Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Things I Love: Fall Edition

I love fall. I love the crisp air; the scent of fires burning in neighboring houses; and the gorgeous fall foliage.


Japanese maple in front of my house

I love that Thanksgiving is coming, and people will be throwing lots of holiday parties. I love that I get to wear my fall boots and cozy sweaters (although my sweaters get plenty of use here in England).

And last but not least, I love Starbucks' Pumpkin Spice Lattes!

[source]

Thank goodness British Starbucks now carry my favorite fall treat! What do you love most about fall?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Picking Up A New Hobby

As you know, my S.O.S. friends have been on quite the running kick lately. Fresh off the thrill of watching them complete another half-marathon, Dan shocked me by announcing he'd like to start running. Once he said he would, I knew it was only a matter of time before I caved too. If I'm going to start running, I might as well be pro-active about it and do it on my terms.

The crew after their half-marathon

I really believe that attitude makes such a difference in day-to-day experiences. If you choose to be happy, generally you will be. So, with that in mind, I decided to have a positive attitude about running. After all, it's my choice. No one is forcing me to run (except maybe Karen).

The day after agreeing to go on a trial run, Karen, Alisha and Rachel all showed up at my front door at 9:00 a.m. sharp. I've never seen these girls so on-time. I'm pretty sure they thought if they didn't show up right away I might lose my nerve...ha!


We did two miles around my neighborhood, and it went so much better than expected! We ran at around a 10-minute/mile pace. I definitely was not going for speed; I just wanted to make it through the run without throwing up! This pace felt pretty good for me though. I was shocked to see that I actually did the whole run without stopping. I guess all my Jillian Michaels workouts are paying off!

The run went so well that I thought I'd press my luck. I actually scheduled a second, third and fourth run! I did the second run on Saturday and it was definitely harder than the first run. Partly because I was still sore from the first run, and partly because it was much colder--there was snow on the ground! I still did it though.

Snow for my second run

I'm not sure that I'll become a runner, but I'm proud of myself for trying something new. I'll keep you posted on how this goes. Thanks for the motivation S.O.S. girls!


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Denim Pouf Tutorial

Dan had a couple of pairs of jeans whose best days were clearly behind them. He was preparing to throw them out, but I thought I could do something fun with them. After spending some time with my good friend Pinterest, I found this beauty:

DIY denim pouf [source]

Although I'm a professional seamstress now (haha!), this still looked pretty intimidating. The original tutorial had lots of pictures though, so I thought I could muddle through it. Spoiler alert: it was hard, but I did it! Here's my final product:


I worked on-and-off on this project for a couple of weeks, just doing a bit at a time so I wouldn't get overwhelmed. Now that I've done it once though, it's really not that bad. In fact, I've already made a second one!

Here's what you need to make one of your very own:
Tutorial slightly adapted from here:

Materials:
  • 2-3 pairs of old jeans in different shades
  • Three large piece of scrap paper (e.g. craft paper)
  • Protractor (I printed mine from here)
  • Paper templates for each piece of denim (see step 2)
  • Pair of scissors
  • Sewing machine
  • Ruler and pencil
  • Straight pins
  • Needle and thread
  • Stuffing (I used the stuffing from 5 cushions that I found for cheap at the thrift store)
  • Iron
  1. On a large piece of paper, draw an 18-inch circle. If you have a compass use that. Otherwise, fake it by measuring and cutting a 9 inch piece of string. Tie each end of the string to a pen or pencil. Put one pen in the center of your paper and draw a circle using the other pen, keeping the string vertical and taut. 
  2. Use a protractor (I printed mine online) to mark a 30° wedge. Draw a 10-inch rectangle beneath one of the wedges so the top of the rectangle borders the bottom of the wedge. Divide the wedge from the bottom rectangle with a straight line. Divide the wedge in two with a diagonal line. Cut off the top inch of the wedge. Add a 1/4 seam allowance to every side of the three shapes and cut them out. These are the pouf templates.


