Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Hello! Where have you been?

February is a long time to not post anything. A quick update is:

  •  March and April were dull months
  • Trae and I went with my parents and Aunt Mary Ann to Alaska in May
  • I went to the Kellogg Institute for Developmental Education over the month of July
  • I went to Vietnam with a friend for a week in August
  • Before I went to Vietnam, Trae and I celebrated our second wedding anniversary
  • Trae and my jet-lagged self moved to another city and both have new jobs
  • We are living in a hotel
  • We went to the beach for a weekend with my mom's side of the family 
  • We just started a contract on a house!!! 
We just accepted the bank's last offer on a foreclosure, and we are very excited. If everything goes right with the inspections, the Murray's will be full-fledged adults: jobs and a house! I can't believe we might actually have a house. I will miss our apartment, especially since I really haven't seen it in two months, but I am ready to stop living in this limbo and have a settled place. So far I like our new city; one of my cousins, his wife, and super cute kid live here and being around family is nice. However, being this far away from my parents is hard. (We are about six-ish hours away from them!) Also, missing Clemson footballs is tough!! My daddy has been picking on me about how he gets to go to the first game. Would you like to see our house?

106 Field Street, Greenville NC

Like it?? We do. Plenty of room for guests and a screened in porch for our kitties. (I really miss our kitties, and they are going to LOVE the porch.) I also can't wait to have a full sized kitchen again. Right now we live in:

Don't let the picture deceive you; it is small. The living room space is exaggerated: promise. (Especially the kitchen counter space. The coffee pot takes up the whole space!) Anyways, despite the space issues, Trae and I are very happy to be together, because we thought at first I would have to stay to finish my contract at our old community college. I am glad the school was willing to let us go together. Now we are carving out a home in a hotel and I have to say with Trae there, it is home. Now we will have a real home of our own! To celebrate in our new home, we tackled cooking in our "kitchen." I got a wonderful chicken parmesan from Fresh Market as well as orzo salad with cherry tomatoes and a Boston Cream Pie cupcake. We paired the chicken and orzo with green beans and sat Asian style around the coffee table while watching Honey Boo Boo...romantic, I know. It was nice to set in our temp home and share a meal we cooked together. As we cooked the phone kept ringing with his family members excitedly asking questions about our house. It made the hotel room buzzing with excitement. I even burnt the edges of our brie crostini! Oops! But I got so excited answering questions that I forgot to watch the pan. Luckily they still tasted super yummy.

Sitting on our dingy brown carpet eating at our coffee table with Honey Boo-Boo telling us about her pig Glitzy gave us a sense of peace and home. Sure we didn't have our nice table or plates and we weren't able to cook one of our elaborate meals, but right now at this very moment, we have full bellies from a good meal and most importantly we have each other. And we will now have a house to create more memories in. But tonight taught me that we don't need a big house to make memories or to be just someone who you love and who loves you back. That love will automatically make any moment a moment to savor and turn into a memory....even if it is sitting on dingy carpet in a hotel room.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Pixar Passion

Trae and I are children at heart. We love Disney, especially Pixar. (Proof of our love: Our first dance as husband and wife was to Married Life from Pixar's UP.) Well, as mentioned in my previous post, we have not been on a lot of dates lately and have not had a lot of "us" time. We have spent the last couple of months meeting up with others or driving to South Carolina or Tennessee. So for Valentine's Day, I figured we should incorporate our love of Pixar with our desperate need to relax. The idea was inspired by a winery review on the Disney Food Blog, because Trae and I also enjoy a good bottle of wine about as much as a great Pixar movie.

from Pixar Corner

The review introduced me to the fact that John Lasseter, the guru of Pixar, has a winery. Even better, the winery had Valentine's Day specials. I called to order the wine and talked to the nicest lady on the phone. She seemed genuinely interested in why I was ordering the wine, especially when I told her my husband does digital animation and admired Mr. Lasseter. The order was for the Rosa bottle and two wine glasses that arrived in a very snazzy black box and even slightly chilled. I'm a sucker for someone who is nice on the phone, especially in the day of automated voices; she was so nice that I would tell anyone to call up and order from this winery. (Side note: The wine was good, very subtle but tasty. We normally prefer more pronounced flavors, but this wine was prefect for the occasion. The glasses are super nice too!) 

