Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Foodie Pen Pals: July

If you read my guest posts over at The College Cuisiner, you know that my friend Marisa has given me a lot of tastes for food over the past years. My love of chinese food.. and cous cous.. and chai tea.. But this year, she introduced me to two great ideas - Foodie Pen Pals and What I Ate Wednesday - both of which you will get to see this week.

Being in Montana has been somewhat of a culinary struggle. (By that, I mean a TOTAL culinary struggle.) There are no ice cream shops or frozen yogurt within one hundred miles, we’ve yet to find a restaurant or coffee shop worth visiting twice, and compared to the stores back east, our grocery options are incredibly limited. When I saw Marisa’s reveal post for last month’s Foodie Pen Pals, I knew I had to join in.

The premise is simple - each month, bloggers (or readers) are matched with one person to send a package to and one person to receive a package from. Then, you pack $15 worth of yummy things into a package with a handwritten note and send it on its way. Plus, you receive a package in return! And really.. who doesn’t love getting packages in the mail? Especially ones filled with food?

So I signed up.

At first, I was a little nervous to join in because of my food allergies. If something arrived that wasn’t safe for me to eat, Trevor couldn’t enjoy it either - hooray for the wheat-free household. But, when my pen pal e-mailed me to ask about food allergies, it turned out that she was gluten-free too (What an odd coincidence, right?). Immediately, I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to explain what we could and couldn’t eat.

Somehow, in another strange twists of coincidence, I received my package from Marisa Rodriguez, a blog reader from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Can you believe it? When I saw the return address on the envelope, I crossed my fingers for Utz Potato Chips and Lebanon Bologna (though I don’t think the second would hold up well through the mail.. huh?). Unfortunately, neither of my wishes came true but instead, I opened the package to these wonderful treats.

You’ll have to forgive the sub-par photos - I was too eager to start snacking!

In my package, I received products that were mostly new to me - Brad’s Raw Leafy Kale (Natural Nacho flavor), roasted chickpea snacks from The Good Bean, Artisana Cashew Butter and an Endangered Species Dark Chocolate Bar (which we consumed before even thinking to take a picture, oops?).

Before taking a bite of this, I had never tried kale! I had once had a sip of a sausage soup with kale but I don’t know that my soup experience counts for much. With the green smoothie trend taking over the blogging world, I’ve heard a lot about kale so I was anxious to try this. It’s definitely interesting! Probably not my favorite snack in the world but it was neat to try. Plus, it’s gluten-free, nut-free, not baked or fried, natural and vegan - impressive right? And, it’s made in Pennsylvania!

The chickpea snacks were new to us, too. Eating gluten-free means finding new starches and flours and one of those is garbanzo bean flour. So, over the past few years, my consumption of chickpeas has definitely grown. I loved these little packages and the silly figures pictured on the front. The cinnamon package has a fisherman, while this looks like some impressive gymnastics. Marisa sent us the Sweet Cinnamon and Sea Salt flavors. Both delicious and a great mindless snack for those times when you’re watching a movie or making a long drive (which is pretty common in Montana).

The last little treat, the cashew butter, has yet to be opened. Since I’m allergic to peanuts, I’ve never really enjoyed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.. or peanut butter and apples.. or any of those staple foods my boyfriend seems to live on! (I swear I have to buy a jar of crunchy peanut butter every week.) As fans of almond butter, we are sure that we’ll love this but haven’t found the perfect use yet. We’ve been trying to avoid purchasing bread lately so toast hasn’t been an option. I was going to have it today with an apple but of course, Trevor finished the last one. Any suggestions?

While I loved receiving a package, I think I loved making one even more. Elena from the Happy Little Gnome got to enjoy lots of on-the-go snacks and some popcorn that I was envious of. (Life is hard without a microwave.) Next month, I’m hoping to scope out some local goodies to include - after all, they seem to be obsessed with huckleberries, here. But, you can find out about the package I sent this month right over here. You should also take the time to stay and check out her other posts that range from topics like a new puppy to the color run - once again, envious of both! She writes about healthy living and baking, and always shares great photos. What more could you want? 