    [source]

  3. Cut out 4 each of 3 different shades of denim. I only had two pair of jeans (dark and medium) so I tried to bleach one pair. The bleach didn't take, but my pouf still looks great. Use what you've got!
  4. Pin three pieces together to form a house (top of wedge, bottom of wedge, rectangle), mixing shades of denim as you go. You'll make 12 houses. Iron each piece.


  5. Take the top part of the wedge and fold it over the bottom part of the wedge so that right sides are facing each other. Sew the pieces together, overlapping the edges by 1/4 inch. This will put the seams on the inside of the fabric so it looks seamless on the outside.
  6. Now attach this complete wedge to the bottom rectangle by again lining them up and then folding them together with the right sides facing each other. In the picture you'll see that I attached the rectangle and bottom wedge before adding the top wedge. Either way works fine. Repeat these steps for all 12 houses.

7. Pin two house shapes right sides together. Align the joint between the wedges and rectangle pieces. Stitch along one side of the house with a 1/4 inch seam allowance. Again, you're sewing with right sides together so the seams are not visible from the front. Add the next house to the sewn set of two and stitch along one side with a 1/4 inch seam allowance. Repeat this step until all the houses are sewn together. Join the two end houses by stitching them right-sides together. When you're finished, you'll have a circle with a small hole on top and a large hole on the bottom.
8. To finish the top of the pouf, cut two 5 inch circles, one out of denim and one out of another fabric scrap. Pin the circles right sides together.
9. Stitch the circles together with a 1/2 inch seam allowance, leaving a few inches open for turning. Cut tiny wedges out of the circle's seam allowance avoiding the opening. This will prevent bunching once you turn the circle right-side-out. Turn the circle right-side-out and press. Tuck in the excess fabric on the opening and sew closed.
10. Pin the circle, denim side up, to the center top of the pouf. Stitch in place with a coordinating or matching thread. These stitches will be visible.


11. Cut out an 18 inch denim circle. I used one whole pant leg to get a full circle, but you can use two halves as well. Draw twelve 30 degree wedges on your denim circle using the protractor. 
12. Match the lines you marked in step 11 with the joints of each house and sew the denim circle to the pouf, right sides together using a 1/2 inch seam allowance, leaving an opening for turning. 
13. Stuff your pouf. I used five cushions I got for a total of $5.75 at a charity shop. 
14. Sew the opening shut.


And that's it! You've made a denim pouf. I'm so happy with how it turned out. Let me know if you make one too. I'd love to see your version!





Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Badasses in Birmingham

I'm so proud of my badass S.O.S. girls who ran an awesome half-marathon this weekend!

Rachel, Karen, Alisha and Katie

Ten of us (the girls, their spouses, and Dan and I), drove to Birmingham, England on Saturday afternoon for a quick weekend. We didn't have a lot of time for sight-seeing, but we had plenty of time for eating. Just because I wasn't running the race didn't mean that I couldn't carbo-load!

We found an all-you can-eat sushi restaurant for our first dinner. Can we say heaven?

Stuffing our faces with sushi


I ate so much sushi that I felt physically ill the rest of the night. Seriously. I miss sushi a lot.

Our second dinner was a more classic pre-race dinner: Italian. I was still pretty full, so I just got a little dessert...ha!

Dough balls with Nutella and hot chocolate

Race day was a lot of fun for both the racers and spectators. There were more than 18,000 runners! Several runners dressed in full costume.



My girls did great! It was Alisha's first half-marathon and she blazed through it! Katie and Rachel both had personal bests and Karen had a fantastic race.

Katie at the finish line

Rachel and Karen at the finish line

The girls definitely lived up to their "badass" nicknames. Well done ladies!!

The badasses

Monday, October 22, 2012

Katie and Andy Come to England!

A couple of weeks ago our good friends Katie and Any came to Harrogate for a visit. It was so wonderful to see them!

Andy, me, Dan and Katie, 2011

Dan and I met Katie and Andy more than six years ago in Washington, DC and have been good friends ever since. This was Katie and Andy's first international trip together, so they wanted to see as much as possible in their 8-day itinerary. They spent the first few days in London and the last three and a half days with us.

We took them to Ripon for their first night up north. I absolutely love the Royal Oak; they serve elevated British food. Their mushrooms on toast is absolutely divine.

