Sunday, February 23, 2014

Laura’s Thai red curry chicken

My friend Kelly shared something with me that she had read in a book. It’s the idea that a dish becomes your own after you make it three times. The first time you should follow the recipe exactly. The second time you should add your own twist. By the third time you should be comfortable making it, perhaps even comfortable enough to do it from memory. At that point, you can call the recipe your own.

I’ve made Chef Michael Smith’s Thai Coconut Curry Soup twice now, and by the third time I made it I really did feel like I was doing my own thing. I’ll admit I didn’t follow the recipe to a T the first time I made it, but it was very close! The soup is delicious with rice noodles (which the recipe calls for), but the second time I made the soup I served it over rice. We enjoyed it over rice more, but both are worth trying.

For my third attempt I wanted to try to make the dish more like the kind of red curry entrée you would see at a Thai restaurant, as opposed to a soup. I took out the chicken stock and added more red curry paste, as well as adding red pepper slices and mushrooms. Andy said, “now we’ll never have to order out for Thai!” (I wouldn’t go that far—I’m a sucker for panang chicken. When I get that dish down at home, then we can stop ordering Thai.) I’ll try to remember to take a picture the next time I make it!

Notes: I used a rice cooker to cook up some jasmine rice. I started with one cup of dried rice and it ended up being not quite enough, but we like a lot of rice. Next time I will use two cups of dried rice. This is a two pot meal—one for the curry and one for the rice!

Laura’s Thai red curry chicken
makes 4 generous portions

-2 chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces (about an inch or smaller)
-2 cans of coconut milk (don’t use light!)
-2 TBSP of red curry paste
-1/2 red bell pepper, cut into 1 inch strips
-1/2 cup roughly chopped mushrooms
-2 TBSP fish sauce
-1 TBSP of lemongrass paste
-1/2 TBSP of minced galangal or one small knob of fresh ginger, grated
-the juice from 1 lime
-2 TBSP corn starch
-1 bunch (handful) of cilantro, rinsed and chopped
-1 or 2 cups of dried jasmine rice, depending on how much rice you like

1. Don’t forget to prepare your rice in a rice cooker or in a separate saucepan. :) I used the “quick rice” setting and it was ready in half an hour.

2. Remove the thick layer of coconut cream from one can of coconut milk and place in a large saucepan over medium high heat. (It’s not hard—the cream is separated from the juice, so just use a large spoon to scoop out that top layer of thick goodness.) Add the red curry paste and stir. Stir in the chicken and cook for 5 minutes, or slightly longer if your chicken pieces are thick.

3. Add the juice from the first can of coconut milk as well as the entire second can. Add bell pepper, mushrooms, fish sauce, lemongrass, galangal/ginger, and lime juice. Stir. Bring to a boil, then turn to a low simmer.

4. Remove 2 TBSP of the sauce and put it in a small bowl. Let it cool for a few minutes and then whisk in 2 TBSP corn starch. (This is called a slurry.) Return the thickened sauce into the pot and stir. Continue simmering the chicken for 10-20 minutes.

5. Serve the curry over rice and top with chopped cilantro.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

my experience with NatureBox

(this is not a sponsored post)

Chances are you’ve seen ads for NatureBox on Facebook or in sponsored posts like this or this. If not, here are the deets: NatureBox is a monthly snack subscription advertising wholesome snacks. You get a certain amount of bagged snacks based on the level of subscription you sign up for. Your first box of snacks are chosen for you, but after that you can go on the website and pick what snacks you want in your next box. You can cancel your subscription any time. The lowest level subscription is $20 for five bags of snacks. Shipping is free in the continental U.S.

from LGN

The snacks do not contain high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, artificial sweeteners, artificial flavors, artificial colors or trans fats. They offer snacks under each of the following categories: vegan, soy free, gluten conscious, lactose free, non-gmo and nut free. They’ll also tell you if a snack is low in sugar or sodium, and you can view the full nutritional info for each individual snack.

I chose to quit NatureBox after two months, but I think it’s a neat company and I wouldn’t necessarily not recommend it.

What I liked: I received two boxes for only $10 after first using a promo code and then using my savings from a referral, so no complaints on the price. They also have a lot of different snacks to choose from, and I like that they provide user reviews. The customer service was pretty superb—you might have to wait a day or to before hearing back, but you’ll get an e-mail assuring that help IS on the way. You also might get a “surprise snack” in your box now and then (free of charge). I got one in my second box. 

