20 in 6

I’m not normally a reader of the Design Darling blog, but the other day I somehow stumbled upon Mackenzie’s 101 in 1001 list, a list of 101 things to accomplish in just under 3 years. 
It got me inspired to create a list of my own, although there’s no way I’m coming up with 101 items. Honestly, I need to find less to do, not more.  I came up with 20, which I'll attempt to have done in...six months? Sounds good to me.
These aren’t in any particular order, just the order in which they came to me, and I decided to leave them that way. Here goes:
1.      Master swiss meringue buttercream frosting. I have never, ever been able to get this right.
2.      Bake that damn Graham Cracker Cake you’ve been wanting to try for four years now.

3.      Eat solidly clean for one week (so much harder than it seems!). I'm thinking something along the lines of the Whole 30 program, with beans and legumes allowed.
4.      Try a cycling class.
5.      Actually use the 5 pack of yoga classes I purchased.
6.      Get to run a 5k solidly, regularly in under 30 minutes. Right now I'm at around 31-32 minutes.
7.      Go hiking. The hubs and I visited Ann Arbor this weekend, and that included a trip to the University of Michigan Arboretum.  We walked around the trails and the lake, looking at all the fall foliage, and this definitely satisfied my craving for a fall hike.
Fun/Before We Leave the City
8.      Visit the Highline.
9.      Visit botanical gardens and/or Museum of Natural History.
10.   Spend one afternoon in a cool BK neighborhood I haven’t been to yet.
11.   Meditate regularly for one month. Continue indefinitely if you see results.  I've meditated before and definitely find it valuable, but I'd like to make it a regular part of my routine. I think doing 10 minutes a day would be a good start.
12.   Go one week without being unnecessarily negative.
13.   Find a better hairstyle and master a great blowout.
14.   Actually learn the right way to use your fancy camera. Take a class if that makes you do it. No excuse for owning an external flash for two years and never having opened it!
15.   Go to bed, for real, at 10 pm every night for one week. It IS possible! Right? It has to be. I average 5 and a half hours a night, that needs to change.
16.   $20 into savings for every goal accomplished.
17.   Go one month without shopping. AH. Probably will save this one for Lent! To clarify, shopping = clothes shopping.

Family and Friends
18.   Call mother in law more often. She’s always calling me first and I feel bad. I’m not so great at being the first to pick up the phone; I much prefer to communicate by text or email.
19.   Create a family birthday list.  Maybe then my cousins could get their birthday cards on time.

20. Work on having a better filter at work.  I like and feel very comfortable with my coworkers, and I tend to be very opinionated, so sometimes I just blurt stuff out without thinking.


Fall Trend: Turtlenecks

I was at my parents’ house this weekend, trying to clean out some old things, when I stumbled upon a set of old, barely worn, thin cotton turtlenecks. I remember buying them; they were $9 or something insane at Old Navy when I was in college. I picked up burgundy, oatmeal, brown, and gray, and then realized I felt too covered up and never wore them. I’ve been hanging onto them for years now, unable to justify tossing a staple item in good shape. 

And now it appears turtlenecks are sneaking their way to the forefront of fashion again. They’re popping up on the mannequins in J.Crew stores, on fashion blogs, and in magazines. I still can’t say I love them, but I do plan to bring them out again, just for a change of pace. 

I do love oversized turtleneck sweaters, and I also particularly like the look of layering thin ones over or under button down sweaters. But then again I tend to think any outfit looks better in layers- just seems a little more thought out. 

Below, some inspiration for wearing this year’s turtleneck trend:

Under a sweater:


Layered under your winter coat

With a skirt:

Cropped with a matching skirt:

The classic cozy, oversized sweater, made more interesting layered over a button down:


Pasta with Butternut Squash Sauce

I was surprised at how much I liked this pasta drenched in a butternut squash puree. Its orangey color made me think of mac and cheese, and I figured that I’d bite into it and just wish that it was mac and cheese, and not some healthy impostor.  But this had so much flavor, and was so surprisingly creamy, that I didn’t miss the cheese at all. For a cheese lover like me, that’s saying a lot.

I made a few modifications to the original recipe, which came from an old issue of Bon Appetit. First and least importantly, I changed the name. They called it a “squash carbonara,” but as it contains no egg, I think that’s misleading. Secondly, they also used prosciutto, fried up and crisp, with the onions cooked in the prosciutto’s rendered fat. I skipped this step as I was trying to keep the meal a little healthier and a little cheaper (the best imported stuff goes for $26/pound where I am!)  The good news is, it was still delicious.