Cheers!

We also got to see the Ripon hornblower. This is an awesome tradition dating back to the year 866. No, I didn't forget a number there. Someone has blown a horn in the Ripon town square every single night for the last 1125 years!!

Mr. George Pickles, Ripon Hornblower
Photo courtesy of Andy

The next day I showed Katie and Andy around Harrogate and York. I love my town. It's so beautiful!


Katie had seen a local cupcake place featured on the US show Cupcake Wars. Of course we had to check them out. I can't believe I hadn't been to Mamma Doreen's yet. Their sticky toffee cupcake was fantastic! And they were the nicest people ever. We bought one cupcake and they threw in two  more for us! All because Katie saw them on TV.

Photo courtesy of Andy

Sticky toffee cupcake!

York was fantastic, as always. Of course we had to stop in Betty's for a cream tea :)

Photo courtesy of Andy



The next day is a complete blank for me. I came down with a horrible stomach bug and was absolutely incapacitated. Luckily Dan was still able to show Katie and Andy around while I was cooped up in bed. He took them up to Whitby and Robin Hood's Bay. From what I heard, everyone had a great time!

Robin Hood's Bay
Photo courtesy of Andy

Whitby
Photo courtesy of Andy

Thank goodness my bug was only a 24-hour one. I wasn't 100 percent, but I was well enough to drive through the Dales.




We had a great time touring the Wensleydale creamery too. I love going to the sample room and trying twenty different cheeses!

Wensleydale Creamery
Photo courtesy of Andy

Before I knew it, their visit was over. It went way too quickly (especially since I was passed out for a third of it), but I am thrilled they were able to come. I had a wonderful time, and I hope they did too.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Guess What I Did This Week?

I got a piercing! Why? Why not.


I have several ear piercings already, but I haven't gotten a new piercing since college. Now that I'm living like I'm in college again (but with money this time!), I thought, why not?

Before
 
During

After


What's the craziest thing you've done this week? Let me know!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Shakshuka and Homemade Pita

There's nothing better on a dreary morning than a hot bowl of shakshuka and warm homemade pita for breakfast.

Shakshuka and pita

Shakshuka is an Israeli dish consisting of poached eggs in a spicy tomato sauce. I never thought of tomato and eggs going well together (though Dan eats his eggs with ketchup--yuk!), but Smitten Kitchen, one of my favorite food blogs, had me drooling and practically running to the store to get the necessary ingredients. That was two years ago and I haven't looked back since.

If you're going to make shakshuka though, you must have pita. I used to buy the fluffiest, most delicious pita from the kosher store near my house in DC. Unfortunately, I'm thousands of miles away from that store and the pitas in Harrogate leave something to be desired. I found a recipe for pitas in a cookbook; I cannot believe how easy it is! I'm not sure I can ever buy them again!

Here are both recipes. Enjoy!

Recipe adapted just barely from here.

Shakshuka
Makes 4 servings

Ingredients
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 jalapeƱos (I always want it spicier and forget to increase the heat--next time I'm using 4)
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 28 ounces crushed or diced tomatoes (I used canned)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup feta, crumbled
  • 1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley or cilantro
  • Warm pitas (see recipe below)
Directions
  1. Heat oil in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Add jalapeƱos and onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden brown, about 6 minutes. Add garlic, cumin and paprika; cook, stirring frequently, for another minute.
  2. Add tomatoes and water. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally until thickened slightly, about 15 minutes. Season with salt. I like to leave my shakshuka overnight to develop more intense flavors, but you can eat it immediately as well.
  3. Poach eggs separately. Spoon shakshuka into bowls, add two eggs in each, sprinkle with feta and parsley/cilantro and serve with warm pita.
Recipe from Leah Schapira's Fresh and Easy cookbook.