What I didn’t like: I don’t think $20 for five bags of snacks is terrible (many snacks that claim to be healthful are expensive), but because I didn’t LOVE the snacks, I didn’t want to pay $20 to try more. Of the five snacks that the company picked for first month, I only liked two (praline pumpkin seeds and French almond vanilla granola). I got a second box because I was able to get the referral discount, plus I wanted to see if I’d like the snacks better if I was able to pick them out myself. I only picked snacks that I really thought I’d like, and all of them got mostly rave reviews. Unfortunately, I wasn’t wowed by what I got. (Nothing terrible, just nothing fabulous.) When I was putting the snacks away I realized I never even finished a full bag of any of the snacks from my first month, and that told me that it’s just not worth it for me to have a monthly subscription.

I don’t keep a ton of snacks in the house. We tend to have crackers, nuts, apples and popcorn on hand, and I’ll occasionally buy a bag of chips or a sleeve of mini candy bars as a treat. We simply don’t need five bags of snacks (granted, they’re small) sitting around.

On one hand, if you are looking for snacks that you can feel good about eating and serving your family, I’d say give NatureBox a shot. You’re not obligated to keep up with the subscription, and you should be able to find a discount code floating around. Plus, there are so many snacks to try! I can’t give a fully fair review of NatureBox considering I have only tried a handful of what they have to offer.

On the other hand, if you don’t normally spend $20 a month on snack food and you’re content with the snacks you normally eat…it might not be worth it.

Let me know if you try NatureBox! I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

a very web 1.0 snow day activity

I wrote this last Thursday, 2/13.

I thought a copycat of this post would be a fun activity for this snow (and sick) day. Sometimes you just have to embrace your inner teenager, amIright? If you decide to fill this out for yourself, please share!

Making: myself keep this house clean! I scrubbed and mopped and dusted and windexed my way through last weekend, and I’m determined to keep it looking lovely!
Cooking: hot party ham sandwiches for lunch, because it’s a snow day and my husband gets incredibly giddy when I surprise him with them. (update: he ate six. SIX!)
Drinking: water, water, water!
Reading: “The Forgotten Garden” by Kate Morton. I dreamt last night that I finished the book and none of my questions were answered. I was so happy when I realized it was just a dream! (update: I have since finished “The Forgotten Garden,” read “And the Mountains Echoed” and started “The Fault in Our Stars.” It’s been a great weekend for reading.)
Wanting: to go abroad.
Looking: at the ridiculous amount of snow on our deck.
Playing: in the snow with my pup. Her new game is to walk normally on the beaten-down path for a while and then randomly leap into huge piles of snow.
Wasting: time while I wait for Andy to come in from clearing our parking spots.
Sewing: I wish! I haven’t sewed in years.
Wishing: I was eating Old Bay wings at Canal Bar (35 cent wings on Thursday nights!)
Enjoying: the snow, because SOMEONE needs to have a good attitude about it!
Waiting: to see “12 Years a Slave” on redbox, because I don’t want to spend $10 to sob in a public place.
Liking: my pedicure.
Wondering: what this year holds.
Loving: having my husband home on a weekday.
Needing: to eat better. But…hot ham sams.
Smelling: like sweat from running around in the snow w/ Casey while wearing my ushanka, heavy coat, super-high socks and gloves. The hat and gloves came off halfway through our walk.
Wearing: my Oak Tree Project tee.
Following: John and Sherry’s progress on their third house and vowing to locate them at a Home Depot or thrift store the next time I’m in Richmond. Fluttery hands and high-pitched voices will ensue. 
Noticing: how long my nails are and that I need to stop saying, “I should cut them,” and actually do it. (update: I did it! lolz.)
Knowing: there is chocolate in my future.
Thinking: I should take a bath and eat my chocolate AT THE SAME TIME.
Feeling: gross. Sore throat, sore ears, sore nose. Everything hurts!
Bookmarking: because I’m slowly starting to get over my “I can only keep up with a handful of blogs so why bother bookmarking more” attitude.
Opening: my folder of Chicago pics and pulling out this loverly photograph:
Giggling: over McSweeney's archives. YOGOL!

“Will you take a picture of me dipping my toes in the water?” Two seconds later... "ANDY! I haven’t even taken my shoes off yet!”

Thursday, February 13, 2014

products I love: face and body

clockwise from top left:

Eco tools blush brush and kabuki brush: I love the soft bristles and the control that each handle provides. I’ve tried other brands and Eco tools is the clear winner in my book.

Neutrogena moisturizer with SPF 15: I’ve been using this moisturizer for years, so I admit that maybe it’s my favorite because I haven’t tried many others. I put a dab of it on a q-tip to remove eye makeup, and I slather it over my face and neck after I get out of the shower. I don’t care for the smell of most facial lotions, but this one has a really light scent. I found a trial-sized version once at CVS and seriously wigged out in the aisle. I haven’t seen it since, but if I ever see it again I’m going to buy a bunch!