After getting the package, my brain went crazy with thinking of the perfect Valentine's Day dinner to go with this gift. Steak? Lamb? Fancy pasta? I then realized I was calling on the spirit of Julia Child to guide me when instead I needed John Lasseter to lead the way. So I came up with a menu inspired by all the Pixar movies:
Pizza Planet Pizza (Toy Story, but really all the movies)
Ha! Ha! Humorous Hummus (Monster's Ink)
Mine! Goldfish (Finding Nemo)
No Capes Cheesesticks (Incredibles)
Remy’s Parisian Popcorn
Sep-tua-centennial Cupcake in a Cup (Wall-E)
Kevin Catchers (Chocolate, UP)
Slim Sticks (Pretzel Rods, Bug's Life)

Flo’s Fuel ( Cars, Coffee to stay awake during the movie-thon)

I then went in search of Pixar related items to help set the scene. Lucky for me we already own some Pixar stuff, like a stuffed Remy, Jessie talking doll, a decent sized Wall-E, and a small Flick from Bug's Life.(Told ya we are kids are heart; we own and still buy toys!) Yet, I wanted to add to that collection to help make the setting even better while not spending a ton of money. With creative thinking, Internet searches, and clearance racks, I managed to set up a pretty cute Pixar slumber party for pretty cheaply.

I started off by thinking about Pixar icons, such as the boot that held the plant in Wall-E or the BnL logo..

I painted cups with the BnL logo for our cupcake in a cup and I had my own version of the boot.

The boot is Trae's. I'm lucky he didn't notice it was missing!
I love Ratatouille, especially the scene where Remy is caught fixing the soup. 

from Born for Geekdom

By using a small cooper pot and a stuffed Remy from our Disney trip, I was able to recreate the scene:

The Buzz Lightyear in the background is actually a favor box!

I also looked on the Disney Family website and found a cute pattern for Nemo invitations, which I made out of felt and attached to ocean blue ribbon to hang from the table.Since I imagine I am a crafty person, I have craft supplies at the apartment and already had the right felt colors and ribbon.

The wine bucket that held the Lasseter wine was a cheap sand bucket painted to look like Mike Wazowski
 from Monsters Inc.

from Pixar Corner
The finished bucket:

The frame was an awesome Ebay score

Overall, by adding fun touches, like balloons for UP and Cars party plates with various Pixar themed items found at Party City, I think the set up was pretty whimsical.

A dollar plastic bowl decorated with Sharpie markers

The party was a slumber party, so I fixed blankets on the floor to give it a full slumber party feel instead of laying out the futon. We even wore Pixar themed pjs!
Trae's shirt was a Target clearance find. I made mine out an old tank top
and Cars fabric with the no-stitch ironing strips.

The blanket fit the theme and I've had it since I was a freshman in college.
Both Wall-E items we already had.
Sam Libby had to join the fun!
We ate "Pizza Planet" pizza and enjoy the snacks while watching Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, and Monsters Inc. We finished the night with homemade cupcakes being turned into milkshakes in painted BnL cups. 

The cups were painted by cutting out a BnL logo and laying it on the cup.

Trae was super surprised by it all. I had him shut his office door while I set up. After getting everything laid out and pretty, I cracked the door open to hand him his new shirt with an invitation (a colored page from a Pixar coloring book) attached. He changed in his office then stepped out to his surprise. Trae's face was the classic astonished face, which told me my efforts had not been in vain. Trae's face let me know that this date night was the perfect "us" time and just what we needed: a reason to curl up with no worries or places to be.

The night was fun and made us feel like kids again. Trae had a blast watching Pixar movies he hadn't seen in awhile. I never knew how much he liked Finding Nemo; he can quote that movie as well as I can quote Beauty and the Beast! Having to stop and veg out in front of the TV while pigging out really let us relax and recharge our solar power. (Sorry, bad Wall-E reference!)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Preview of What's To Come!

