Saturday at the Farmer’s Market

Is it Tuesday already? What a fun weekend we had…so much so I’m still recovering! I love those days when we sleep in (well, as much as a 4-year old will let us) and don’t really have a plan. It can lead to the most memorable events…and this past Saturday was just that sort of day.

Perusing the local event calendar over breakfast Saturday morning, I noticed our favorite local chef, Katie Coleman, was competing in the Durham Farmer’s Market Chef Challenge. So we packed up and headed downtown to cheer her on! The chefs were given a mystery ingredient, in this case eggplant, and the opportunity to shop the farmer’s market for the remaining ingredients they would use to make their dishes.

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Katie made an eggplant burger topped with goat cheese and veggie caponata on a homemade biscuit accompanied with fried eggplant chips and an eggplant pickle.

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Her dishes were the best, in our opinion, however the chef from The Salted Pig, with his eggplant soup dish, was crowned victor by the panel of judges, and the chef from Pie Pushers won People’s Choice (for the life of me I can’t recall his dish…oh well).

We first met Katie, proprietor of Durham Spirits Co., last Valentine’s Day when a group of husband’s surprised their wives by cooking us dinner at Katie’s historic home/business. We had so much fun, we booked Katie again last month, and she came to one of our homes for a cooking class and dinner. Katie offers cooking and mixology classes and also teaches classes at A Southern Season. Come to think of it, Ben also hosted a team-building cooking event for his leadership team at Katie’s place earlier this year, as well. Yes, we love her dearly, can you tell??! Here are some shots from our couples cooking nights…

February 2013

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August 2013

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Anyhow, I digress…back to the farmer’s market. Once the cooking competition came to an end, we ventured over to the line of food trucks adjacent to the farmer’s market and grabbed a slice of pizza from the Pie Pushers truck.

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We needed fuel for a challenge of our own which was brewing for later in the day. Tune in tomorrow to find out how Gemma and I fared in our own Chef Challenge!

Art of Preservation

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” ~ Pablo Picasso

We, mothers, in particular, become increasingly nostalgic and sentimental once children enter our world. We start to save everything in hopes our child will grow up and desire that curl from her first haircut, the unused preemie diaper (just to prove how small she was), her first holiday dresses, a stack of graded reports or test scores, and so on.

The feeling gets stronger once said child enters school – be it preschool or kindergarten – and starts proudly pulling glued, finger-painted and glittered artwork from her backpack each day. You marvel at her talent, compliment her creativity, and toss each masterpiece into a folder or envelope; over time, these items tear, yellow or become otherwise less incredible as the years eat away at them.

I was incredibly lucky to have a cedar “hope” chest, handmade by my Grandpa Black, in which my parents stashed years of childhood mementos. It held everything from my christening gown to my high school diploma. It housed swimming medals; brochures from vacations; annual school and prom photos; blankets and jewelry; summer camp and school art projects; reports and stories I’d penned; and local newspaper clippings from awards and other accomplishments. While I loved to see much of those items as an adult, I wasn’t committed to saving each piece, thus I tossed most of the swimming medals, tourist brochures, and half-destroyed macaroni ornaments, keeping only the most treasured items to accompany me on my life journey.

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It’s my goal to give Gemma a similar treasure trove from which to recall her favorite school and family experiences; and while I’ll still keep her lock of hair and that preemie diaper, I hope to take advantage of some modern technologies along the way to best preserve and organize her school-year memories. This summer I started the annual “look book” project (with help from Shutterfly), in which I’ll compile Gemma’s previous year school projects (art, stories, photographs) into a special book to commemorate her life journey. (And, while I would love to keep all of the original works of art, I plan to save only a handful of items from each year in case she wants to use them as art for her own home or children’s playroom someday.) Preschool has proven a great time to start because there are so many colorful art pieces to create beautiful coffee table books to share with family and friends. 

Here is a peek at the two books I created for Gemma’s 2- and 3-year old preschool years…

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I love the ability to document her growth (physically, intellectually and artistically) and preserve her childhood experiences in this colorful and creative medium.

Special Notes:

  • There are so many companies offering photobooks these days; you can use any one of them to create your own “look book”. I find Shutterfly easy to use and high quality (and they regularly offer great coupons for big discounts on photobooks).
  • To get the artwork in digital form, I set or taped each piece to an art easel, took a photo of it, then cropped and adjusted the exposure and/or other elements to get the best rendition before uploading to my photobook folder online. I would estimate it took me 5-6 hours (in total) to photograph, edit photos and layout the book.
  • This is also a great way to create special gifts for grandparents or other family members. I used one particular art series in which Gemma used her handprints to create a themed art print each month during her 2-year old preschool year…each month became the artwork for a calendar we gave to her grandparents this year in honor of Grandparents Day.
  • FYI…Gemma does not have aliens in her class. I blurred the faces of her fellow classmates out of respect of their privacy.

