Sunday, December 14, 2014

ho ho ho

In my attempts to have a better attitude about the holiday season, this is my blog post that is full of jolly things.  I thought that was good thing to do today before I slip into a winter's coma (aka Sunday afternoon napped) that is being egged on by the 4th gray, misty day in a row. (So abnormal for Kansas. I hope it ends soon. I don't know how sun-less days I can take. It's not even that cold outside..).

Whenever I decide to embrace a holiday, food is usually involved. This month has been no different. I cannot stop making Christmas goodies. I just pulled a batch of sugar cookies out of the oven. Last weekend, I made a Nutella cherry hazelnut fudge, (which is as delicious as it sounds as well as a major baking win since I had never successfully done that before) as well as a chocolate dipped shortbread cookies for the MCC Christmas open house. We are creeping closer to Christmas, but I still have my eye on one more Christmas goodie that I hope to make soon. If all goes well, I will put them in hideous Christmas tin I got from the Et Cetera Shop and share them with family.

I am not the type of person who decorates their living quarters with seasonal decorations. I don't like tacky things and up until now, I've never had the luxury of extra storage space. This year, I didn't do very much, but I did get a fresh Christmas wreath from Stone Creek Nursery and hung it on my door. It's so lovely. (I've also constantly been lighting a pine scented candle when I've been home to really make it seem festive in here).
You might not even believe this, but I've made a "winter/Christmas" playlist on Spotify that I listen to at work. In order to not hate Christmas, I usually have to avoid most Christmas music. However, there are some selections that I do like, especially if you never hear them on the radio. I've been building this playlist for a long time, adding a song to it whenever I hear something that mentions snow or being cold (or reminds me of being cold). It makes what Christmas music I do have on that playlist way less intense. I recently found a band called Johnnyswim and have really enjoyed their Christmas album in this mix. These gray days might be so dismal, but at least it's nice to sit at my desk, listen to some nice music and sip on the Christmas blend of coffee the office got from Mojo's.
The MCC Christmas tree
I know. Look at me being festive. I even got some vintage Christmas wrapping paper from Et Cetera that  I am super excited to use this year.

Ho ho ho

Saturday, December 6, 2014

My Thanksgiving Post: Part 2

Thanksgiving has come and gone, as it typically does. Now, things are full swing Christmas. I don't really seem to mind it. I even told my coworker, Diana, that I was feeling quite Jolly on Friday morning. (ho ho ho). 

This is highly unlikely behavior by me.  I am sure my attitude adjustment towards Christmas has a lot to do with the fact that I now live by myself and watch basically zero live TV (with the occasionally Sunday football game exception). This might highlight my control issues, but since I can decide how much commercial Christmas I deal with, I am a lot happier. I don't mind the season as long as it doesn't feel like someone is shoving "Rocking around the Christmas Tree" in my face. 

Still, I don't want to dig to deep into my annual thoughts about Christmas in America. Really, I want to still talk about Thanksgiving. Last year at Thanksgiving time, I wrote a blog about gratitude. Since I tend to be snarky, I think this is a good thing for me to continue. And even though my list isn't really different from last years, here is my Thanksgiving post: part 2. (Since I just focused on food in my first post. go figure). 

1. I will always be thankful for the Thanksgiving standards: God, Family, Friends. 

Even though I live quite far from all of them, I am so happy they are in my life (even if it often remotely). I am thankful for hikes with my dad and phone calls with my mom. I am thankful for my siblings, whom I will always think of in the highest regards. (Even since I was little I've thought they were the coolest ever. That continues to this day). I am thankful that I get to be an aunt to some really cute babies (who are hardly babies anymore, although twin boys are coming in March! That's nuts! But so exciting!). 

I am thankful for friends near and far. I am thankful I can snapchat Jilly in Bolivia and sit in the back row at church with Amy and complain about the song we're singing. I am thankful that I can now go on "cousin dates"with Heidi. 

And, of course, I am thankful for Levent. He makes Kansas the best place to be. Every day, I cannot wait for him to come over so we can cook supper, eat great food and just be together (as we binge watch a ton of shows).  I'm so happy I found someone with whom I can be completely ridiculous. 

2. I am thankful for my cat!… even if she tends to be a little demon child. (I am hoping she'll grow out of it a little bit. She is still a "kitten teenager"after all). I like having her here. (Also, I renamed her. Her name is Scout. Flavia just wasn't doing the trick). 