If you want to participate next month, there is still time - click on over to The Lean Green Bean for more information and send in your form by August 4th! I know that I’m really looking forward to doing this again.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Portraits: Anniversaries and... Dirt Bikes?

For most couples, anniversaries and dirt bikes are probably unrelated but for my cousin? That wasn’t the case. You see, two years (and one month) ago, my cousin Sarah married the guy of her dreams, Curtis, and with that, came dirt bikes (and Jeeps). When she asked me to take their anniversary photos with these prized possessions, I couldn’t help but laugh. You have to understand - growing up, Sarah and I were more like sisters. It’s this  phenomenon when you lack a sister of your own and have a cousin your age. You know, sister cousins. We had sleepovers every weekend, we went to Head Start together, and before I ran off to Montana, we met for lunch every week. But, that being said, we couldn’t have been more different. Sarah loved pink and dresses and hated to get dirty. On the other hand, I refused to wear dresses, let alone much other clothing, and spent my time fishing with my dad or playing in dirt with my brother. In middle school, Sarah shopped at American Eagle. I shopped at.. well, let’s just say, it wasn’t American Eagle. Up until these photos were taken, I think I had written off the idea of Sarah on a dirt bike. I had heard the stories and seen photos of their off-roading adventures.. But then I saw for myself and now, you see the proof... but seriously, aren’t those pink wheels cute?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What I Ate Wednesday

If you found your way here from the College Cuisiner - welcome!
Take off your shoes and stay awhile?

In celebration of a Monday Sunday (my new name for our weekly celebratory day of Trevor being home), Trevor and I enjoyed a day of good eats and luckily for you, our whole menu (and some yoga pointers) is being featured at the College Cuisiner. I had been toying around with the idea of joining the “What I Ate Wednesday” link up over at Peas and Crayons over the past few weeks and the opportunity presented itself when my good friend, fellow blogger and College Cuisiner, Marisa, was called away to camp for the week. Between being invited to write a guest post and enjoying a few minutes in the spotlight thanks to Angry Orchard, I’m feeling even more motivated to join in on all the fun and eats for WIAW. What do you think?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Snapshots: Life Lately

Life is busy.

Busy in a good way, that is. Unfortunately though, that doesn’t mean I’m not exhausted. Today, after I finished up the last wall of our bathroom painting, I decided I'd reward myself with a few minutes to blog and a glass of ice cold sweet tea

While I’m not complaining, I have to say that it’s been a hot week in Montana. Nothing compared to the record breaking heat on the East Coast but enough that we’ve been pulling curtains, closing off the sunroom and wishing for frozen yogurt. Today, an off-road vehicle equipped with a music box and painted lime green drove past our house with snow cones for sale. Unfortunately, I was in shock and couldn’t find a few dollar bills quick enough. This girl loves snow cones.

This week, I’ve spent the majority of my time focusing on our bathroom project, mudding, sanding and painting our walls. Thankfully, with Trevor having two consecutive days off, I was able to take a small break from spending countless hours in a 12x8 ft room. 

On Saturday, Buddy enjoyed his first bath in the new shower and boy, did he need it. Our poor boy had lived for months on lake swimming trips and being sprayed with the cold garden hose. When he realized that Trevor was at work and I was in the shower, he took advantage of the situation and plowed through the curtain. (He doesn’t like to shower alone.)

On Sunday, I took a much needed trip to the laundry mat and spent the afternoon with Michelle. We made the long trip to Missoula for gluten-free goodies from the Good Food Store. I’m not sure when I fell in love, exactly.. perhaps passing by the perfectly stacked organic produce.. or when I found out that you could dispense your own eco-friendly laundry detergent into recycled glass jars.. or when I found Udi’s Blueberry Muffins.. All I know is, I’m in love. (It’s probably a good thing we’re an hour and forty minutes away.)

