John and I decided a while back that he should get an awesome...thing when we got engaged, since I got a beautiful ring with a pearl that my mom brought back from Japan over 40 years ago (another story).
With historic items at the Niagara Historical Society Museum.
After a lot of discussion, it was decided that we would go on an awesome vacation to Niagara on the Lake, which would serve as the setting for us to actually get engaged. We had a wonderful time there in April and we were excited to go back.
John with other historic items in the War of 1812 gallery. The Niagara region in Ontario was the site of a lot of War of 1812 action. And you know what that means - 2012 is a big year! An issue for a separate post, I'm sure.
We arrived in NOTL in time for some afternoon touristing and wine tasting. Our first stop was the historical museum, where we saw (among other things), a small table made in Paris during Rameau's lifetime.
We stopped at this gazebo on Lake Ontario for some pictures (part of John's plot).
He reviewed his notes while I snapped a few shots, and then he awkwardly said, "Hey...it's time." And proposed.
That night we had dinner at the Ravine Winery Bistro, concluding with chocolate pot de creme.
Ravine was our favorite dinner of the two, though we also had a very nice meal at Strewn Winery. We tasted wines at both Reif and Stratus wineries. I think Stratus, the relatively new place with a modernist design scheme, was our favorite over all, though Strewn is arguably a better deal for their inexpensive, delicious wine. We fit in a 3 mile run along the Niagara parkway on a chilly cloudy morning, followed by fabulous diner breakfast for $3.50. This vacay was a good example of how you can take John anywhere - an upscale winery restaurant, followed by a cheap diner, and then episodes of Seinfeld at the hotel at night.
The vacay was the perfect start to our Christmas and a fun place for us to get engaged. By Friday morning we were itching to call our friends and family to announce the engagement, and we headed to Fort Wayne just afterward.
Here are some belated Christmas that John and I took with the camera timer. Just like last year, they are about 75% goofy, 20% serious, and 5% accidental.
The official winner:
The nice ones:
Last week John and I went to Niagara on the Lake for a wine country vacation. We told some people we were just going there to have a little relaxing time to ourselves before traveling to my parents' for the holiday.
But secretly, we also went because we decided to get engaged. It happened under that gazebo on Lake Ontario, but it was rainy and grey that afternoon. We went back to snap some sunny pictures when the weather improved the next day. The one below is from a few moments before he proposed.
John had the ring for a couple months before he proposed. He said it was like having a loaded gun in the house.
I have lots more to say about all this, and I'll write multiple posts about the trip. But for now, omg. We're engaged. Woo hoo!
This year for Christmas we decided to DIY my mom's gift: a simple, IU-themed birdhouse. We bought all the supplies at Michael's, just an unfinished birdhouse, some simple red and white paint (acrylic, designated for the outdoors), a couple of sponge brushes, and one fine-tipped brush for the details.
Also pictured: a gin and tonic. Not required for painting, but it couldn't hurt!
We picked a house without too many sides or weird angles, and plenty of room for a big IU logo on the back.
John and I took turns painting it while watching TV. We would only work on it a few minutes each day, applying another coat every couple of days.
First, the white sides.
Then the roof.
And last, the trim. It's not pristine, and there are a few places where you can really see our amateurish painting. But it's charming that way, I think. And it'll look nice hanging outside.
The IU looks especially homemade, but it was fun, and it's for my mom, after all. I give this DIY project a solid A.
Merry Christmas, Mom!
I think my mom and I tried to make fudge once when I was younger, and it was a real disaster, so I've stayed away from fudge recipes ever since. But these two are pretty simple. All you need is a double boiler - and really, all you need is a bowl and a pot to use as a lazy man's double boiler.
The chocolate fudge recipe is from Martha Stewart and it involves putting chopped pretzels in the chocolate mixture before it sets. The sweet-salty combo is delicious. You can get the recipe from Martha Stewart's website here.
The peanut butter fudge recipe is from Annie's Eats. Her instructions ask you to melt everything n the microwave. I haven't mentioned this here, but our microwave croaked a month or so ago and we haven't replaced it. Instead, we bought a used toaster oven on the cheap ("El Toastito"). So in order to melt everything for this recipe I just used a double boiler again and it seemed to work fine. It's pretty hard to screw up melted butter, peanut butter, and sugar.
