Oh, What a Year

Has another year really gone by already? Even though it feels like a long time since last New Years,  It I can still distinctly remember sitting on the couch with the blue blanket (which Dave and I refer to as ‘Big Blue’ because apparently we’re still 8), a glass of wine, and the Christmas special of Downton Abbey, which left me both sad and angry. I won’t ruin the ending for you…but what a way to end a Christmas special! Curse you, Julian Fellowes! At least there was no party mess to clean up, but I would have probably taken it over the quiet party-for-one.

Thinking about the last year has me rightfully dizzy.

I didn’t accomplish everything on my list from last year. I didn’t compete in Warrior Dash again, nor did I go to Ireland on my long-awaited honeymoon. I exchanged both of those dreams for an amazing week-long trip to Alaska with my mom and Aunt Dina and loved every second of it. I also went running IN Alaska, so I think that’s just as cool as Warrior Dash, right? What’s more frightening than being chased by a bear? (I’m pretty sure there was one in the trees by me).

Other important events of the year included taking a new position at the hospital in Green Bay, which had me up at 3:30am every morning. It left me plenty of time for running after work in the heat of the day, and I got up to six miles, which I never thought possible. Next year, I’ll make it further.

In February, we celebrated Aurelia’s first birthday with an Alice in Wonderland themed party planned by her mama, my sister Emily. Baby A gets more and more awesome with each passing month, and it is so fun watching her grow up.

Dave decided early in the year to apply for his CDL and after studying diligently, he passed with flying colors. He is an incredibly hard worker, and I am so proud of him.

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In July, I celebrated my 26th birthday with a Wine & Cheese birthday party, which was fabulous.

The summer was a whirlwind of dinners out and parties, including my absolute favorite party, Illgenstock.

Dave and I also made our first major purchase as a married couple this year: a new (to us) car! We decided Davy should drive it since he travels much further than I do to work, but sometimes I get to sneak it for a drive, too.

The brand new car lost its luster a little after my second car in a row died, and I had to buy my third one in one year. Sigh.

The most exciting event of the year was definitely my trip to Alaska. It was my first time on a plane and my first time traveling to another state without my parents planning anything. Alaska was gorgeous, the people were wonderful, and my cousins Jake and Amanda were the best of hosts. I still dream about those mountains.

When I came home from Alaska, my blood was stirring, and I needed a change. Dave and I have been talking about moving somwhere…anywhere…pretty much since we started dating, and we finally decided to go ahead and do it. I got a new job in Stevens Point, and we started to rent a bigger place…our very own house. It’s not much, but it’s home.

During the hassle of moving, we celebrated our 3 year wedding anniversary. Well, we didn’t really celebrate…we’ll just have to make up for it next year.

We had a wonderful housewarming party to break our new digs in this winter, but I’m really looking forward to summer in our new house. I can’t wait to start a garden and have bonfires every weekend.

The year unfortunately ended on a bad note. On top of the stress of dealing with an incredibly difficult situation with Dave and his family, I lost my uncle on Christmas Day after a very short battle with cancer.

My family has dealt with many trials and tribulations, including deaths, but this is the first major loss I have experienced first hand. I was so upset with everything that I spent an entire day in my pajamas sobbing and drinking whiskey. Probably not the best way to handle it….

Then, out of the blue, I got a text from my cousin Jake.

“You’re my rock, Chel. Stay strong. Without your path, I would have never learned my own. I love you.”

So those are my goals for the new year. No promise to lose ten pounds, run a race, or get to Ireland (although if that happened, it would be lovely). Instead my goals are to be a rock for others, stay strong for myself, and keep walking my own path.

I hope you all have a wonderful new year. I’m going to make sure I do. And I’m going to start it on the right note with a Sherlock marathon and champagne with some of my favorite people.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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Liberties with Shrimp & Grits

I received a text message from Dave while I was at work on Friday.

I’m cooking you supper! Love!

What are you making me?

20 minutes later….

Food.

I came home to find Dave had taken even more liberties with shrimp and grits, this time substituting the shrimp for tuna steaks. And of course he took pictures for me.

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Since it was still a bit early when I came home, he told me to let him know when I was hungry and he’d finish the dish for me. As soon as I’d had a cocktail, I told him I was hungry, and he broiled the egg and let me top it off with some shredded Asiago.

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Yeah, I know it’s not the prettiest of meals, but it was soooo good.

Now he’s in the kitchen making split pea soup in his new pressure cooker. I think I’ll just lounge around and wait for him to bring dinner to me….

Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot

Hello, all! I hope you had a very Merry Christmas.