Monday, we ventured to Butte for errands and those french fries I was telling you about and by Tuesday, Trevor was back to his late night schedule. Even still, we were able to enjoy a late night bonfire with our funny neighbors. 

We got lucky in the neighbor department. Next door we have Kat and Andrea - guards at our local prison but fun girls with great dogs. (Buddy’s in love.) Then, one more house down - Roxie and Randy. Roxie also works at the prison in food service, while her husband works as a cook at our local final dining restaurant. With Trevor vying for a job at the prison, too, it’s a funny group. But, there’s nothing quite like a midweek unplanned bonfire with good neighbors, hard cider and s’mores.

Though we spend our nights staying up much too late, we’re still able to squeeze in time together each morning with an hour at the gym. While Trevor normally does his own thing (like fighting MMA dummies.. really), I spend time on the treadmill, trying to overcome the thin air that comes with being a mile above sea level. But today, we met up half way for a little basketball game. Needless to say, I’m awful at basketball but it was still a welcome change of pace. 

The rest of my week will be spent doing homework and school research, with Trevor working late nights. That means evenings snuggling Buddy though, and I’m okay with that. But truth be told, we’re anxiously awaiting Monday for a chance to spend our day with Trevor.

(I think Buddy hates Trevor's late nights as much as I do.)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Ten on Tuesday: Bathroom Inspiration

[click the linked number below to find the source]
After spending days looking at green board, dry wall mud and our un-finished bathroom, I needed to find some inspiration to keep myself going. It’s been a constant struggle over paint colors, decor choices and financing our project. Besides, I don’t think you can understand the inconvenience of living without a bathroom until it is your only option. Now, with a working shower, we find ourselves pining for the day when our sink and vanity will be installed. Each morning we compare our “to-do” list with our schedules while we complain about brushing our teeth in the kitchen. That being said, today’s Ten on Tuesday was my escape. While this inspiration board looks very neutral in color, we plan to decorate in turquoise, yellow and white.

1 // As a photographer and avid fan of graphic design, I find myself drawn to wall art displays. The bathroom isn’t the most typical place for an assortment such as this but in our home, the bathroom will be the only room with a modern touch. I think this is a fun way to bring other colors into our bathrooom and would also provide me with an opportunity to showcase my own photography as well as prints from artists that I love.

2 // Currently my bathroom necessities - lotions, nail polish remover, my CHI flatiron and my blow dryer - are stashed inside the top drawer of our office filing cabinet. While this storage protects the house from clutter and my precious hair products from construction dust, I’ve realized how impractical drawers can be for organized storage. I love this simple solution that keeps your hair care tools tucked inside the vanity door but not buried beneath bottles and bottles of other products.

3 // The biggest argument of the bathroom has been over the shower curtain. When we finished the shower, we knew that we wanted to be able to use it right away, rather than waiting for the construction work to be finished. Since we knew the mess the drywall would make (and we hadn’t even picked out paint colors), we decided to simply hang a shower liner in the meantime. While I would have opted for an opaque choice, Trevor refused and purchased a transparent curtain instead. The problem? He fell in love with it and now refuses to settle for a decorative and traditional option. We think this photo pocket shower curtain from UO is a healthy compromise.

4 // The one thing we managed to agree on at first sight? This cute and clever “Get naked.” decal.

5 // I’ve never been one to store magazines or books in the bathroom but after living with Doug for a few months, I realized that a place to store your most recent golf catalog is important to the male gender. Besides, I’m known to flip through a favorite magazine and soak my feet, on occasion. Rather than drilling into the wall, this handy container simply slides onto the toilet and still has room for quite a few reading choices.

