it!!! 

I hadn't seen some of my family in over three years but the good thing about family is that when we reunite, it is like no time has passed at all! There were also some new faces - like my cousin Katy's new baby Mallory, the sweetest little beach baby. 

I also met my cousin Chris's youngest, Hewitt. And a lot of wit he has! 

This is a picture of Aunt Laura taking Harrison, Mallory, and Hewitt, for a walk along the beach! And the H's have a new baby brother on the way! 

To Be Continued...

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Myrtle Beach, Part I

My family is pretty unique in that the entire Rogers clan live all the way across the country. When my dad was in his early twenties, he and a few buddies decided to take a trip to Lake Tahoe. He fell in love with the place and never went back home to Georgia! So, in a nutshell, this is how I came to be a Californian.

Every couple of years, my Georgia family hosts a reunion on the shores of the East Coast and this year, Steve and I were lucky to be able to attend. Steve hadn't met the entire family yet, so it was especially cool that we could all be together.

We planned on arriving in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina on Tuesday afternoon to spend 4 nights living large minutes from the ocean! Since we live in little SLO, we drove to SFO for a red-eye Monday night, heading into DC and then onto Columbia, South Carolina for a quick detour that I planned to surprise Steve.

On the way to SFO, we stopped off in Palo Alto for dinner. One of our first trips together was in Palo Alto so walking down University Avenue brought back lots of lovey memories of our first months together. We ate at Pizza My Heart - one of our favorite memories of 5 years ago. This was a great start to our vacation!

When we arrived at the airport, we learned that our flight would be delayed over an hour, which isn't bad, but meant we'd miss our connection. We couldn't do anything about it at that point, so we went to the bar, grabbed a couple of drinks, and headed back to the gate. I had one too many drinks  and felt like dancing, so I did some Egyptian moves down one of the moving walkways and one of the airport workers sang out "walk like an Egyptian!" Loved that someone had a sense of humor at midnight. Made my night. 

We waited in DC for over four excruciating hours, tired after our red-eye. We arrived in Columbia, got in line for our rental car for over half an hour, and finally were on our way to the secret surprise for Steve. It was over a two hour drive to Charleston where the surprise was, and it started raining and getting dark. We were starving but I knew we had to get there before dark. We ended up driving down a muddy road in the middle of nowhere, and I was crossing my fingers that my GPS led me to the right place! 

Then, there it was. The famous Angel Oak Tree, whose crown spread makes it the biggest Live Oak tree in the nation. We pulled into the gate to the Angel Oak Park and saw the sign: Open 9am-5pm. I looked down at the clock. 5:05. SHIT! We pulled in through the gate anyway since it was open as people were leaving the park. The attendant looked up at us and started yelling, "we're closed!". I pleaded with her that we came all the way from California and we only needed one minute. She didn't give in. "Read the sign! We close at 5!!" Oh my gosh, at that point all I could do was laugh. We parked outside of the gate and walked up to a chain-link fence and luckily, we were able to see the tree through it. I brought my nice Canon SLR to snap a few shots, and the camera didn't work! The lens rattled and I knew it was broken. Another setback. I never bring my nice camera anywhere and the one time I do, it breaks before I get to take one picture. 

My iPhone saved the day and I was able to get a couple of pictures of this glorious tree. Even though we drove two hours out of the way, couldn't see the tree in it's full glory, hadn't eaten all day, my camera was dead, and we still had a 2 hour drive ahead of us, our spirits weren't completely broken. Steve was very appreciative that I thought up this surprise because Live Oak trees are his absolute favorite tree and it was pretty amazing even from behind the fence.

At this point we decided it would be best just to stay in Charleston for the night, have a nice dinner downtown, and get some much needed rest before finishing our journey to Myrtle Beach. We were only in Charleston for a few hours, but managed to have a nice time touring through the historic district, enjoying dinner outside on a quaint patio, and topped off the evening with some yummy gelato!

To be continued...

Thursday, July 05, 2012

It's easy to be happy when I have you!

June - Friends and Family
  • Remember birthdays
  • Be generous
  • Show up
  • Don't gossip
  • Make new friends
  • Stay in touch
  • Family first
This year I have done my best to remember birthdays of my closest family and friends. To make things easier, I bought birthday cards months in advance for everyone who's birthday I could think of. That way, I had them ready to go at moments notice. This month, my dear friend Joanna turned 29! Although we didn't get to celebrate together, we have plans for some fun later in July. I am lucky that Joanna was born because without her, life would be much less special! Speaking of birthdays, our friends Michael and Maren welcomed their new little girl, Mila, into this world in the beginning of June. We met her a week ago while delivering dinner to the tired and hungry parents!

I don't feel like a selfish person, but sometimes I struggle with being generous. This month my generosity was put to the test. When we got the bees from the Fed Ex guy, I picked a bunch of plums to give to him and his family. As I was piling them into a bag, I had this thought - "I better keep some of these for myself". But, really, if you saw our plum tree, you would know there was more than enough for everyone to enjoy, so why did I have that thought? I forced myself to give him more plums, because in the end if felt really great to give our plums away to someone who would appreciate them. Thinking about this clearly, I really do enjoy sharing things with others. I love making people dinner, giving away jars of pickles, bringing in baked goods to work. I am not sure where this frugal, hoarder tendency inside of me comes from, but I am glad I had this Happiness Project to force me to consciously think about generosity in a new light.