Pasta with Butternut Squash Sauce, adapted from Bon Appetit
2 lb butternut squash, peeled and cut into ½ inch cubes (about 3 cups)2 cloves garlic, smashed½ a small yellow onion, diced2 cups chicken stock1 tbsp chopped fresh sage leaves2 tbsp olive oil¼ cup grated ParmesanPinch red pepper flakesSalt and pepper1 box pasta (I used rotelle but think this would be great on linguini)

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add squash, onion, garlic, pepper flakes, and season with salt and pepper.  

Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent, about 10 minutes.  Add broth, then bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat and simmer until reduced by half, 15-20 minutes. Let cool slightly, then puree in a blender or food processor until smooth.  Reserve skillet.

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, until al dente. Drain, reserving one cup cooking liquid.

Combine pasta and squash puree in reserved skillet and cook over medium heat for two minutes. If it seems dry, add ¼ cup of reserved pasta cooking liquid. Mix in ¼ cup Parmesan.

Serve, with extra Parmesan for topping.

Make Ahead: Squash puree can be cooked up to three days ahead. Let cool, cover, and chill.


Back with Some Recent Reads

Hi again.  I basically took a summer vacation from blogging, but I’m back now and hope to be posting regularly again.

The reason for the hiatus was pretty exciting- we bought a house!! Construction hasn’t actually begun on the house yet, so it’ll be quite awhile till we move, and I’ve got no pictures to show, but my heart was in planning and getting all that together. Plus we took a no-computer-access vacation in August, which didn't work any wonders for my blog. 

But it leads me to my first post in over a month, a new edition of recent reads. I spent a large part of the summer gloriously lounging by the pool or on the beach, and I got some wonderful reading in.

Wild, by Cheryl Strayed
I loved this. It’s ultimately a redemption story- the memoir of a woman wrecked by drugs and death and a broken home, who decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail when she has nowhere left to turn. The story was gripping.  Her ability to access and describe her emotions is amazing, as is her resolve, strength, and toughness. The hike is not an easy one, and Strayed is not even close to properly prepared, but nothing deters her.  Strayed, and her life, are my polar opposites, and reading this, I was amazed on so many levels- the abuse a human body could take, how much you can overcome with sheer willpower, and even the way the universe appears to look out for each and every one of us. Truly a stellar read.

This Is Where I Leave You,  by Jonathan Troppel
This movie comes out Friday night. My husband’s was obsessed with this book, so I picked it up too and enjoyed it. It’s a hilarious story of an extremely dysfunctional family who comes together for a shiva after their father’s death.  The characters are entertaining and vivid, and they’re all facing some intense personal problems, which makes some of their interactions quite bizarre.  A fun read, if a bit vulgar at times.

Women in Clothes, by Sheila Heti, Leanne Shapton, Heidi Julavits
I’d describe this book as a literary collage. The authors surveyed 639 women from all perspectives and backgrounds- young, old, rich, poor, famous, sweatshop workers, transgenders, you name it- to get their views on style and fashion.  The book, which is crazy long, puts these answers together in variety of fun ways, from straight-up survey reprints, to interviews, to photo collages, to arty little literary pieces (that, admittedly, I didn’t understand and skipped over).   It got a little long and boring for me by the end, but overall cool and something a little different.

Sisterland, by Curtis Sittenfeld

This is a kooky chick lit book about two twin sisters born with ESP. One chooses to go all out and become a medium, and the other chooses to abandon her skills in favor of a typical suburban life. When the psychic sister predicts a huge earthquake will hit their town, she gains crazy notoriety and the twins are forced to grapple with sibling and self-image issues that have been brewing for years. This is a fun, easy, chick-lit kind of read.  