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I have been trying hard to figure out the best way to come back to the blog, and nothing is coming to mind. I know the phrase “roller coaster of emotions” is trite, but it certainly describes how the last week has been.

Since I have only been working at my new job for a few months, I didn’t want to take any extra days off for Christmas this year. But when my mom called to tell me last weekend that my uncle Andy’s cancer was back, my coworkers kindly agreed to cover for me so I could spend a few extra days with my family. I’m so glad I did, because his cancer was so aggressive that in just a few weeks, the uncle I knew was gone, and on Christmas Day, he drew his last breath.

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I’m so glad my family was all together to share our grief. It’s still hard to believe he’s gone, because it happened so quickly. My brain barely had time to process what was going on. I’m glad I got to see him in the hospital a few times before he passed, even if he didn’t know I was there.

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He was so young, so outgoing, so vivacious, that it’s hard to believe that he won’t be here anymore to sing on stage with his Willie Nelson wig, tease grandma, hug his baby granddaughter, sneak bread during one of his carb-free phases, or watch his son become as wonderful a father as he was to my cousin Justin.

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Though Christmas was marred by sadness, parts of it were still good. It was wonderful getting to my parent’s house late Monday night to be welcomed by a roaring fire and a glass of wine, and it was wonderful to see all my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents again. We still had delicious food and enjoyed eggnog. We still laughed. We still watched Aurelia enjoy her presents and play with her cousins. We still snuck in a few holiday movies.

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The best gifts around any Christmas tree is the presence of a happy family, all wrapped up in each other. ~Burton Hills

Christmas with the Dowes

As soon as I arrived home from work Friday night, Dave and I packed up the car and headed down to Illinois to spend Christmas with the Dowes. Since we moved to Stevens Point, the drive has now gone from 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours….bah humbug! Just out of curiosity, I looked up a flight from Stevens Point to Chicago and had to laugh at the $500 price tag….PER PERSON. I think Dave and I should invest in a private jet.

After the long drive, we arrived to this beautiful sight. Hallelujah

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After big hugs and hellos, we headed down to the basement to see this.

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The Dowes don’t screw around at Christmas time.

We spent a few hours chatting and I indulged in a martini before passing out on the couch.

The next morning, it was go-go-go as we got ready to prepare our foods and beverage for Christmas Faux Eve.

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But not before breakfast.

I managed two eggs and pieces of bacon made by Barry, and Dave helped me eat the rest.

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Definitely a white Christmas this year, Bing.

Dave’s mom Kathy had to work part of the day, so he, his Dad and I ran to the store for a few last minute things before getting our cook on.

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At 4:45pm, we packed up the cars and headed to Ali and Jaimee’s for the first Christmas ever in their new house.

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They had their house all decked out for the holidays as well, and it was gorgeous.

And the food….oh, man, the food.

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Herbed Goat Cheese and Sundried Tomato Bites.

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Salami Roll-Ups.

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Smoked Salmon and Cucumber Salad Crackers.

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Egg Rolls.

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Deconstructed Crab Rangoons.

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Chicken and Pork Steam Buns.

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And, of course…cheese.

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We also had hummus and baba ganoush with vegetables, risotto balls, stuffed jalapenos, Scandinavian pickled herring bites, mozzarella cheese sticks with marinara sauce, bagel bites, olives, and bacon jam. Yes, you read that right. I will have a recipe for you courtesy of my mother-in-law Kathy soon.

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I had at least two of everything and promptly fell into a food coma.

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Steve felt the same way after a few bites of kibble.

This is how much food was left after we ate.

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We do not know how to cook for six people, apparently.

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After dinner in the living room, we headed back to the kitchen for a board game. (Hey, that sounds a little backwards).

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Ali is famous for scouting out awesome board games (which Wil Wheaton clues her in to), and we ended up playing two rounds of one of her newer finds–Pandemic. I’m sometimes afraid to learn new games, but this was so fun and interesting. Dave and I both loved it.

After we saved the world (we killed everyone the first round), we headed to the front room to sing some carols while Jaimee played the piano.

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According to our Christmas rules, we were supposed to watch a holiday movie, but we were far too tired to manage it. Instead, we headed back to Dave’s parent’s house and waited for Santa to come.

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We all must have been very good this year!

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Kathy prepared her traditional Christmas morning cinnamon rolls, and we opened lots of lovely gifts. I know we’re getting older, because we get really excited about things like new hot pads, storage cubes, a garden cart, pressure cooker, as well as a huge fermenting pot to make sauerkraut in next spring. I also got some lovely new moccasin slippers, a beautiful crocheted scarf, and a ‘Make Love Not Horcruxes’ tote bag. Another year of Food Network Magazine, too…sweet!