Chair Affair

A few years ago I claimed ownership of an antique captain’s chair from the basement of my grandparent’s home in North Dakota. The chair sat in their basement for well over 50 years. I remembered it from my visits as a child, and my mother recalls the chair being there for as long as she can remember. Needless to say, it has sentimental value, and aside from that, it’s got a comfy round back which hugs you in all the right ways.

I knew from the start this project would be a labor of love. It was clear from all the chippage, the chair had been painted at least a hundred times over (okay, maybe only 5-6 coats), and I had to assume at least one of those coats was lead paint. Although I planned to use Annie Sloan Chalk Paint (ASCP), I knew it needed to be stripped and sanded prior to painting. (One of the biggest perks of ASCP is the lack of prep work required for the paint to adhere and transform almost ANY material. I’ve seen folks use it on wood, veneer, plastic, concrete, ceramic, metal, leather and the list goes on…)

It took a few weeks to fully strip the paint and sand it down (by machine and hand), and then another week to paint and wax for the look I desired – a modern color with a well-worn finish.

Before…

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During…

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After…

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Technique: I chose Aubusson Blue for the base coat, followed by a top coat of Provence + Old White (approx. 5 to 1 ratio with a dash of water to thin it out). I gave it a quick coat of clear wax and buffed, then distressed in “natural” areas (where you might expect wear…as opposed to random distressing which looks too contrived). I finished it up with a dark wax layer, followed by a final layer of clear wax to seal it all in. I’m happy with the chair as-is…it works with the color scheme in our living room, and can easily move from our main living area to a bedroom, if need be. Should we move or change the decor in the house, I’d be inclined to repaint this chair (knowing I don’t need to relive the tiresome and tedious prep-work stage).

Special Notes:

  • ASCP is truly easy to use and requires little to no prep work. However, it is wise to do a little research to understand the various techniques you can get from very simple tweaks or “in-between-coats-of-paint” steps. You can thin the paint with water, mix colors easily, sand between steps, wipe down or rub while the paint is still wet, distress before OR after waxing (though it’s less messy if you distress post-waxing), use a coarse brush on damp paint to create strokes, and so on…the paint is so versatile. I’ve read so many folks say they hated the paint because it left brush strokes (which can be avoided by thinning the paint prior to application AND a light sanding between coats). Basic tip: just do a little homework before you use this fab product.
  • If you want the darker, antique look using dark wax, be sure to ALWAYS APPLY CLEAR WAX FIRST.  So many folks slather the dark wax directly onto the top coat of paint and find it is streaky and difficult to apply. Applying the clear wax first, seals the paint and provides a smooth base over which to blend in the dark wax.

Favorite chalk paint project blogs:

My Mom Has Breast Cancer

And I hope she’s not upset I’m writing about it. We aren’t the type of family to brag about the good or broadcast the bad. So when cancer struck my mom this past June, I was unsure how to react. I was scared, curious, angry and motivated. I was comforted by asking a lot of questions, defining her type of cancer and learning its causes, treatment options and survival rates.

Earlier this year, my mom went to her doctor to examine a lump in her breast. While the doctor was not concerned with that particular tissue, he did find another area of concern and within a few days, she was diagnosed with invasive lobular carcinoma, a rare, but treatable, form of breast cancer. Luckily, she caught the cancer early, before it had a chance to spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of her body. Specialists at a nearby breast cancer center have already removed the cancerous tissue (via lumpectomy) and will administer chemotherapy and radiation over the coming months to destroy any remaining cancer cells in her body and (hopefully) ensure the cancer doesn’t reoccur.

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(Gemma and Rainbow Bear cuddle with Granny after her first of two lumpectomies, Danville, IL, July 2013)

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(My mom and I the day before my wedding, Beaufort, SC, October 2005)

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It is only fitting I just confirmed my appointment later this month with an oncologist at UNC to get a baseline mammogram, discuss my risk factors and determine whether I am a valid candidate for genetic testing to determine if I have abnormalities in my BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 genes. With my mom’s recent breast cancer diagnosis, combined with an aunt who died of breast cancer around 40 years of age, I’m taking steps to be proactive about my breast health.

The statistics are scary. One in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. It’s a nasty disease but there are things we can all do to lower our risk of breast cancer.