Summer Vegetable Pasta

Whenever I'm in a farmer's market, I get a serious case of my eyes being bigger than my stomach. I want to buy everything, and I grossly overestimate how much I'll actually be cooking that week.
This past weekend was no exception. Two of my awesome girlfriends spent the weekend, and we hit up the farmer's market before breakfast. Not knowing what we'd wind up cooking that day, I stocked up on everything- peppers, zucchini, mushrooms, eggplant, spinach, tomatoes, fruit, you name it.
And as is usually the case with us, we skipped past the vegetables in favor of scrambled eggs with brie, and I found myself with a nice little bounty for the week ahead.
Which is where this yummy summer pasta comes in. This is my favorite type of meal to make: an assortment of vegetables, sauteed in oil, deglazed with wine, and finished off with Parmesan and fresh herbs.
I'm going to attempt to provide you with a technique, not a recipe, because the beauty of this dish is its flexibility. You can start your saute with onions, garlic, fennel, and any vegetable,  add in anchovies, or tomato paste, or swap the wine for lemon juice, finish with butter.  I don't like to provide exact quantities because you can do whatever you want. If you love eggplant, add a whole one. If zucchini's not your favorite, add a tiny bit.
Summer Vegetable Pasta (Serves 2-4)
1/2 cup halved cherry tomatoes
1/2 a large eggplant, cut into 1 inch cubes
1/2 a medium sized zucchini, cut into 1 inch cubes
1/4 cup sliced baby portabello mushrooms
1/2 cup chopped mixed herbs- I used parsley and basil
2 smashed garlic cloves
1/4 dry white wine
1 cup chicken stock (I throw a teaspoon of bouillon in a measuring cup and pour water out of my tea kettle, but you can be fancy
1 box pasta (I used a mix of gemelli and rotelli, was trying to use up those awkward half boxes!)
Olive oil
Pinch red pepper flakes
Parmesan cheese to taste

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
In a large skillet, saute olive oil and garlic until golden. Add in all your vegetables, and saute about 8 minutes, until golden.

Add white wine to pan and bring to a boil. Let wine reduce by at least  half, and then add chicken stock.  Add pasta to your pot of boiling water, and let vegetable mix simmer and reduce a little while pasta cooks.

Drain pasta and add to sauce. Cook together for one minute, then top with parmesan cheese and herbs.



Kale and Grain Salad

Over the past year, my husband and I have gotten really into weight lifting. Recently, we started seeing a personal trainer, who explained that "what you eat is everything" and sat us down for a nutritional consult.

Her rules are strict: no pasta, no cereal, no bread, extremely limited sugar intake (and sugar includes fruit, carrots, etc). She recommends lean proteins, sweet potatoes, lots of greens, and whole grains- the typical bodybuilder diet.

I can't stick to a diet like that too closely (I'm Italian, I love my pasta!), but I do want to try to eat a little cleaner during our weeknight meals.

This salad is my bodybuilder diet "training wheels"- I mixed couscous (a pasta) with freekeh (a serious whole grain), and added kale, snap peas, and a few shavings of Parmesan.  It was pretty good- I don't like the freekeh by itself, but blended with Israeli couscous, it made for a delicious mix of textures.

Kale and Grain Salad
1/2 cup freekeh
1/2 cup Israeli couscous
1 cup chicken stock
1 bunch kale, trimmed and chopped
1 cup sugarsnap peas
1 clove garlic, smashed
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese

1/4 olive oil
1 small shallot, chopped
2 tbsp vinegar

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add snap peas, boil one minute, then drain and rinse under cold water to set the color.

Combine 1/2 cup freekeh and 1 and 1/2 cups water in a pot. Bring to a boil, and simmer 45 minutes. (Alternately, you can buy cracked freekeh, which cooks faster. I had a hard time finding that).  Drain, and add to a serving bowl.

In a separate pot, add couscous and chicken stock. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes, until water is absorbed.  Drain, and combine with freekeh in serving bowl.

Saute the kale, garlic, and olive oil in one of the pots until wilted, and add to serving bowl. Add sugarsnap peas as well.

Mix all dressing ingredients together and pour over freekeh/couscous combo. Using a vegetable peeler, shave some Parmesan over the top. Serve and enjoy.

*You can also make this salad with just freekeh or just couscous, to make it easier. Or swap quinoa or farro for one of the ingredients.


Life Lately

I've been majorly MIA lately, due to an overwhelmingly jam-packed June, so I figured I'd share what I've been up to before I got back into regular posts.

managed a few summer nights drinking on the pier with friends // spent a weekend on the lake at my husband's old sleepaway camp // hubby's grandma shared some relics from her past as a famous ballerina  // LOTS of house hunting // badass new sneakers, only $14.99 // june was full of events: birthdays, family parties, and a friend's baby shower