That is one intensely rich plate of fudge.
Organic Works is on Wellington and Horton, a good location for us. John and I are always looking for a new place to study outside the apartment and off campus. Changing locations like that can really clear my head. This cafe is a chain, but it looks like they only have stores in Ontario, and it still has a local feel. The store has a large display of cool Christmas ornaments and tons of other decor items, as well as a grocery section with meatless and/or gluten free foods. On top of all that, they bake muffins, cookies, loaves of bread, and scones fresh daily, along with sandwiches, soup, and a coffee bar.
We've already been several times.
John tried the "bread and spreads," where you get two little piles of warm pieces of bread and two of their spreads. I'm pretty sure he chose the avocado and chickpea spreads (not unlike hummus).
I've tried the chocolate chip scone and the pumpkin muffin, both pretty good. They also have some of the best decaf around, on par with decaf from the Black Walnut, one of our other favorite local coffee/bakery joints. John can also vouch for their veggie pizza, which he raved about.
It's a great place to study, especially because of the free wifi. They have a great amount of space with lots of big tables - perfect if you need to work with a giant musical score like I do. I took the picture of the breads and spreads above in one of the window seats that are more like booths. There is also a section with a couch and armchairs on the opposite side of the room, not pictured.
I think Organic Works and I will be seeing more of each other soon.
*Like always, this ain't no fancy, big time blog. I was not paid or compensated in any way for this post, I just think it's a cool place. The end.
December 8: Walked 1.8 miles from school to home, plus 25 minutes of stretching afterward and 16 push ups.
Food: bowl of cheerios with (dairy) milk, 2 bananas, thintini with avocado. Apple. PB cliff bar. Bowl of Thai coconut soup with tofu, 1/2 avocado. 1 tortilla. 1 tbs (serving size) of milk chocolate chips. 1 bowl of cheerios with (dairy) milk. 1 banana with 2 tbs pb. Glass of milk. Tiny glass of Holly Nog.
Green machine smoothie, 1/2 gone.
December 9 (day 8 total): Ran 3 miles, speed work with negative splits, finished in 28:40.
Food: Green machine smoothie, handful of almonds, 1 blueberry bagel, 1 banana with 2 tbs pb, 1 apple, 1 avocado with a tortilla. Tea. 1 chocolate chip cliff bar. 1 handful pretzels. 1 bowl of Thai coconut soup with 4 cornbread biscuits. 1 bowl of cheerios with dairy milk. 1 cup of strawberries.
I have just enough space in The Christmas Room to unfold the yoga mat and do my at-home yoga/strength routine with the magic of Christmas all around.
December 10: Off day, just resting.
Food: bowl of Harvest Crunch cereal with dairy milk; cornbread biscuit. Blueberry bagel. Potluck: 3/4 egg salad sandwich; deviled egg; 3 chocolate covered cream puffs (amazing); 3 carrot sticks with 1 tsp or so artichoke dip; 1 tangerine; 1/4 oz chocolate; 1 apple; banana with 2 tbs pb; bowl of Carla and Dave’s Superbowl Chili; 1 cornbread biscuit; 1/3 cup or so of (dairy) milk.
December 11: (day 9 total) ran 3 miles in 31:17.
Food: blueberry bagel with 1 tsp butter; apple; green machine smoothie; piece of toast with most of an avocado (some parts were bad and had to be thrown out). 1 small gingerbread cookie at church coffee hour. Handful of pretzels. 1 D’Anjou pear; 1 hershey’s kiss. 6 or so stuffed mushrooms with fig goat cheese and feta. 1 Beer. Dinner at Church Key: a whole bunch of curry fries and a spinach salad with goat cheese and butternut squash. Pretzel bread. Glass of red wine.
December 12 (day 10 total): 45 minutes of yoga and strength training, including 17 push ups (woot!).
Food: blueberry bagel with butter, tea. Green machine smoothie, a few pieces of roasted yam, 2 oz of (real) egg nog. 1 D’anjou pear. 1/4 oz chocolate. 6” tortilla with 1 tbs pb. Awesome Mexican Salad, same from last week (so good!). Also, two brownies and a 1/4 rocky road bar from Meg at Sweet Beach. Bartlett Pear.