I am giddy with excitement about planning Valentine's Day for my husband. Now I normally despise the over commercialized holiday. The cards, the hearts, the chemical tasting chocolate crammed into red shimmery boxes. I can't stand any of it. I don't want a man to buy a five dollar Hallmark card to tell me he loves me or roses that have been raised over double their normal price.

From: Operation t-shirt

Yet, this year,  I am over the moon excited with planning. Trae and I haven't had time for the two of us in awhile, so we have decided to take time off from the world and celebrate the holiday of love. We use to have a monthly date night. McGee's Irish Pub in Anderson, SC had theme nights for 30 bucks a person. The dinners included three to four courses, drinks and entertainment. The food was always wonderful. Most of the time an improv group put on some very funny murder mysteries, but we have also seen a Celtic band and had Titanic themed music with trivia. A lot of the dinners encouraged diners to dress the part, which appealed to me very much!! After each night was over, we would put down our deposit for the next month's dinner. Then we moved, and our mandatory dates stopped.

Our last Irish McGee's dinner...a Roaring 20s Murder!
Side note: We went on this date the night before we moved!

The dates acted as monthly services to the marriage, sort of like how a car has tune ups. We would go out and let go for one night. Now, we don't have marriage problems, but without maintenance things don't last. Sadly, since we have moved, we have really gotten out of the habit of going on dates. We have had pressures of job interviews, GRE test taking, family illness, unpacking, etc.

Also, we got lazy. McGee's was the perfect answer. Pay, eat, enjoy, leave. Each date was planned for us, and we didn't have to go in search of fun. Now we have moved, and nowhere around here does themed dinners like McGee's. We enjoy looking and finding new places, but motivating ourselves on the weekend can be hard. We became passholders at the Biltmore Estate to encourage us to get out more, and we do have a lot of great fun things to do around the area. We just haven't. I think this date I am planning with restart our desire to do our once a month dates.

I truly think what I have planned for him is just what we need! Note, I am not excited about what Trae is doing for me, but instead, what I can do for him. I know this might seem odd to point out, but having time to plan a date and decorate for it is a present for myself. I don't like how during this holiday the stereotype is that all women want shiny things in jewelry boxes and men just have to listen to the ch-ching of the register. I receive a lot of happiness planning and doing things for others, especially when it is a surprise!! 

But Carrie, you are blogging about it?!?!?! How will it be a surprise? Hakuna Matata. He knows I am planning a surprise at home date. If I didn't tell him, the night might be taken away with "life-stuff" getting in the way. Therefore, he has been told "Saturday night is our night. No questions allowed."

A lot of my inspiration has come from the creative ladies at Dating Divas. This website has a lot of fun and cheesy ideas for dates, and I took the foundation of some of their ideas and have come up with a great stay at home date for the two of us. One of my favorite idea of theirs is the activity jar for two. I've been collecting flyers for places near us, so I think I will use those to create my activity jar. The bulk of my inspiration has come from their movie-themed dates. (I am longing to order wishing lanterns like the ones from Tangled. Thanks to Dating Divas, I now know they exist and aren't expensive!!) My exact date assure cannot be found on this website, but inspiration sure can be on Dating Divas for anyone who is looking for fun and unique at a non-expensive price!

So, to give you hints on a post I cannot wait to write, I will give you a few things that we make an appearance on Saturday for this date:
-a sand bucket
-two large plastic cups
-a unique picture frame
-homemade pizza
-cheesy theme
-food to go along with cheesy theme

If Trae reads this, then I can say no more. I can just leave Trae and you with the anticipation of what is to come!

Could this photo be a hint?? Hmmm...who knows!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Party Wars

My husband has crossed over; he is officially in his thirties. He is 31 to be exact.  So to celebrate this adult milestone, we threw a Star Wars party. (Nothing says adulthood like lightsabers.)

Since school had just started, I did not have a chance to make a huge menu, but with some internet searching and creative thinking, we did come up with a pretty fun Star Wars inspired menu. We had X-wings (chicken wings), Leia buns with Han-burgers, Lando Lays (potato chips), Alderaan Ash (chex-mix coated in peanut butter and powdered sugar), Vader Tots, Ewok Munch, and Chewie Bits. I also labeled the coffee maker as the Java the Hut station. I found a few good websites for inspiration, mainly justJENN had the best ideas.