It was a wonderful visit, and we were both sad to make the trip home so soon. I will be heading home to my parents tomorrow night to celebrate with them, so I hope you all have a very lovely holiday.

Special Guest Post: Refurbishing Cast Iron

I know you’re expecting the usual eloquence of my darling wife, Chelsea. Instead, for this post, you’ll have to deal with my long-winded style of writing. Hi, I’m Dave.

One of my hobbies in the last few years has been to find, restore and give a new life to neglected cast iron pans, pots, griddles… whatever I happen to find, really. I suppose it may have something to do with knowing the work and love I put into these pans will survive me, potentially for generations, so long as my spawn appreciate the wonders of cast iron as much as I do, and they, in turn pass it on down the line. It’s a male thing, I suppose… the need to pass part of you on to the next generation.

Anyway, I thought it could be nice to share my process with you, loyal readers.

First, find a pan in need of help. IMG_0293IMG_0295

Next, assemble your tools.

IMG_0291After that, beat it into submission.

IMG_0296IMG_0297It’s going to take some work… but, for me at least, it’s a labor of love.

After all your hard work (and without harsh chemicals, like oven cleaner… seriously, what kind of idiot would willing put poison into something they plan to cook with?!) you’ll be left with a completely stripped and lovely cast iron pan, ready to be re-seasoned.

IMG_0298Flax seed oil is the holy grail of initial season oils, as it is a completely “drying” oil… but good old canola, a “semi-drying” oil is what I used.

Wash your freshly stripped pan in hot soapy water. Dry completely and heat in the oven at 200 degrees or on the stove top at medium heat for 10 minutes. The heat lets the pores of the metal open a bit. Pour enough oil, either flax or canola, into the pan to coat. Cover every square inch of the pan, inside and out with oil using a paper towel.

Next, take another paper towel and wipe all the excess oil off the pan. Don’t be afraid that you’re wiping all the oil off. You aren’t.

Bake at 500 degrees, letting the pan pre-heat with the oven, for one hour. After one hour, let the pan cool down with the oven till it comes to room temperature. Repeat the process 5 more times. I’m sorry, you can’t rush this. It’ll outlive you… the least you can do is give it the love it needs.

After 6 trips in the oven, you’ll be left with something that looks like this…

IMG_0301IMG_0306Now your pan is ready to use!

I hope you found this informative!

Thursday Things

1. I almost spiked my coffee with eggnog this morning, before I remembered that drinking before or during work is frowned upon. I used milk instead.

2. I’ve now covered pretty much every way to cook salmon. I’ve covered it with maple syrup and broiled it, turned it into pizza, grilled it, added it to brie en croute, and now, covered it with hummus and baked it.

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It’s as easy as it sounds. Spread hummus over salmon, and bake at 450 degrees for about twenty to thirty minutes. Super yum.

3. I hoped this week that everyone would be in the holiday spirit like Buddy from Elf. They’re not. All week long, patients have been telling me our building is ugly and in a terrible place, they’re mad because other people are fighting for their 7:00am therapy time, and they can’t believe they have to wait a whole month to schedule a bone density test. I’m trying to smile extra to make up for it. Besides, I had a lovely sunrise to enjoy yesterday morning.

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4. Everyone keeps asking, “Are you ready for Christmas?” Physically, yes. The presents are bought and wrapped and nestled under the tree, and, come Friday, I’ll have money for food, booze, and gas. Mentally, hell no.  I’m not ready to spend what might be the last Christmas where my grandma remembers my name. I’m not ready to spend my uncle’s last Christmas with him because of fat, stupid, ugly cancer. I want to relive the Christmas where I’m ten, and I’m surrounded by my siblings and parents, and I spend the next few days reading Harry Potter for the first time and going to movies, and playing outside in the snow, and having my dad tell me not to watch any more TV.

5. I don’t care. I’m going to drink eggnog, light the tree, love every morsel of every person, kiss my husband, hug my parents, laugh with my siblings, and enjoy this crazy, beautiful, heartbreaking holiday season until I explode.

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Early Week Things

1. My holiday work party was Monday night and it was….kinda weird. But I won a $10 Starbucks card (I don’t really like Starbucks but hey, free coffee is free coffee), received a really nice holiday card with a bonus from the providers, and made some new friends when we decided to skip out early and go for a drink at Rhodey’s. Sadly, Dave couldn’t come because he worked late, so my co-worker Jessica and her boyfriend let me play third wheel.