Homemade Pitas
Makes 8 pitas

Ingredients
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons dry yeast
  • 1 1/4 cups warm water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons oil
Directions
  1. In a mixing bowl, place yeast, water and sugar. Add the four and mix for 30 seconds. Add salt and oil. Mix on medium speed for 8-10 minutes. If the dough looks too dry, add up to an additional 1/4 cup of water (I've never had to add extra water).
  2. Lightly coat a bowl with oil and place the dough inside. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Let rise 1 1/2 hours. 
  3. When the dough has doubled, punch down and divide dough into 8 pieces. Roll each part into a ball and cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Let rest for 20 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, center a rack in the oven and insert an inverted baking sheet or pizza stone (I use a pizza stone and it works great!). Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
  5. Lightly coat your working surface with flour. Using a rolling pin, roll out the balls of dough to 6-inch circles (mine never stay as circles, but it's OK). Lightly dust both sides with flour. If you have trouble rolling out the dough, let it rest an additional 10-minutes and try again. Cover the dough circles until ready to bake so they don't dry out.
  6. Throw 2 ice cubes into the bottom of the oven. Place 2-3 dough circles in the oven. Bake for 4 minutes. Pita should puff up. Remove carefully and let cool. Repeat with remaining dough.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Pear Walnut Cupcakes

I had a ton of pears that were about to spoil in my fridge, so I went online to try and find something I could do with them. I found a recipe for a pear cake and decided to give it a try.

[source]

I didn't have a bunt cake pan, so I made cupcakes and a loaf instead. Both turned out amazing! Unfortunately I didn't take any pictures while cooking them, and I've already eaten half the goods, so you'll just have to make them for yourself if you want to see what they look like :)

These are really easy to make, and are relatively healthy. Make them this week and let me know what you think!

Recipe, heavily adapted from here.

Pear Walnut Cupcakes/Loaf
Makes 12 cupcakes and one loaf

Ingredients
  • 4 cups peeled, cored and chopped pears
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar [I used 1 cup Splenda, 1 cup sugar]
  • 3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 4 egg whites
  • 2/3 cup apple sauce
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts

Directions
  1. Combine the pears and sugar
  2. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter and flour a loaf pan. Place cupcake liners in cupcake pan.
  3. Slightly beat the egg whites and combine them with the apple sauce and cinnamon. Stir into the pear mixture. Divide the batter into the prepared pans.
  4. Bake the cupcakes at 325 degrees F for approximately 15 minutes. Bake the loaf for around 45 minutes. Check for doneness by sticking a toothpick in the middle. When it comes out clean it's done. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before stuffing your face removing from pan.
This cake is highly adaptable, so have fun with it. Add nutmeg and cloves for a spicier cake. Add pecans instead of walnuts, if you'd like. Heck, add some chocolate chips. Go crazy!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Things I Do Not Love: The Darkness

I usually fill these pages with all the amazing things I love about living in England: the beauty, the people, the food, the travel, the quirky festivals, etc. But one thing I absolutely do not love is the darkness. And it's starting again.

The male version of me [source]

We're losing 3 minutes and 52 seconds of daylight today. Today we have 10 hours and 56 minutes of daylight, but by October 31 we'll only have 9 hours and 41 minutes! I know that still sounds like a lot, but think about this: On December 21, the shortest day of the year, we'll only have 7 hours and 49 minutes of daylight. The sun won't rise until 8:03 and will set at 3:54!

Bye, sun. We had a good run. See you next year. [source]

The happy light will do some good, but what's really going to get me through is knowing that lambing season is on the other side.


Do you hate the darkness as much as I do? What gets you through?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Love From Home

Look what I got in the mail today!!


It's a care package from my good friends Dani and Brian back in Maryland. It's filled with a ton of goodies, including:
  • Classic American Funyuns (fried onion rings)
  • Poppycock (carmel popcorn)
  • Berger cookies (black and white cookies from a bakery in Baltimore)
  • Peanut Butter Pillows (crunchy peanut butter candy)
  • Romney 2012 and Obama 2012 chocolate bars (smart to stay bi-partisan)
  • Cadbury hot chocolate (even Marylanders know England does it best)
  • The Washington Metro Express (a local, free newspaper)

Brian, Dani, me and Dan at our farewell event in DC

It's so nice to get a taste from home. It definitely brightened my day. Now it's my turn to put together a care package for them. Help me out--what should I include?