6 // While Trevor knew it was important to me that we choose a bathroom with plenty of shelves, we are still struggling with hanging wash cloths, loofas and razors. This suction cup basket has space for all three and includes a top basket to hold extra bathroom products - like my face wash or a pretty bottle of bubble bath.

7 // I have a thing for mason jars, especially vintage mason jars. Imagine my thrill when we found plenty of them in our basement - including one for Jumbo peanut butter adorned with a cute little elephant. While I have been strategizing to create an herb garden from most of the jars, I thought a few equal sized ones would make great bathroom storage. I love how simple this project is and that it keeps important but small items like q-tips and cotton balls in a tidy arrangement.

8 // Shelving is important in all bathrooms - you need a place to store towels and washcloths, extra toilet paper and tissues, and other cosmetic needs. I love these little cubbies in place of traditional flat shelving. Extra towels seem more secure in this arrangement, too.

9 // Hanging towels to dry can be unsightly, that’s why I love this idea of placing them on the back of the door. This way, your guests see the bathroom before seeing unevenly hung or mismatched towels. It also keeps wall space clear and clutter free, which is important in the house’s smallest room.

10 // This is the one bathroom purchase we have made and probably our favorite part of the space, so far. After spending a few weekends at the beach, in hotels like the Marriott, we realized how great space making shower rods could be. Unfortunately, we also dealt with a claw foot tub for months and that meant countless encounters with tangled curtains. We picked up this exact rod at Walmart last week and while we were frustrated by trying to install it at 2 a.m. on very little sleep the night before, we’re now perfectly pleased.

What organizational tools are absolutely necessary in your bathroom? Do you have any creative suggestions for storage in such a small space? I’d love to hear your ideas. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Rainy Afternoons

Mondays seem to be our Sundays, lately.

Though Montana’s typically blessed with a dry climate - and therefore, low humidity - we’ve spent the week dodging rainstorms. Some times more successfully than others. For instance, Friday, I developed a case of cabin fever and tried to escape the house for a trip to the grocery store. I no sooner finished my shopping and storm clouds, heavy rains, lightening and deafening thunder rolled in. I can only imagine how ridiculous I looked (I knew how absurd I felt) sitting in front of our local Albertson’s with three bags of groceries and dog food, anxiously awaiting the storm to pass.

Montana is unpredictable - in its weather and our daily happenings. As Trevor says, every day is an adventure. Sometimes a great adventure like offroading on a new mountain or like today, a rainy day trip to the “city”, other times it involves police action or walking home in a thunderstorm but hey, that’s Montana. 

Today we were reminded of that unpredictability when we enjoyed our lunch on a restaurant deck as hail pelted the metal roof above us. That being said, we still enjoyed the world’s best french fries - with garlic, cilantro and parmesan - and some of our best Montana cuisine thus far.

We’re slowly but surely eating our way through Butte in an effort to find a gem. Our adventures last week led us to a subpar cafe in a beautiful location, this week - barbecue. While on our culinary pursuits, we manage to squeeze in much-needed errands that today included job applications, trips to Walmart and finally buying Trevor some much-needed work shoes. But now, after a big lunch and a busy day, I’m happy to say that all three of us are snuggled in at home. There may be drywall mud calling my name soon but for now, I’m enjoying my “Sunday” time with my boys.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Recipe: Summer Sweet Tea

This is one of those recipes that’s really not a recipe. I often find myself stumbling upon posts like this on other blogs and saying “why did you bother writing that out, doesn’t everyone know how to make that?” Well, after expressing that opinion, I’ve learned that no, not everyone knows how to make simple syrup or perhaps coffee ice cubes. So, in the spirit of all things obvious (but still necessary), I wanted to share with you my way of making sweet tea - which, if you ask me, is the perfect summer drink.

I’ve always been a fan of iced tea - my family could be the spokes family for the Rutter’s Dairy brand, I used to frequent McDonald’s to only purchase a $1 large sweet tea (since I’m allergic to everything else they offer), and I probably go through half a gallon of my own home brewed tea daily.

