Just a quick reminder that my turquoise bracelet giveaway ends at midnight on Monday, July 4th!!!

All you need to do to enter is leave a comment on this post stating your summer decorating tip or a good summer book to enjoy poolside this year, and a winner will be chosen using random.org on Tuesday, July 5. Good luck!

Daily Pics: Girls Day in Dallas

It's a rare commodity that my sister, myself and my mom all get to spend time together. With demanding schedules, cities apart and my sister's adorable one-year-old, it's a miracle when our schedules do collide. During a recent day in Dallas, we were all able to lunch together, thrift shop in Dallas and talk our little ears off during an afternoon trip to Starbucks. :)

From top to bottom:
1.) Meeting my sister at her snazzy office Downtown
2.) Liquids with lunch! Guess which is mine?
3.) Turkey chili and a skirt steak salad at Breadwinners Cafe and Bakery
4.) A post-lunch photo op of yours truly
5.) Finishing off our day at Starbucks!

 - - -

Niagara has been lovely so far... I'm diggin' the cooler temps! The husband and I are off to Toronto now, I hope to get some photos up soon. Time flies when you're having fun. ;)


Meet the Parents

Ahoy, there. If you're looking at the date this blog has posted, and then maybe swiped a glance at the date of my last post, then yes indeed I cop up to the fact that it's been a wee while since my writing has graced your presence. Or, uh, your presence has graced my writing. Either way, it's been a bit and I always hate to leave the blog unattended for so long. But life goes on, right? Indeed, dear reader, it does. So let me spare some details on what I've been up too!

The title of this here post is already slightly indicative of the subject matter, though not entirely true. If you've been a reader of my blog for the last year or so, you'll know that my mom and I are very close and we love to visit each other whenever possible. So I was thrilled when she and my step-dad decided to make the hike from Dallas to Houston to stay a weekend with the husband and I, and also celebrate their six-year anniversary with a day trip to Galveston.

They always prefer to drive in the Godforsaken hours of the morning when taking a road trip. Well, that's really more my step-dad. He knows that whatever time he intends to leave, he needs to tack two hours onto that and then he's got himself a dadgum accurate-as-a-bullseye departing hour. My mom (and myself) are never ready on time, rarely arrive anywhere as scheduled and are always scrambling to finish other things on our way out the door. But my sweet-as-pie step-dad is rarely bothered by such details, and simply works around them, sparing only a shoulder shrug and a silly grin.

All that said, they hit the road at about 4 or 5am, my mom slept during the four-hour journey, and they arrived at our house just after the husband and I had gotten up and around. We spent the day catching up on things, making lunch, visiting Hobby Lobby and dropping by the community pool for a dip. Then that evening, the husband grilled some delicious beer can chickens for a casual dinner in the drive(way) with our neighbors across the street. (I have a recipe AND a how-to video to post on this soon!)

Meanwhile, I cooked and mashed (and ate) some garlic mashed potatoes...

Both dogs got some yummy ham treats, then received extras from their doting grandma! I love how my mom laughs and squeals when these giant dogs clobber her with their noses or lick her arm to death. It's so cute and such a relief, when so many others clamor to get away from our miniature horses large pets as if they were about to be covered in slobber. (Though there may or may not be some truth to that...)

The evening held plenty of entertainment as we ate, drank and talked with our neighbors and soaked up the cooler summer night air (basically, 99 degrees instead of 110). My mom even had her first beer! A Shiner Ruby Red made with hints of grapefuit. She's still not a beer-drinking fan but she did enjoy the brew.

Before packing up to head off to Dallas, my mom and I took my two dogs to the dog park. Even though it was hot, they had a blast swimming, running the obstacle course and finding some huge mud puddles to get into!

Of course, all of that muddiness led to a hose down... they both acted like little kids that had been put in time out!

I'm bouncing around cities this week and have quite a bit going on - including family time, a casual dinner party, a 5:45am flight to catch and some vacationing up in Toronto and Niagara - and I hope to be able to share some fun photos and details on it all. So stay tuned and have a great week! 


My Recipes: Twofer Tomato Sauce!

Why hello there.

It's been a crazy day and I'm still not done yet. So crazy, in face, that about 4pm I really wanted a BIG glass of red wine. (Handily enough, there's a recently-tapped box of vino sitting on my kitchen counter. Talk about drive-by pouring.)

But... I have to teach a little kiddo his weekly swim lesson this evening, so I figured Mrs. Instructor betta not show up toasted. Thus the wine will have to wait until after I get out of the pool.

You know what also makes me happy, though?


You can't ever do me wrong by food. I eat a lot, which is something I'm working on lately (smaller portions just aren't as fun!). But I also love cooking and I try to keep it healthy in the kitchen. But no matter what kind of grub I'm chowing down on, food rocks!

All of that being said, you get a two-for-one deal today. What's that? Ohhh oohh ooooh, I'm glad you asked. See, you might remember the husband and I's recent trip to Sur La Table for a cooking class for my birthday. If you don't (shame, shame!), you can read all about our Tuscan courses right here.

During class, we made the most thick, hearty and delicious tomato sauce from scratch. And it was way easier than I thought it would be! I couldn't wait to replicate it at home, so earlier this week I busted out my 28 ounce can of peeled, whole tomatoes and got to work. For the full recipe and cooking instructions, hop back over to that post and scroll down to the recipe images. You can click on the recipe, then zoom in or print for yourself and keep it in your kitchen.

First things first, I did tackle that box o' wine and poured myself a glass, then set out some pepper jack cheese and crackers for when my husband got home. He's usually pretty hungry when he walks through the door and I may have snagged a couple bites for myself. Goodbye hunger pangs!