Awesome Mexican salad before the toss. I could easily eat this once a week all year.
December 13: (day 11 total): 3 mile run, plus stretching and foam rolling.
Food: green machine smoothie; roasted potatoes with rosemary and left over Mexican salad; 3/4 rocky road bar from Sweet Beach. Tangerine. 3 almonds. Several bites of John’s cranberry-lemon muffin at the Organic Works vegan/gluten free bakery. Small glass of (dairy) egg nog. Piece of whole wheat toast with 1 tbs pb and 2 tsp strawberry jam. Bowl of Superbowl Chili with 5 mini cornbread biscuits. Small glass of milk; another slice of pb/jelly toast.
And after the toss.
December 14: Day 12 total! 45 minutes of yoga/stretching with 19 push ups and physio exercises.
Food: green machine smoothie; handful of almonds; final bowl of Superbowl chili; decaf coffee and giant chocolate chip scone at Organic Works bakery/café; cup of fabulous caffeine free tea also at Organic Works; bowl of Jamaican cook up rice. Probably another evening snack.
I'm happy to say that 12 Days of Gym Christmas has enabled me to lose 3 pounds over the last 4 weeks (including the end of November, of course). It's been fun to have another kind of goal for fitness at this time of year, besides just "keep running without a race on the calendar." Here's a big fat THANK YOU to Djillian for starting it! I've also enjoyed reading everyone else's updates in the comments of her blog. 12 Days of Gym Christmas has helped me get moving after spending hours at the kitchen table, writing about George Crumb:
Then I saw the same Holly Nog at our grocery store and decided to try it.
The color is a little darker than regular egg nog.
And I think it's a winner! No, it does not taste exactly like egg nog, but it's pretty good. The flavor is remarkably similar, but the texture is much thinner than real egg nog - which makes sense, since this is only 60 calories per serving. John and I have a carton of real egg nog right next to this in the fridge, because sometimes you just want a couple ounces of the real thing. But I am pleasantly surprised to say that this is nice, too. I haven't tried making a smoothie with it yet, but I'm sure that's on the horizon. I'd give Holly Nog a solid A; it's better than an A-, but not blowing-my-mind-worthy of an A+.
On the kitchen table:
A square vase I got with a great coupon, filled with the sparlkley balls I've had for years. I think those balls came from a $8 package at Walgreens in Bloomington one year. I also took some red ribbon and tied a bow around our rosemary. It's already in a white pot that I found on our porch over the summer, so it's practically a Christmas decoration already. The thyme plant next to it doesn't look as Christmassy, but it's best not to go overboard when decorating your herb garden for the holidays.
In the "den," aka, "The Christmas Room where it's Christmas All the Time."
This year I have tons of wrapping paper supplies that my Aunt Becky gave to me during her moving sale, including a roll of brown paper. Our presents are taking on a "brown paper packages tied up with string" look.
John added his GQ so that Leo could look up at us from beneath the tree.
Last week, as John and I sat watching old episodes of Community, we started cutting snowflakes out of pages from my Office page-a-day calendar. Now they're proudly displayed on the window. I only made a few, but John kept cutting and produced a few...avant-garde snowflakes.
The cyclops and the 4-square ones are John's. The one on the bottom left with the (accidental) little TIE fighters is mine.
A couple days after we finished decorating, Winter showed up and decorated the back yard. It didn't stick around. Just a little snow every week is enough to make things feel Christmassy for now.
I've decided that in addition to exercising 12 times from now 'till Christmas, I will write down what I eat for each of those 12 days. It won't be a consecutive log of food (I don't work out every day), and it's mostly for my own entertainment. So here's my recap for the first half.
Exercise: 30 minutes on the stationary bike, 20 minutes of stretching that included 13 push ups (boo ya!).
Food: bowl of cheerios with milk; 2/3 cup cheerios without milk; apple; orange; "thin-tini" with an avocado; banana; peanut butter cliff bar. Quiche for dinner (spinach, mushroom, feta), bowl of cheerios with milk again; 2 oz egg nog; one sip of 2 oz egg nog + 1 oz rum (gross!); 1/2 bowl of gingersnap oatmeal from cheap healthy good (pictured below...also gross, but my fault. Didn’t mix spices right, tasted weird).