I've made some really good new friends in Leadership and now that we are about halfway through the program, I am going to try my hardest 'stay in touch' once it is over in October. With all of us being leaders in the community, we all have busy schedules, family life, vacations, other commitments, so it isn't always easy to get together. Even with my out-of-town friends, it gets more complicated to get together when we live hours apart, our work schedules are very different, and we have to balance family, friends, money, and time-off. Lucky for me, I have some awesome friends who always make staying in touch easy. It is a two-way street you know. This month, I will be going to Orange County for a bridal shower for one of my dearest friends Tylia. And then I will be spending another weekend in my favorite home away from home at Helya's house in Long Beach. And in August I plan on visiting Jillian and meeting her new baby girl.

Although I didn't do much tracking, or cross specific items off my Happiness list, I feel like I have had a very well-rounded, relaxing, fun, family-and-friend filled month!

Next up is July where I will focus on my marriage. In the beginning of this project, I told Steve about the one "date night" (or day) per month and I think we've done a good job of being together and getting away, just the two of us. We've had picnics at Lopez Lake, gelato in Charleston, night walks along Myrtle Beach, dates at our favorite pizza joint, nights in watching Whale Wars, drinks in the village, and quiet mornings on our patio. It's these warm days and long nights that really make life beautiful.

This month, I will help Steve in the yard (I've already pulled so many weeds!!) and I will practice my patience waiting for the bathroom to be done. I will try not to sweat the small stuff, like leaving tools around the house. And, I will do one week of extreme nice, where for an entire week I will do nothing but be sweet to my honey. I know, I know...I am always sweet, but there will be no sighs, groans, or cries from me that week! :)

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Cake Batter Chocolate Bark

The other thing I made for our company Bake Sale was Cake Batter Chocolate Bark. Another Pinterest find originally from the blog How Sweet It Is. It was probably one of the easiest things I've ever made, although a bit expensive if you buy the good chocolate. 

  • 6 oz high quality dark chocolate (I used Lindt 70%)
  • 12 oz high quality white chocoolate (I used Ghirardelli)
  • 3 teaspoons of yellow cake mix (although, I think you could use more. Just be sure to add in a little at a time to make sure it all dissolves in the warm chocolate.
  • sprinklers of your choice
  • Foil cake pan lined with parchment paper
Melt the dark chocolate in a double boiler. Pour the chocolate into the pan. Smooth it out with a spatula to the thickness you want. You don't have to go all the way to the sides. Stick whole pan in the freezer for 20 minutes. 

Melt white chocolate. Whisk in cake mix slowly, stirring well until no lumps remain. Let it set for 3 full minutes or until it slightly thickens. Remove baking sheet from freezer and pour white chocolate mix on top. Smooth out quickly so that it doesn't start to melt the bottom layer. 

Sprinkle on sprinklers and freeze again for 20 minutes.

Once set, break into chunks and keep refrigerated.

For the sale, I put a few pieces in clear favor bags and tied a bow around it. It was the perfect little  festive treat. This would also be a good treat for birthday parties, showers, or holidays with coordinating colored sprinkles.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Busy Bees

A week and a half ago we got our first pets! 25,000 bees!

When Steve came up with the idea to raise bees, I was a little bit nervous, scared, and not that excited about it. But, Steve got in a conversation with a Fed Ex guy at work who mentioned he has four hives in his backyard and invited us over to take a look to see what we'd be getting into. The hives were sitting on his back patio, just a few feet from their patio chairs where people hang out! I couldn't believe it! We walked up near the hives and the bees didn't care about us all as long as we didn't go in their "fly zone". The Fed ex guy and his wife extracted a ton of honey recently and gave us some to sample. It was seriously the best honey I've ever tasted and it was even cooler knowing that it came from these very bees! 

Anyway, the couple is super into bees and their excitement really rubbed off on us. They made us a list of everything we'd need and Steve went online in search of supplies. In a few days, we had everything and the bee boxes were built! The Fed Ex guy had two extra hives that he needed to get rid of (due to his small space), so he sold one of his established colonies to us..queen and all! They arrived on a Saturday morning, all donned veils, and transferred the frames full of bees and full of honey to our boxes. It took about 10 minutes in all! (I watched all of this from the safety of the kitchen window :) 

After they were done I ventured out and the bees were rushing all around, but I didn't get too close. They seemed to be liking their new home with so many trees and flowers around to keep them busy. After they settled down a bit, I put on the veil and got close for a picture. This is as close as I would get and Steve thought it was pretty funny, but I thought I was pretty damn close!!! The couple who gave us the bees told us that bees are more attracted to dark colors so you should wear white. I remembered this key tip and was sure to wear a long sleeve white shirt. But, you can also see I am wearing flip flops which shows just how brave I really am :)

The next evening, I got super close without a veil to get some shots of the bee box up close since Steve did such a great job putting it all together. It's actually really neat looking.  The bees are pretty mellow in the evening so I wasn't afraid. It is actually fun sitting there and watching the bees bring back the pollen. They carry pollen sacks on their hind legs and as they fly in that bottom slit you can see the sacks and it makes them sorta waddle when they walk into the hive. 

We are hoping in September to have some honey to extract! That is the most exciting part about all of this! The other benefit is that the bees will work hard to pollenate all of our fruit trees and garden so that we get better quality and quantity fruit!  Gotta love nature!
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