3. I am thankful that I finally get to live by myself. It's my introvert dream come true. Even though the "Wood's Cottage" (which is the name I call my house in my head) probably will fall a part in a couple of years, I love being here. It's perfect for me. 

4. I am thankful for my job. It has it's ups and downs but I enjoy being at work. I enjoy having co-workers I also count as friends. 

5. I am thankful for the art of cooking and baking, for really good food blogs to follow and for really good podcasts to listen to when I am in the kitchen. (I decided to dive into holiday baking this year and I am loving it so much). 

6. I am thankful for the Hesston Wellness Center. Despite being full of crazy college youth or old men who fart consistently when they are on the treadmills, its nice to have a place where I feel comfortable enough to work out every day. The classes challenge me to be better (Cardio X!) and has, overall, helped my whole being. 

7. I am thankful I am all done with my Christmas shopping already. That for sure will make this month a whole lot better. 

Oh there are a hundred more little things I am thankful for, but I think that will do for this year. 

Until next time… 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Thanksgiving time

I love Thanksgiving time. I know I blog every Thanksgiving and every year I say, "This is the best holiday." Really, especially for a food lover such as myself, it is, especially since it has about zero hype. People are generally more excited about using it to kick off the Christmas season. But not me. I love it for what it is - sitting on the couch and eating good food.

(Sidebar: Did I tell you that I am not going to hate Christmas year. Dillon's was selling real, baby Christmas trees and I almost thought about buying one. I didn't but it at least crossed my mind. I know. Whoa. Who am I?)

The only thing I don't like about Thanksgiving is that it's really hard for people who live very far from family to see them on the actual event. Since Christmas trumps Thanksgiving, we save driving across the country for the end of December and stay home in November. And it feels as if you have to be baller in order to buy a plane ticket home for the weekend of Thanksgiving. Levent and I are not ballers.

So this year, I didn't "run up to Iowa" (like my sister and I have done in the past to visit my Grandparents) and we didn't go to Hutch to be with Levent's grandparents. We just stayed home.

Even though I missed my family, it was nice really to do our own thing. The day had no pressure attached to it, which is the best kind of holiday. However, when you don't hang out with your mom or Grandma on Thanksgiving that means you have to make all the food yourself.


Levent and I just roasted a chicken and made some sides to go with it. Pretty simple, right? Well, we still spent most of the afternoon in the kitchen. I love cooking, but there is still this child side of me that just wants my mom to do it so I can do nothing. (Sorry, Mom, for never helping in the kitchen on holidays). I also don't know how people roast any type of large meat chunk for any non-holiday meal. Yikes. It's a ton of work!

But it was worth it in the end. The chicken and good flavor and wasn't too dry (which was nice for my first one) and we served it up with cornbread stuff, mashed potatoes, gravy and green beans.

A couple weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, I had sworn off desserts in a desperate attempt to get myself back in shape. (Let me tell you, traveling for work + and aging metabolism is not the best). So I had been waiting and waiting for Thanksgiving evening so I could eat a slice of this Chocolate zucchini loaf cake and vanilla bean ice cream.

It wasn't even the best cake recipe around (it was a new one) but it was still delightful.

Happy Thanksgiving weekend everyone! I hope yours was as relaxing as mine.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Turkey Chili

A couple of weeks ago, when I was in California for work, we ate at this restaurant for dinner. Since I wasn't extremely hungry, trying to eat healthier and feeling rather chilled, I opted to the bowl of Turkey Chili. It was delicious.

I came home from that work trip determined to find a turkey chili recipe that I could love. Little did I know that I would find it on the first time around. (We did not even let it simmer for as long as the recipe said, mostly because we were hungry and it was already past 7pm), but it was still awesome).

I get overly excited about trying new recipes and most of the time I feel fairly disappoint by the end result. Not this time around. I think I smiled all evening. I was so happy by the way it turned out.

Turkey Chili

1 T Olive Oil
1 c chopped sweet onion
1 T minced garlic
1/4 c chopped bell peppers
1 lb ground Turkey
1 (28oz) can crushed tomatoes, undrained
1 (16oz) can red kidney beans
1 T chili powder
1 T sugar
2 c low-sodium chicken broth
1 t hot sauce
1 1/2 t sea salt
1 t dried basil
1/2 t oregano

In large skillet, saute onions, garlic and peppers in olive oil over medium heat until onions are translucent. Add ground turkey and cook until browned.

Add remaining ingredients and stir well to combine. Reduce to low and simmer  for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

*(We decided to add cumin, since we like that spice a lot. Add any where from 1 teaspoon- 1 Tablespoon with the rest of the spices

Source: Food Network website

It's perfect for a cozy evening at home.