  • Touch yourself every now and then. (Perform a self breast exam to check for lumps or unusual changes in your breast tissue.)
  • Get intimate with your doctor. (Don’t be shy to communicate if you’ve noticed changes in your breast tissue, have unusual weight fluctuations or changes in your energy levels; your doctor can perform a clinical breast exam to thoroughly examine breast tissue.)
  • Get a baseline mammogram. (This can provide medical staff with a picture of your current/healthy breasts so they can evaluate changes or abnormalities over time.)
  • Get active. (Exercise is good for your body. Period.)
  • Eat smart. (Healthy foods fuel your body and raise your immune system; researchers are finding diet to be responsible for 30-40% of cancers.)
  • Lay off the bottle. (Aside from the benefits your child receives, breastfeeding may lower your risk of breast cancer.)
  • Lay off the booze. (Alcohol may increase your risk of breast cancer by damaging DNA cells.)

I hope you’ll join me in praying for those who haven’t yet been diagnosed, honoring the women and men who have lost the battle with breast cancer, and celebrating the survivors who inspire us! Visit http://www.breastcancer.org/ to learn more about breast cancer symptoms, treatments and how to lower your risk.

Into the Wild: Part 2

We survived! Our first camping trip was a major success! We heard Gemma say, “This is so much fun,” and “I love camping” over and over and over again throughout the weekend.

Setting up the tent was a family affair. Gemma is quite the little manager and has great instincts so we took her lead and she was so proud of our teamwork…

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tent3(photo credit Gemma)

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Once set up, we had a nice lunch and enjoyed the views (including UP). The weather was beautiful…low 70’s during the day and low 50’s overnight.

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Our friends, Matt and Jen, stopped by for an afternoon visit, and David joined us for dinner (hot dogs and s’mores cooked over the open fire) and a walk over our super-awesome fallen-tree bridge.

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We also shared our campsite with this little spider-guy, and I came an inch (a mere inch!!!) from walking face-first into he and his web after our bridge walk. Eeeeek!

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After dark, the party really got going! How much fun are glow sticks??!! Gemma loved singing and dancing and just being silly. So much so, we experienced our first “I’m tired, can I go to bed now?” from Miss G. Phew…she really can wear out (who knew?).

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On Sunday, we headed to the trail for a 1.5 mile hike through the park. If this doesn’t prove you need nothing more than nature and love to keep a family busy, engaged, healthy and happy, then I don’t know what does! I’ve never seen more smiles than those we wore during this adventure! Can’t wait to do it again!!!

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Into the Wild: Part 1

How much stuff does a family of three need for one night in the woods? This much…

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We made it to our beautiful campsite at Falls Lake!! All set up in less than an hour. The tent was super easy (so no stress on that front), however Ben’s hoagie met an unfortunate demise (after Gemma accidentally dropped it open-faced in the dirt under the picnic table). I really wish I had that picture…alas all I have are these…

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Glazed Muffins and the Great Outdoors

Watch out nature, here we come! In prep for our first overnight family camping trip this weekend, G and I have been packing and organizing all those little things we can’t live without for one night away (a mere 30 minutes from home), and, of course, baking goodies to fuel us on our adventures, namely banana bread muffins.

We loosely based our muffins on the Brown Butter Banana Bread Muffins from On Sugar Mountain and lightly glazed some of them for a little sweetness. I’m thrilled Gemma likes to bake and cook. She’s a whiz in the kitchen and loves declaring us “Chopped Champions” for our super results!

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Get Organized: Kitchen

We all have them. Pots, pans and lids awkwardly stacked and disheveled in our kitchen cabinets. Wouldn’t cooking (and cleaning up) be so much easier if our storage looked like this?

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Or this?

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Unfortunately, for most of us, these solutions require a custom remodel (at a custom price). Luckily there are a few clever tools to help you organize your kitchen and maximize your storage space without breaking the bank.

Earlier this year I wandered the aisles of The Container Store to find ways to keep our pans, lids and Kitchenaid mixer accessible and organized. I’ve lived with these solutions for several months, and I’m happy to report they have our seal of approval!

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Pans. Place a 4-slot divider (or file organizer) in your cabinet and slide pans in and out of each slot. The Container Store sells this organizer for just under $5.

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Lids. Install a wall and lid door rack on the backside of a cabinet door. This solution offers new storage where none existed before. And the screws are long enough to secure without pushing through the face of the door. The Container Store sells this one for just under $7.

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Kitchenaid Mixer. Sadly, I didn’t use my Kitchenaid mixer as much as I could. It’s clunky and since I wasn’t willing to give up precious counter space, I stored it “out of sight, out of mind” in another room outside the kitchen. During my outing at The Container Store, I fell in love with the elfa roll out cabinet drawers. Though pricey (for a DIY solution) I have found the smooth glide of the 17″ drawer to be worth my investment ($54). The drawers are so easy to install (even in a tight space). With the addition of some small 3M Command hooks (and a few IKEA kitchen s-hooks), I was able to maximize my cabinet space and hang my various mixer attachments on the inside wall. And, yes, I use the mixer more since it’s easier to maneuver and in a handy location.