**update! RIGHT after posting this, I noticed my brand new bottle of Neutrogena moisturizer had a new, funky smell. Why did they have to go and ruin a perfect product? I now use Aveeno Positively Radiant moisturizer with SPF 15.

Vaseline: I have a million memories of reaching into my mom’s bathroom drawer and uncapping her ginormous tub of Vaseline. I smear it all over my nose, cheeks and lips whenever I have a cold or a chapped face. This could also obviously be in the “body” category. I put it on my heels in the winter and cover them up with thick socks. (Bonus points if vaseline makes you think of Devin singing “she don’t use jelly…or any of these… she uses vaaaaaseline” on FNL. I had no idea she was singing a Flaming Lips cover!)

C.O. Bigelow Mentha Lip balm stick No. 1129: This lip balm is incredibly smooth and minty. I keep it in my purse and use it regularly. It’s especially handy when my breath is funky and I’m out of gum! Bath and Body works doesn’t always have it in stock, but their other mentha products are nice too. I own a couple mentha lip glosses.

**Lypsyl lip moisturizer is equally great. Look for it in the lip care section of your drugstore.

C.O. Bigelow Rose Salve: It’s a cult classic for a reason! I remember sitting in Chemistry class in high school and passing it back and forth with my friend Amber, who owned it before I did. We must have applied it at least three times per class, just for the fun of it! It’s cheap and one tin has lasted me several years. I keep this one in my makeup bag and use it for my lips and cuticles.

bareMinerals READY 4.0 “truth”eyeshadow palette: I’d have a hard time spending $30 on eyeshadow, but I got it as a gift a few months ago and have been loving it. Try it on the next time you’re in ULTA or Sephora! The shadows are soft, easy to apply and have the perfect amount of shimmer. A little goes a long way, especially with the three darker colors. I use the top two colors several times a week and have occasionally used the bottom two (I can’t seem to master using dark eyeshadow). The bottom right eyeshadow works well as an eyeliner.

clockwise from top left:

Suave Naturals Tropical Coconut shampoo and conditioner: I love the price, the smell and the way my hair feels. The conditioner works double duty in place of shaving cream. I also love their Professionals line. The Rosemary and Mint smells divine.

**Aussie 3 minute miracle smoothing conditioner is my new favorite hair product. I’m using it in place of my regular conditioner. I wash my hair every 2-3 days.

Aveeno Skin Relief hand cream: If you have severely chapped skin on your hands then I would recommend a heavier cream, but this stuff works great for me. I keep a tiny bottle of Aveeno lotion in my car and store the hand cream in my nightstand. I’m always impressed by how quickly it seeps into my skin and leaves me with soft, greasy-free hands. I can put it on before reading and don’t have to worry about making a mess on the pages of my book!

Venus original razor: In the past I’ve fallen prey to trying all sorts of fancy razors. (I hated Schick Quattro.) I’ve always gotten the smoothest shave with Venus, but it doesn’t seem to matter whether or not I use the original or one of the snazzier models. I had severely irritated legs this winter and considered that the razor’s moisturizing strip might be the problem, but switching from using shaving cream to conditioner has greatly eased my discomfort.

OPI “meet me on the star ferry” and OPI “brisbane bronze:I’m going to put it out there that “meet me on the star ferry” is my very favorite nail color for my toes. I fell in love with it a few years ago when I got a pedicure and immediately texted my mom and said, “I have a stocking stuffer idea for you!” The color compliments my skin tone perfectly. Right now I have a gorgeous red on, but I forgot to jot down the name of the color. I did remember to write down “brisbane bronze” though, which is what I almost got instead of the red. I always pick two colors and have the technician paint them both on before I decide. :) "Brisbane bronze” is actually more copper-y than bronze. Don’t be fooled by the VERY orange-y image above—it’s a gorgeous color. I plan on wearing it in the summer.

Dove Visible Care “Softening” Creme body wash: So, so good. I think this product is being discontinued, so if you find it, snatch it up! Or buy it and send it to me! Don’t mistake it for Dove Visible Care Radiance with Exfoliating Beads—the bottles look similar, but they’re very different products. The softening creme body wash is exactly what it sounds like. The creme is the perfect thickness and my skin feels great after each use. I also adore the light, milky scent. 