Meet Flavia

Hello world. I finally got a cat.

Yesterday, Levent and I went to the Kansas Humane Society in Wichita to find a pet for the cat shaped hole in my heart. (ha).

I had never been to the Humane Society in Wichita and, oh my gosh, it took forever. Mostly because they were busy and we had to wait in line to request to visit with only 2 pets. I definitely felt the pressure to pick the right cat right away, just based on pictures from their website (since most of what they had in the feline lofts on the main floor were kittens.

Thankfully, I picked correctly the first time. "Smokey," now known was Flavia (from the Alan Bradley series) is a quite little cat "tween" who is not always very photogenic but is very willing to cuddle and be petted. When we brought her to my house last night, she spent about 2 hours just walking around the house purring. She's a bit younger than I had originally wanted (she woke me up early this morning by jumping on me and demanding to be petted) but I think we will bond quite nicely.

She also loves Levent, which is quite nice also. :-)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Turkish Lentil Soup, the polar plunge, and other weekend things

The Polar Plunge is here!!

As if we did not already know.

Winter and I have a hard time being friends. I hate being cold. I hate it! I also tend to live in very drafty houses. So when I realize there is snow on the ground and my phone tells me its 14 degrees outside, I skip church. (Sorry Mom, it's too cold!)

Coming back from California, it feels as if this weekend and last week have had days and days between them. And now I have to do adult things and buy a shovel despite that I was just an adult and bought a rake the weekend before. Oh the madness.

I guess I am too hard on winter (though it is hard on me me). Winter does have its perks. For instance, I am not constantly trying to finish all these outside projects when it is winter. (Sure I am legally suppose to keep my sidewalk clear but with no shovel I don't feel super inclined to clear it for the maybe one person who will walk by my house). When the world is covered in snow, I do not have to worry about my garden. All I have to do is cuddle up with a blanket, make some coffee and read until my hearts content. Things will wait until spring. Winter weather means vacation from the depends of the garden.

The arrival of winter also means the arrival of holidays. This year, I decided that I was not going to be a grinch about Christmas. So far, so good. I've just been focusing on what I am excited about and that seems to be helping. Also, Levent and I are going to have our own Thanksgiving dinner together and I am really pumped about that. I have a list of new recipes I want to try and there is totally zero pressure because all of our friends are out of town or are bound to the beast that is Hesston College at Thanksgiving time. It may be a disaster (since the last time I tried roasting a bird we almost burnt the house down). But if it is, who cares. We'll just eat mashed potatoes instead and that sounds like a good day to me.

Winter also means soups. I get overly excited about some part of seasonal cookery and for winter it is soup.  Because of the polar plunge, on Friday, Levent and I made his Turkish Lentil Soup which is so delicious (and probably the best we've ever made it thus far).

We've devoured it this weekend. Yep. It's been pretty great.

Yeah, so what winter!  
Turkish Lentil Soup

2 Cups red lentils
8 Cups water or broth (I used half chicken broth half water)
1 t cumin
1 t paprika
1 large onion, diced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Juice of one (or more) lemon
1/4 c tomato paste

1. Wash the lentils. Add to broth/water and bring to a boil. Cover for 1/2 hour, stirring occasionally

2. When lentils are tender, add dry spices to the pot.

3. In a skillet, saute onions and garlic in olive oil until golden brown. Then add to the soup.

4. Puree the soup with an immersion blender. Then add tomato paste. Simmer until the paste is fully mixed into the soup.

5. Turn off heat and add lemon juice.

6. Serve with additional lemon wedges for garnishing

Saturday, November 15, 2014

California work trip

I promise you that I went to California for work, not just the beach. Though these photos don't reflex it, we actually spent most of the time in meetings.

We did take one evening to drive across LA to go to Newport Beach. Unfortunately, we got there right after sunset but it was still lovely. And hey, I haven't touched the Pacific ocean (from the U.S. coast that is) since I was like 4 years old or something. It was a beautiful reunion.

We are in the middle of the "polar plunge" right now in Kansas (as is most of the country), so let me just take a moment with these photos okay?

People who live close to the ocean are lucky indeed.

Yes. But I am really glad I don't live in the LA area. This prairie girl cannot handle the insane traffic all of the time. And I mean all of the time. wow. (Yeah, I know. Kansas has gotten me. We live our lives here in the express lane and I say that because we can go for miles, very fast, and barely have to pass anyone).

California is an interesting place.