As I’m currently living with a limited income and budget, instead of heading to the grocery store for another container of Gold Peak Sweet Tea, I raided the pantry where I knew I had a box of decaffeinated black tea bags. (Another advantage to brewing my own tea at home is that I can avoid the caffeine. You know, doctors orders.) In an attempt to cut out refined sugars, I used Stevia in the Raw to make my tea but you can use regular sugar, or even Splenda - they all measure cup for cup. After some experimenting, this is the method that I find works best for me.

  • Bring two cups of water to a rapid boil.
  • In the mean time, take six tea bags and remove the paper tags and strings.
  • After the water comes to a boil, shut off the heat and allow the water to stop boiling before adding tea bags - if you add bags to the water while it’s boiling, your tea may have a bitterness to it.
  • Allow the tea bags to seep for 10 - 15 minutes, depending on your preference. (I like my tea strong.)
  • After the time passes, use a fork to remove the tea bags.
  • Add 3/4 cup of stevia, sugar or Splenda and mix until dissolved.
  • Pour the concentrated tea into your favorite pitcher (I actually recycle an old Gold Peak bottle!) and add five cups of cold water - I find that cold water works better than ice for exact measurements. 
  • Then, take a minute to mix your iced tea (or if using a bottle with a lid - just shake it), pour over a glass of ice and enjoy!

The best part of this recipe and the real reason I wanted to share it was to show you just much money you can save my making your own iced tea. This recipe only requires two ingredients - tea bags and sweetener. For my preparation, I purchased a box of 72 cup size Lipton Decaffeinated Tea Bags and a 9.7oz bag of Stevia in the Raw (which is the equivalent in sweetness to 5lb of sugar.) At my local grocery store, which here in Montana is Albertson’s, these two products cost me $4.95 and $7.95, respectively. (This recipe is even more affordable if you use sugar!) With those size packages, I was able to make twelve servings of this recipe. Considering that an equally-sized bottle of Gold Peak Sweet Tea is nearly $4, this recipe has saved me approximately $35! 

If you want to make your iced tea even more summery, feel free to add your own flavors such as mint leaves, honey, fresh chamomile, juice from fresh local berries (concentrated juices are okay, too!) or fresh squeezed citrus fruits like lemons or oranges! You can also make iced tea into the perfect summer party drink by adding a few shots of a light rum (Martha Stewart would suggest Bacardi 151). If using for a special occasion, I definitely recommend a pretty display - perhaps with mason jars as glasses - or you can simply decorate the glasses you already have with citrus slices, fresh sprigs of mint and classic striped paper straws in summer colors.

Not only is this recipe for the perfect summer drink, it’s also a great money saver (which is perfect when you’re trying to host guests) - and most importantly of all, it’s almost as simple as picking up a container of iced tea at the grocery store!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

My Montana Summer: A Photo Journal

Just stopping in quick to let you know about my newest endeavor - a photo journal about My Montana Summer. I do my best to keep friends and family updated on my adventures in Big Sky country but often times, my daily photos don’t hold enough content for a full blog post. (And between remodeling and school work, who has time for daily posts?) I also find myself documenting our travels & favorite moments with my iPhone and for those of you who haven’t joined the Instagram community, those photos go unseen. I hope to update daily but as you’ve probably figured out - my time in Montana is a busy one. 

I’m also working on restructuring this blog and hoping to start adding more thoughtful, useful content - along with the zucchini lasagna recipe I promised. I’d like to take this space in a new direction and I’m currently working on some new design elements, series and big ideas. While I enjoy sharing my daily life and stories, I think that I have a lot to offer in terms of DIY projects, health and fitness resources, recipes and perhaps some content about other topics, as well. I am looking to grow my readership and to expand the impact of this space. If you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them.