Bath & Body Works Aromatherapy “Sleep” lavender chamomile body wash and foam bath: I don’t go into Bath & Body very often, but when I do I always look for deals on the 2 oz bottles of “Sleep” and “Stress Relief” body wash/bath. They’re perfect for hostess gifts or to stick in a bridal or baby shower gift bag. I found myself constantly reaching into my stash for my own use, and decided that while both are great, “Sleep” is my favorite. I got a free 10oz bottle the last time I went, so naturally I’m claiming it for myself. I usually toss store coupons so I won’t be tempted to shop, but you can’t go wrong with free!

What products have you been using for years? (Or, at least long enough to become a favorite?)

Monday, February 10, 2014

Laura’s chicken and sausage pasta

Whenever I cook up a pasta or soup I try to use just enough meat to make the dish hearty, but not so much that you get a piece of meat in every bite. This allows me to use the remaining meat for other meals and it encourages me to use more fresh produce and other sources of protein to “bulk up” a dish.

I made this soup a few weeks ago and had two remaining hot Italian sausages in the freezer. I also made chicken noodle soup recently and had two leftover chicken breasts. I try to use what I have on hand when I go to make dinner, so I thought I’d combine the two proteins and use up one of the boxes of pasta from our pantry. I’ve made enough pasta dishes from other people’s recipes that I’m now confident in doing my own thing. I make a lot of dishes on the fly and only ever pull out my measuring spoons when I’m trying a new recipe for the first time, but this time I thought, remember what you do so you can write a blog post about it!

I wanted to go as basic (and budget-friendly) as possible without compromising on flavor. This is going to look like one of those “no duh” recipes—but let’s be honest, those bare bone recipes make it so easy to customize to your liking!

If you can, add the fresh parsley and romano cheese. (I’m going to use the remaining romano for cauliflower fritters. You should, too! Parmesan or mozzarella would also work.) Doesn’t pasta make the best leftovers? I prefer to heat this dish up over the stove rather than using the microwave, because I hate the smell and taste of microwaved chicken.

Update: I made a similar version of this tonight and used only sausage. I also added mushrooms, diced tomatoes, a small can of tomato paste (to deepen the flavor) and a second bell pepper. SO YUM. A splash of wine and/or a couple handfuls of spinach would also be delish.

Along with a pasta pot, you will need a large dutch oven or a large and deep lidded skillet for this recipe. (I use a really old pot that looks like this.) This dish could take only 30 min start to finish, but if you can, let the sauce simmer for 45-60 minutes. If you want to simmer your sauce for even longer, remove the cooked chicken and sausage from the pot and put it back in an hour before serving.

ugh, grainy cell phone pic. you can’t see the chicken or sausage well,
but I got plenty!

Laura’s chicken and sausage pasta
30-60 min. | serves 6

nearly all of one box rigatoni or penne (I left one serving in the box to use for a future lunch)
3 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1/2 large onion or one small onion, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
2 chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch chunks
2 hot or mild Italian sausage links, casing removed, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 29 oz can tomato sauce
1 15 oz can tomato sauce (or two 8 oz cans)
3 cloves minced garlic
1 Tbsp Italian seasoning
2 tsp oregano
2 tsp parsley or 2 Tbsp fresh chopped parsley
2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 dried bay leaves
optional garnishes: fresh parsley and/or grated parmesan or romano cheese

1. Assemble ingredients and chop your veggies and meat. (If you’re wanting to turn this into a quick dinner, boil water for the pasta now, then cook it and drain it until you’re ready to add it to the sauce.)

2. Heat 1.5 Tbsp of olive oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet or dutch oven. Add diced onion and bell pepper. Let them sizzle for about 30 seconds, stir, go another 30 seconds, stir and then lower the heat to low. Cover and continue to cook for 10 minutes, occasionally lifting the lid to stir.

3. Remove the onion and bell pepper from the pot and set aside. Add the remaining 1.5 Tbsp of olive oil over medium heat in the same large pot that you cooked your onion/pepper in. Once hot, drop in chicken and sausage. Cook for about a minute, stir, then cover the pan and continue to cook for 5-8 minutes, occasionally lifting the lid to stir.

4. Add the sautéed onion and bell pepper back into the pot with the meat, as well as the last 7 ingredients (the tomato sauce, garlic and various seasonings). Cover the pot and turn to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and let cook for as long as you’re willing to wait! Add more seasonings to taste.

5. About 30 minutes from when you’re ready to eat, boil water for the pasta and follow cooking instructions.

6. Drain pasta and stir it into the sauce. Serve with parsley or cheese on top if desired.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

baby thoughts

I wrote on Facebook that my next blog post wouldn’t be about food. Well, here it is, folks: word-vomit of all the emotions I’m feeling/thoughts running through my head! Lucky you!