December 2: Ran 5 miles.
Food: green machine smoothie (based on Kira's recipe here but without protein powder or frozen berries, and adding 2 tbs peanut butter) , slice of leftover quiche, bowl of cheerios with milk, Bartlett pear, chocolate chip cliff bar. Christmas potluck: second slice of quiche, big hunk of a veggie/cream cheese biscuit…thing someone else brought; 1/2 cup beans and rice; 5 crackers and cheesy dip; 8 parogies (sp?) with potato and cheese; can of diet root beer; 4 grapes; slice of apple pie with vanilla ice cream.
December 4: 45 minutes yoga/strength training including 14 push ups and some exercises from physio last summer.
Food: green machine smoothie, thintini sandwich with Gardein meatless breaded chicken strips (must stop eating these, very greasy but tasty), mayo and spinach; apple; 1 square of fudge with pretzels; 3/4 cup pasta with marinara sauce, mushrooms, and zucchini. Bowl of cheerios with milk; Bartlett pear; banana with 2 tbs pb.
December 5: Ran 3 miles.
Food: green machine smoothie. Lots of water. 4 almonds. Blueberry bagel with butter; 11oz can of mandrin oranges, syrup drained off; handful of pretzels; tea; 1 stuffed grape leaf; amazing Mexican salad with 3 cornbread biscuits from Vegan Brunch (did I eat a bowl of cereal that night? Probably but I didn't write it down).
December 6: 45 minutes of yoga and 15 push ups. Also, physio exercises from last summer.
Food: green machine smoothie; thintini with peanut butter; apple; lots of water. Leftover Mexican salad. Party at Grad Club, so 1 piece veggie pizza (so good!), probably 10 or so cheese cubes, 8 crackers, 5 red pepper slices with about 1 tsp dip, 1 triangle of spanikopita. 1 pint Mill Street Organic beer. Tea. Chocolate chip cliff bar. Bowl of cheerios with almond milk. 1 cornbread biscuit.
December 7: Ran 4 miles, stretching and foam rolling.
Food: bowl of cheerios with banana and almond milk. Tea. Green machine smoothie. Thintini with an avocado, mashed on top. Two 6” tortillas. Peanut butter cliff bar. Banana. Bowl of Thai soup with coconut milk and veggies. Bowl of cheerios with (dairy) milk. 1 left over cornbread biscuit.
This is the first time I've logged my food and I'm sort of surprised at how much of the same thing I eat day after day, and just how much I eat in general. It's helpful to look back through these days since I'd like to adjust things to help me loose a couple of pounds before Christmas actually gets here. I know this time of year makes it hard to eat well, since there is at least one potluck every week (still 3 potlucks to go before Christmas). But it's also helpful to see the times when I made good choices. For instance, after the potluck with the apple pie and ice cream, I did NOT eat a piece of cake offered to me later that evening. I'm grateful to Djillian for having the 12 Days of Gym Christmas, though, since it helps me keep both the exercise and the indulgent food in perspective. The first 6 days of this flew by, and I hope to officially finish well before the 24th.
I know this sounds crazy, but I kind of love running in the winter (as long as it's not too icy) so I'll keep running past the 12th day. Maybe a few extra days of Gym Christmas will help make up for the...extra baked goods I consume at each potluck.
What about you? Is this the time of year to indulge and rest, or do you try to maintain some exercise during the holidays?
For example, see this post about the melted snowman cookies we made last year. Right?
Right. I am in no way crafty by nature. But this year I read several posts on Young House Love that made me want to MAKE SOMETHING OMG! I decided to try the ornament painting that they explain this post. Glass balls + paint = discovery of my savant talent for ornament making. How hard could it be?*
Note the Tudors intro in the background.
I would give this project a B+. It went ok - I didn't get paint everywhere and they more or less turned out like I planned. Still, I used WAY more paint than I should have, and they took forever to dry (some never really did and have a little pool of paint in the bottom. I'm over it).
The gold one turned out best by far.
Some of the smaller ones I just put in this little glass square vase I bought for $1 at a thrift store.