In the mean time, keep up to date with my summer over here.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Snapshots: This Old House

Everything in Anaconda is old, or antiquated as Trevor would politely explain it - the houses, the streets, the businesses, the buildings which are home to the theatre, the library and the downtown shops. And our home is no exception. With an old house comes old plumbing, horse hair plaster, crooked walls and a long list of “to do’s”. 

While we have a list of things we’ve eventually like to do (like turn our cabin into living quarters and a laundry room - or clean the garage), the first project on our list was the bathroom. When I visited a few weeks ago, we were making do with a claw foot tub and a shower head which was attached to the ceiling with a pipe strap. After the intense water pressure managed to destroy three shower heads, it decided to burst a pipe in the basement. At that point, it was clear - the whole thing needed to be replaced.

The goal had been to have the bathroom finished by the time I arrived but with busy and conflicting schedules, I arrived to a gutted room - with only a few sheets of drywall hung. After spending our first week together working on more drywall and waiting for the finishing touches on our electric, Trevor and I were relieved when our landlords - a welder and a contractor - arrived from San Jose. With them was gallon after gallon of paint, supplies to repair our siding, plans to fix all of our cracked windows, new plumbing for the kitchen and bathroom and a lot of know how and labor.

All together, with the help of our friends too, we spent the past five days working from nine a.m. until at least seven o’clock - with a work finale that lasted from five a.m. to one a.m. yesterday. (And ended with a delirious Trevor and I trying to install a shower rod so that we could finally shower in our own house.) We managed to mix in some home made iced tea, a few bottles of beer and Trevor’s delicious potato and dill soup to make the whole task a little bit more manageable. 

As I write this, I’m taking a break from the extensive clean up that comes after five days of hard work. We had drywall dust on every surface, piles of dirty dishes from the water being turned off, clumps of mud smashed into our kitchen floor and construction tools in every room. 

While I’d like to say that five days of hard work got us a finished bathroom - I can’t but at least we have new plumbing, finished electricity, repaired windows, a working shower, mostly finished drywall, and a new respect for remodeling your house.  Our list of things to do now includes taping and mudding, painting, installing a sink, fitting molding to our shower, installing flooring and enjoying a new bathroom. 

If you would have told me a year ago that in a few weeks, I would fall in love with a guy and a year later would be living with him in Montana and remodeling our house together - I would have never believed it. I wouldn’t have wanted to. While I can’t say that it’s not difficult to work together (especially when things go wrong.. and you’re exhausted and sleep deprived), it’s been a good, rewarding experience and I can only hope that the rest of our home projects go so well.

[Check back (eventually) for finished pictures of the bathroom. 
We can’t wait to show you our mint walls & fabulous shower curtain.]

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Red, White, Blue’s in the Sky

Red, white, blue’s in the sky,
summer’s in the air and baby,
heaven’s in your eyes.

Our Fourth of July was magical - to call it any less would be an understatement. We started the day without an alarm clock, sleeping in until the Montana morning chill wore off. With no holiday plans in store, we decided to get in the truck and drive until we found somewhere worthy of spending our afternoon. In Montana, that’s not hard to do. We hit the highway and turned off where the signs said “Warm Springs” and “Lost Creek State Park”. We were looking for waterfalls - and we found heaven instead. The roads were unpaved and ten m.p.h. was the best we could do but as Trevor said to me, “you can’t ever be in a hurry to look at the scenery,” and when you’re headed nowhere, time isn’t an issue. We saw tractors and ranches, cattle and horses, and the greenest areas of Montana, yet. We saw rivers and springs and eventually, in the distance, we saw even more water. With a dirty pit bull in tow, we kept our fingers crossed and after a few turns and gated paths, we made it to the whitetail picnic area at Warms Springs Ponds. Apparently, the rest of Montana was spending the day barbecuing or setting off fireworks in the broad daylight because we were the only ones there (not that I'm complaining). We hiked the lake paths, let Buddy go for a swim, watched the wild Pelicans, and soaked in a perfect sunny Montana afternoon.