Sometimes last summer feels like it happened much longer ago than it really did. Why is that? At the same time, I’ve been having major pregnancy deja-vu. I was wrapping up my first trimester this time last year, and every little thing is setting off memories in my brain.

I think I’ve gone a full two weeks without including the words “I’m so mad at you” in my prayers. I don’t know if I’m completely over the anger, but I’m definitely less angry. I’m angry that God let us go through that hurt, and that He didn’t give us a miracle. I’m angry that I now struggle with having hope in regards to fertility and bearing healthy children. Yup, still a bit angry!

It’s freeing though, to be so secure in God’s love that I know I can feel angry and not be ashamed or guilty.

The thought of John being safe and happy in heaven comforts me, but it also makes me a little bit jealous. I know he is happier there than he could have ever been here, but… selfishly, I still wish he was here.

I’m trying to allow myself to dream about babies in our future again. For so long I didn’t let myself go there. What if I can’t get pregnant? What if I do, and we lose the baby? What if the years ahead hold heartbreak after heartbreak? 

Last Sunday at church I held my friend’s son while she chatted with another couple. I wondered what Andy was thinking as he saw me cooing over Ben, and I tried not to let my mind wander to thoughts of “John would be almost this big if he had lived….” Ben's giggles after every eskimo kiss we shared just melted my heart. I want to hear my babies giggle. I want Andy to see me holding our baby, and I want to hear him bragging about how he made our baby smile.

Despite the tumultuous emotions that pour out of me when I think about God or attempt to communicate with Him, my core being is stilled by Him. I can feel angry or lonely or frustrated or like I can’t hold on any longer, but I know that I am never out of God’s tender hands. Whether I’m in a lowest low or highest high, God is there.

A friend posted this breathtaking passage on Facebook the other day and my heart leapt in my chest when I read it over. The desperation I feel, the incredible longing to be able to hope and not be afraid of what’s ahead, the tears that are always held at bay, all of my, “Why, God?” and “When, God?” questions…all of it, all of it, ALL of it fades to the background when I steady my heart on the ground of His goodness.

As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
for an everlasting sign,
that will endure forever.
Isaiah 55:10-13

Monday, February 3, 2014

Super Bowl snacks

Did you do anything to prepare for Super Bowl snacking yesterday? Andy skipped lunch and I went for a two mile walk. I still ate waaaaay more than I should have, but over-indulging is part of the fun. We had a TON of food considering there were only eight of us. Here are the two snacks I made, plus a snack that a friend brought that blew my mind (and raised my BAC). What are your favorite party snacks?

click on the title to view the recipe

I knew weeks in advance that I’d make a double batch of hot party ham sandwiches. These sammies are GREAT party food (they’re especially beloved by Andy and his friends). They reheat well in the oven if you happen to have any leftovers. I use these rolls and thaw them on the counter for 10-15 minutes before slicing and filling with ham and provolone.

I do not double the amount of poppy seeds when I double this recipe. I also use one large slice of deli ham and one HALF slice of provolone per sandwich. I tear the ham and cheese once or twice to get it to fit neatly on the sandwich, but you can be messy with it and no one will know.

mine didn’t turn out quite so pretty! via

My friend Holly brought us these oatmeal whoopie pies as a hostess gift last year. I’ve been wanting to make them myself ever since, and decided to finally give them a try over the weekend. I made the cookies on Saturday and kept them in a large ziploc on the counter. I made the filling on Sunday afternoon and was delighted to watch it come together. I’ve never whisked flour and milk over heat before to make frosting.

I followed the recipe to a T and was sad when my cookies turned out looking pale on top and a bit dark on the bottom. I pulled my second tray of cookies out at 9 minutes and that kept the bottoms from darkening, but the tops were still white-ish. (I used a filter in my instagram pic to make the cookies look better. No shame.) I have a cookie scoop, but I found that using a small spoon for shaping the cookies (and also for plopping on frosting) delivered the perfect size “pie."

They taste amazing, though—so don’t be discouraged if they look weird. The frosting is phenomenal and really easy to make. I would definitely make these again. (These look good, too!)

These should really be called "hard cider cinnamon cupcakes with caramel whiskey apples and whiskey buttercream that will wow you, warm your chest and give you a slight buzz.

Yeah, they’re that strong! My friend Bethany brought them and I couldn’t stop fawning over how impressive they were. 

What I’ve eaten/will eat today: kale chips (review to come, and yes, I ate them for breakfast), chicken and sausage pasta (recipe to come later in the week), oatmeal whoopie pie, hot party ham sandwiches and a drunken cupcake. 

I should probably go exercise. BLERG