We haven't added all the food yet, but overall not a bad spread!

Overall, I was shocked about how little there was to find for Star Wars food inspiration. I did like the idea of pretzel rod lightsabers. A lot of blogs used the Williams-Sonoma cookie cutters, which are awesome. The problem with the cookie cutters is they are very time consuming, and normally I am all about time consuming projects. (Sounds odd, I know, but I love taking the time to develop one awesome looking treat.) I do feel bad about not making the cookies because Trae requested them, but alas, adulthood called.

I think if we had more time, Trae and I would have gone over the movies to think of theme food to serve. I would have love to found a way to make food inspired by asteroid fields, Dagobah, the Death Star, Hoth, and Cloud City. (For Cloud City, I did like the idea of marshmallows!)

One thing the party did have was an awesome cake with "hoth" cream!

Yep, have to brag. I made that R2D2 cake, which you can read about here on the Sing Along Kitchen!  The best part is that I had a lot of left over cake, and the next day my parents came to visit. My dad's birthday is right after Trae's birthday, so I made Dad a Star Wars cake with the leftovers. I felt very brave after my fondant success, and decided to do a fully covered cake. 

I figured that since my father and Trae are two peas in a pod, then they needed buddy cakes. Trae gets R2D2 and Dad gets C3P0! (It is also a very fitting cake, because Dad and I saw Star Wars in Concert that was narrated by the actor who played C3P0. Very awesome night.) 

The cake wasn't as hard to cover as I thought, except when I first laid the fondant on the icing. I had the sheet of fondant a little off and it was impossible to pull the sheet back off, so one small side is a patch job. 

My dad with his cake

 The color wasn't too hard to achieve. I mixed a regular yellow with a gold yellow and then dusted the whole cake with bronze edible dust. (I had it left over from making bronze chocolate stars for a Trae's grandfather's birthday and he was awarded a bronze star.) A little bit of that dust goes a long ways, so even if it is a little pricey to buy, the dust will last a very long time.

The rises were just puzzle pieced together scraps of cakes and the eye sockets were cut out with cookie cutters. The pupils were chocolate chips, flat side up. My favorite tool was used to create the divits along the headband looking piece. Over all, while it might not be a spitting image of C3P0, I would consider my first fully-fondant covered cake a success.

Cake carnage

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Biltmore Delights

Fun fact: I worked at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC as a tour guide for six months right after graduate school.

The bulk of my employment was over the Christmas holiday, which begins around September and ends December 31. During Christmas, the estate is decorated with over thirty trees and Christmas carols are played from the organ loft throughout the house as well as performances by live entertainers. Fresh greens and winter flowers deck the halls, and the banquet hall has a live decorated tree that is bigger than the White House's Christmas tree. I loved watching house-keeping decorate the estate, and loved helping whenever I could. (A highlight was once helping put out all the candles that had been lit for the Biltmore Christmas Candle tour! I loved being able to climb on step stools and careful put out a burning flame that was perched on top of tables strategically littered with priceless antiques.)

Yet, the best part of working at Biltmore during Christmas was the delicious seasonal treats, mainly the pumpkin roll. While I only worked at Biltmore for one holiday season, now when Christmas comes around, I begin incisively talking about the pumpkin roll. Trae and I went to Biltmore Saturday to see the estate and get season passes, and after walking through the house, I made a direct path to the bakery. Sadly, the pumpkin roll season had passed, and I am left craving the fluffy cake with cream cheese filling for a whole year!

I missed my family a lot during the holiday season I worked for Biltmore; I missed the smells of Mom baking, having time to prepare my own Christmas delights, and seeing my extended family. Yet when I took a bite of pumpkin roll from the bakery and took a sip of the strong coffee in my refillable Biltmore mug, I could close my eyes and pretend I was at home or, at the very least, a Biltmore Estate guest. My habit became to get a pumpkin roll once a week during the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, which was huge treat considering the expense of living in Asheville! (I never worried about the waist-line side effects, because as a tour guide, I could walk anywhere from 8 to 10 miles a day within the house. I even wore the heel off of an expensive "never-wear-out" brand of shoes.)