2. We received a holiday card in the mail yesterday from our friend Michelle addressed simply “Chel & Dave.” 😀

3. I got four hours of sleep Monday night. Must. Remember. To. Take. Melatonin. While not sleeping, I watched A Charlie Brown Christmas and an episode of House, cleaned the litter box, watered the tree, bought a gift online, and made stuffed peppers for dinner.

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My tired brain threw this together at 3:00am. I sauteed garlic and a diced onion, then added some canned tomatoes, chickpeas, black beans, spinach, cumin, oregano, and chili powder.

I also found out a brilliant way to always find the matching top for peppers.

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It was nice coming home from work and just popping the casserole dish in the oven.

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After I dissected my stuffed pepper, I topped it with Parmesan cheese and salsa.

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Slow Sunday

For the first time in what feels like forever, Sunday went by sloooowly. And it was just what I needed. I woke up early with my knitting and put on The Holiday. I’ve heard so many people talk about the movie this last week, that I had to give it another shot, Unfortunately, as much as I love Kate Winslet, this movie just doesn’t do it for me. Cameron Diaz’s character is just a little too wacko for me, I guess.

Dave continued to work on some noisy Christmas projects, and I went out to shovel the driveway. The sun was shining, and it was actually kind of nice to be out in the cold for a little while.

I spent the afternoon wrapping some presents (still have a bunch to do yet), and then I went into the kitchen, turned on some holiday music, and started making Spinach Feta Puffs for my work party.

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Here’s a link to the recipe from last year…….it’s a good one!

After the three batches were done, I popped the mini loaf pan of Chicken Alfredo Lasagna into the oven for dinner. It took almost an hour and a half to cook since I didn’t thaw it beforehand. (I’ve been using the great outdoors as a freezer, and it’s certainly working well).

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Served with two pieces of garlic toast, it made a very nice Sunday dinner.

The Devil and His Mushrooms

Dave and I had a very productive Saturday. After cleaning the house a bit, we ran a few errands, including grocery shopping and a little antiquing. I finally got to see the big tree in the square Dave was talking about.

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But the sign on the ice cream shop window was just as exciting.

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All you can eat ice cream for only $5?! Too bad they were closed. I could have made myself sick on ice cream.

When we came home, Dave worked on a few Christmas projects, and I worked on my food gifts: Chicken Alfredo Lasagna with Spinach and Artichokes.

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And I remember why I rarely make lasagna for us…it takes so friggin’ long!

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And it smelled….and looked…..bloody amazing. So amazing that I decided there was enough to make two full lasagnas and a small loaf pan for Dave and I to try sometime.

Chicken Alfredo Lasagna

  • 2 cups shredded chicken (Dave cut up a whole chicken for me and I poached it in butter on the stove top)
  • 1 can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
  • 10 oz of spinach, chopped and cooked (you can use frozen, thawed spinach)
  • 8 oz shredded mozzarella
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped sun dried tomatoes
  • 2–8 oz packages of cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 12 lasagna noodles, cooked

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Combine chicken, artichokes, 1 cup mozzarella, Parmesan and tomatoes. Beat cream cheese, milk and garlic powder with mixer until well blended; stir in 2 Tbsp. basil. Mix half with the chicken mixture.

Spread half the remaining cream cheese mixture onto bottom of 13×9-inch baking dish; cover with 3 noodles and 1/3 of the chicken mixture. Repeat layers of noodles and chicken mixture twice. Top with remaining noodles, cream cheese mixture and mozzarella; cover.

Bake 25 min. or until heated through. Sprinkle with remaining basil. Let stand 5 min. before cutting to serve.

Recipe slightly adapted from: justapinch.com

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We didn’t eat lasagna last night, because our friends Dan and Em invited us over for dinner.

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We dined on Em’s famous Caesar Salad, Deviled Mushrooms with Parmesan Rice, and Stuffed Squash.

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I’m not a squash lover, but I actually liked this squash. The texture wasn’t as stringy and squishy as the squash I’m used to, and sausage stuffing was really tasty.

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The deviled mushrooms stole the show, though. So good. I immediately scooped up the recipe from them.

We chatted for a few hours after dinner before leaving, and Dave asked if I wanted to see the tree all lit up.

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I haven’t been downtown at night yet this season, and it was nice to see it all decorated for the season.

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I don’t envy the job of whoever put up the lights, but it was a beautiful tree.

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This holiday season is bittersweet for me, but I’m determined to love it as much as I have loved all others.