All the supplies were from Michaels: two packs of glass ornaments (one smaller than the other, but with more in the pack), an four containers of the cheapest possible paint. I'd say the glitter was more frustrating to work with because it moved slower, but it ultimately looks best on the tree. You can see how large my problems are. The glitter is moving to slowly.
Before my stint in painting I also tried something simpler: putting cloves into oranges in a pleasing fashion.
It mostly worked! I'll give this one an A-, since the one that says "Joy" didn't really come across. But it was fun and easy. I bought a bag of cloves for about $.45 at Bulk Barn and then used a big safety pin to poke holes in the orange. It smelled delightful and added some color to the table, but they eventually got moldy so I had to chuck them. Still, a cheap and easy way to make our kitchen smell nice.
What about you? Any homemade decor for the holidays, or do you avoid crafts in general?
*Famous last words.
First up: Vegan Broccoli Cheese Pasta Bake from Daily Garnish.
It's amazing how blended tofu turns into a creamy sauce for this dish. You can use pretty much any shaped pasta and whatever green veggies you had on hand, though broccoli works extremely well. Our only complaint was that this didn't reheat very well the next day. The tofu on the pasta gets kind of hard, even though it was totally creamy the first time. But if you're feeding a large group, I would recommend it.
Next: Sweet Potato and Rosemary Soup from Giada (Food Network).
My friend Katie sent me the recipe for this and I knew we'd both love it. It's basically a lot of sweet potato and broth, but then you mix in marscapone and it turns into magic. I think subbing almond milk and some Earth Balance would be a good way to make this vegan, and I almost tried it (but then I wanted to buy the cheese, so...you know what happened). We will definitely make it again.
ON TO DESSERT!
Numero 3: Peanut Butter Chocolate Pillows from the PPK.
These. are. amazing. I made them for a get together at Bryn and Djillian's house, and they were gone well before I left. I think next time I would make them a little smaller, since some of them were quite large. They are only slightly more involved than a regular cookie, in that you have to roll the peanut butter part into balls and then cover it with the chocolate to make one giant ball, but really, it's pretty fool proof. I'm looking for another excuse to make them because, seriously, these are the best cookies I've made all year.
Four: Mexican Hot Chocolate Cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World.
This recipe isn't on the PPK site, though they do have three other cupcakes up there. I suspect that if you google it, you could find the real thing. They have corn flour and almond meal in them and it gives them a little bit of a gritty texture. The cayenne pepper also gives them a little kick - nothing strong, just a bit - because apparently that's what Mexican hot chocolate tastes like. I've made a couple other recipes from this book, but these are by far my favorite.
Cinque: (Vegan) Pumpkin Pie Brownies, also from the PPK.
I baked these a little longer than the directions called for, and I'm not sure if it made a difference. The final direction is to chill them for an hour and a half before serving, and at that point the pumpkin layer on top was fully set and DELICIOUS. I love these brownies! One of the taste testers said that they have the consistency of a cheese cake. I kind of went on dessert overkill last week, so I froze individual servings of these brownies. I'm optimistic that they will still be good after being frozen.
Six: Mashed Potatoes with Sage and Rosemary and White Gravy from Daily Garnish.
Not a dessert, but I did serve these and the brownies along with a few other items on American Thanksgiving. We had a couple friends over for a casual meal and these potatoes were a hit. They have mashed apples in them that add the perfect amount of sweetness. We will probably make them again at Christmas!
And finally, chocolate dipped shortbread cookies.
This recipe is from the America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook and I first made it the day after we got El Mixo 3000 from Costco (we've been through so much since then, El Mixolito!). Unfortunately I baked them a few minutes too long and they were a little brown. Normally this wouldn't stop me from eating them or giving them away, but they were for a church fundraiser, and they're supposed to look nice so people will buy them. So I did what anyone would do - combine a little melted chocolate with a little milk, dip 'em, and cover them with Christmas cheer. Done and done. I think they sold well!
That's that for fall foods. I'm so proud that this list even includes two non-dessert recipes. It's that time of year again. I have lots more Christmas stuff to write about. In the mean time, it's after December 1st, so crank up the volume on the Christmas music!