It is odd how something that helped me cope with the absence of my family has become a part of my holiday tradition despite only working at Biltmore for six months. I also haven't had the pumpkin roll in probably about three years, yet the comfort the pumpkin roll gave me during that time of employment still lingers with me. I was single, venturing out, truly alone, for the first time in my life. Yes, my family was still supportive of me, but this job and the move that got me to Asheville, NC was real step in adulthood. The holiday season had to be adapted and I had to make my own traditions. Times change and so do what holidays represent and how we celebrate them. I have infused old traditions with new ones, and now that I am married, I am making even more new traditions with my husband. I look forward to see what traditions and memories we make throughout the year, and I hope trips to Biltmore Estate becomes one of those traditions.

Parting Random Musings: After missing out on my pumpkin roll yet again, I was driven to do an internet search, I found the Biltmore pumpkin roll recipe along with other recipes on the Biltmore Estate website. I note a few differences (mainly the toffee garnish), but over all I cannot wait to give this recipe a try!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy 2012

Happy 2012 everyone! I hope that 2012 will be a year of great joy and wondrous adventures! My 2011 was exciting and exhausting all at the same time. I am very ready for 2012 and all of it's promises!

This year will be the start of my full time position at the community college I teach at. Trae and I are committed to finding a church. I have a pantry full of goodies begging to be mixed by the Evangeline, the Kitchen Aid. We have an awesome vacation already planned, which will be Trae's first Hodge family trip! I will also be married for two years in July. I am so thankful for all that God has blessed me with, especially my husband and wonderful family!!

I also have one last announcement: a new blog! I am keeping this blog, but I have noticed that this blog is telling stories and the moments to put in recipes is getting slim. I will still post recipes here (a detail of our Christmas dinner is coming soon with the BEST sweet potato recipe every!), but I also want a recipe based only blog. Much of my cooking has inspirations, especially when I bake. I love to "theme bake." So I am launching: Sing Along Kitchen. This blog will get detailed instructions and inspirations for the things I bake. Enjoy!

May your 2012 be delicious!! 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Christmas Traditions

I love Christmas. Simple statement, but true. I am sure many people would echo the loving Christmas sentiment. My reasons for loving the holiday do not come in packages with ribbons and bows, but around tables with mounds of food. My family knows food! (And so does Trae's grandparents.)

This Christmas was our first traveling Christmas as a married couple. Last year, we lived in South Carolina, and my parents, family, his parents and family did as well. Splitting time was not stressful, and we got to spend Christmas Eve in our own "house" (apartment). It was nice, even if we did have to wake up very early to go to other SC regions the next morning. During the various family visits, we ate a lot and shared a peaceful holiday season.

This year, however, peace was not a side dish offered on the table.We rode to multiple places, which caused a lot of stress, all over the state of South Carolina (five SC cities in three days). On the other hand, the stress was worth it in order to share time over home-cooked meals with family. The road weariness and fatigue stopped when the car was put in park and family started hugging us while handing us plates to fill with food at the same time. (My Aunt Ellen has the best road-weary traveler cure...a freshly perked coffee with a super large mug waiting for you to fill it!)

Seeing family and sharing family feasts was a wonderful thing, but all the driving left us time. We did have a small two person Christmas with a nice meal before starting SC Holiday 2011 road trip.

Still, during the actual holidays, we were unable to share time to express our love and thankfulness for each other. This time of year, also, is very special to us, because Trae proposed on December 23, 2009; we have incorporated our love for each other with the love God gave us in the form of his son during this holidays.

We did, finally, on the night of December 25th get a chance to be us. The time did not have extensive fixings or fancy dishes; it consisted of eggnog and potato chips off a hotel balcony overlooking the ocean. In the tranquility, which can only be found in the sound of lapping waves, we talked and relaxed late into the night. We feel asleep with the balcony door open so we could keep the tranquility as we fell asleep and as we woke up. Leftover eggnog sweetened our coffee in the morning, and as the sun shone on the ocean, I realized it wasn't the elaborateness of a celebration, but who you share it with. As my husband sat, staring at the ocean, in Grinch pj bottoms, I knew that this moment with that man was one of most precious moments of the holiday.