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Special note:

  • You can find 3M Command hooks and tape at most office supply and drug stores. If you haven’t used these yet, they are super easy to install on a wall for simple storage. And the tape is formulated to lift off the wall without leaving damage or peeling the paint.
  • We use Command hooks throughout the house for pot holders, cutting boards, Gemma’s  lunchbox and backpack (giving her access to hang and retrieve these items at her level) and jewelry organization.
  • I also bought a more narrow efla roll out cabinet drawer for under my bathroom sink to store my various curling/straightening irons and compact hair dryer.

Tutorial: Custom Crayons

Do your kids peel the labels off crayons and break them like it’s their job? We’re left with tons of broken crayons and less than inspired artists. Here’s a fun tutorial to re-use those broken bits and re-inspire you and your kids!

What you’ll need:

  • broken wax crayons (all labels removed)
  • silicon mold/silicon ice tray (alphabet or fun shapes; must be oven-safe)
  • cookie sheet or jelly roll pan

Step 1.

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

Step 2.

Place broken crayons in shape/letter slots in silicon mold. You can mix and match colors as the wax will settle to varying degrees – while some colors will melt and mix into a new color entirely, other colors will hold their own and become multi-colored crayons. I’m guessing this has something to do with either the chemical makeup of the color dye and/or using different brands of crayons with varying wax bases. Oh, and be careful not to overload each space (to avoid overflow once the wax melts).

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Step 3.

Place silicon molds on a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan. Bake for 15-20 minutes (or until all wax chunks have melted).

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Step 4.

Remove pan/molds from oven, and let the wax cool for at least one hour.

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Step 5.

Check to be sure pans and wax have cooled before popping out each shape/letter. (If you have any wax residue left on your mold, run it under cold water and you’ll be able to scrape off the wax bits with your fingernail or a dull knife.)

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Step 6.

Color to your heart’s content! You can see above how the colors mixed as they melted…and below how cool they color!

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Special notes:

  • I found my alphabet mold on Amazon.
  • The letter-shaped crayons are great for coloring at restaurants…they won’t roll off the table!
  • The letter-shaped crayons are a great tool to reinforce letters, words and the alphabet with toddlers/pre-schoolers.
  • This is a fun activity to do with your kids. My daughter, Gemma, helped load the crayons into the pans and got a kick out of watching through the oven window as the wax melted down into the letter slots.
  • These make great gifts! Gemma gave each of her neighborhood friends their own “name in crayons” as a Christmas gift one year.
  • You can use this project to open a dialogue with young kids about ways to “reduce, reuse and recycle” in your home and community.

Meal Planning: White Chicken Chili

It’s officially fall! The kids are settled into school, football is in high gear, and if you can believe it, college basketball is just around the corner! (Go Heels! Go Salukis!) I’m craving cold-weather foods and cozy clothes.

A few weeks ago, in an effort to be more (1) organized, (2) frugal and (3) healthy, I started meal planning.. And thanks to Pinterest, meal planning is super easy! What did meal planners do before Pinterest?! Seriously, it’s so easy to wander through random strangers’ food boards and ruthlessly steal their delicious pins (insert evil laugh here).

If you’ve never had white chicken chili, you’re truly missing out. One of my favorite recipes is the white chicken chili I pilfered lovingly borrowed from Meg Robins over at DesignWineDine.

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I actually remember the very first white chicken chili I ever consumed (strange memory, I know). It was one of our first Thanksgivings after moving to Beaufort, SC. We weren’t going to be seeing our families, so my new friend (and office-mate) Joni thoughtfully invited Ben and I to share the holiday dinner with she and her parents. It was such a nice gesture (true Southern hospitality), and we were treated to their white chicken chili, and was it ever yummy! Now, over 10 years later I have rediscovered this dish and have added it to our rotating meal plan. I’ll likely make this year round but it’s especially good in fall/winter.

About a week ago I hosted a girls night and made this dish. Needless to say, the six of us (including my four-year-old) ate the entire batch! And, since I didn’t have any leftovers…I’m making it again for the family to enjoy. The house smells INCREDIBLE and dinner time can’t come soon enough!

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Special notes

  • This is not my recipe but I’ve adopted it with open arms.
  • It’s a crock pot recipe so you can throw it together before work/school and (voilà!) dinner is prepped by 9 a.m….added bonus: your house will smell incredible all day.
  • This chili is addicting. You’ll want to double triple the recipe and eat it for days and days. It makes great leftovers AND if you made enough, it can be frozen for an extra meal down the road.
  • In addition to toppings such as sour cream, cheese, cilantro, and onion, I will add avocado and kale chips. You could even throw on those Old Bay and Chili pumpkin seeds I shared here.
  • You can substitute cream of chicken with cream of mushroom soup and/or veggie stock for chicken stock to add more depth/variety to the flavor of this chili.