I didn't have steak handy, though, so I decided to pair the sauce with some grilled chicken. I got my onions slightly browned in a sautee pan, then added the rest of the ingredients and set it just below medium-high to get it simmering.

Next, I cut all my chicken breasts in half and slathered them with a little olive oil then sprinkled with basil, freshly ground sea salt and black pepper. For the sake of convenience, I just grilled them on our stove-top grill pan in the kitchen rather than hauling them to the big boy outside. They only took 6-8 minutes total to cook. I flipped them once they no longer stuck to the grill.

By the time my chicken had been prepped and cooked, the sauce was beginning to thicken and I'd gently mashed all the tomatoes with a potato mashers. Potato, to-mah-toe!

The hearty tomato sauce was DELISH on top of the chicken, and I'd added a bit more red pepper flakes than the recipe called for which gave a nice spice to our dinner. (We were low on veggies as you can see in the photo, carrots were it!)

But that's not all... this is a "twofer" tomato sauce post, remember?

The next night I brought home two individual pizza crusts and loaded them up with the leftover tomato sauce.

I also added hard salami (I just tore it up into pieces), pepperonis, low-fat shredded mozzarella, shredded parmesan, basil, sea salt and cracked black pepper. I threw on some quartered marinated artichoke hearts on mine. Baked for 10 minutes in the oven at 450 degrees and those bad boys were ready for fine dining... it was so good! Along with another glug of wine, of course. Trend? What trend? I don't see a trend here.

What have you made lately? I'd love to hear all about it. Leave a link to your food post or type out the recipe in the comments section if you dare!


Monday Shopping Rules!

There's something about shopping on a Monday that is so... liberating. For many, it's the first day of the week back at the office with a stack of work three times the height of your desk and Friday seems eons away. Buuuuut.... for a freelancer like me, who just cleared a stack of deadlines three times the height of my desk, this particular Monday was spent in a happy state of mind. I've long had it on my list to get back to Mai's Vietnamese restaurant in Houston for their speciality (garlic beef), and to shop for some super bling pendants to use on my necklaces over at my Etsy shop, Texas Take. And today I scored big on both!

My trusty friend Lisa (who also shares a flexible work schedule) and I hopped in our trucks and rumbled downtown for lunch. She ended up ordering the same thing and we ate up every bite. Mai sure knew what she was doing when she created the garlic beef.

Next, we shopped around the Heights and a few other areas of town looking for wholesale jewelry stores. I lucked out at one and loaded up on a whole bunch of beautiful pendants that are going to look ah-mazing on my new necklaces I have planned! Plus, I got a cool zebra-print mannequin necklace bust on the cheap so I can take better photos of my jewelry on display, rather than trying to angle my elbow in some contortionist move and snap them on my own neck. Sweetness.

I also scored this pair of flip flops that featured three of my current favorites: zebra print, bling and crosses. Now that's a swell find.

On my way home, I made one more pit stop at Hobby Lobby for some more beads (on sale, too!) and found this basket for holding magazines in our bathroom, rather than have them scattered on the floor or sitting on the edge of the bathtub (I like to read while I soak). At $2.10, it was perfect.

All in all, today was a major success. Thanks to Lisa for palling around town with me and stay tuned for an update on my new Texas Take jewelry pieces coming soon!


Makin' Like it's Sunday

Hi ya! What are you up to this fine and glorious Sunday? I'm taking a break indoors to get a little relief from the triple digit temps out there before tackling the lawn with a, well, lawn mower. The husband and I need to sweat out some beer from last night anyway. We joined our next-door neighbors for a Mexican birthday party that, despite being for a 14 year old, had tons of Modelo handy!

That's me, a few beers in...

...and a cute turquoise necklace & bracelet set I made for the birthday girl.

Today we slept in late again (until noon, it was glorious) then I made pizza, salad and garlic bread for lunch and we watched TV. After we felt like we'd already accomplished so much, it was hard to figure out what to do next... *sarcastic eye wink*

So we loaded up our two horses dogs and headed to the dog park. They love going there, especially for the big dog pool they can to swim around in and fetch their dummies we throw for them. There's also a little obstacle course that Jersey manages pretty well. She's our acrobatic dog!

Well, I better quit procrastinating and get out in the yard to help the husband. I can hear the weedeater running already... plus, we have to finish up in time to head over to a friend's house for a family dinner. I think I might, for once, actually be refreshed and ready to conquer a new week tomorrow. ;)

Have a good Sunday!!


Daily Pics: Shopping, Lake Time & Pho!

Happy Saturday, folks! What fun plans do you have for today? We're just hanging out around the casa this weekend, with a trip to the dog park and some hotel researching on the agenda. The husband and I are traveling to New York and Toronto soon, and I can't wait! Been dying to get out of dodge and leave on a jet plane...

In the meantime, here's some Daily Pics I thought you might enjoy. 

From top to bottom:
1.) A tasty bowl of Pho during lunch with a pal, I love mine with the thinly sliced beef.
2.) A cute summer dress I picked up at a random little store in Willowbrook Mall called Love Culture. I hardly ever wear dresses, but this one will look good with my brown boots during a Pat Green concert coming up!
3.) If you recall my recently proclaimed love of zebra, then you'll know I just had to snatch up this $12.50 bracelet with bling, also from Love Culture.
4.) Me and a friend out for some sun and fun at Lake LBJ in Austin!

Have a good weekend, y'all!


My Recipes: Rodeo Beef Casserole

Howdy cowboys and cowgirls, saddle up yer kitchen because it's time to rope in a new recipe!

Ha, okay, so maybe I'll drop the country-time lingo while divulging this awesome dish I came up with the other day. But it's got grilled corn, poblano peppers, jalapenos, tortilla chips and all kinds of other good stuff, er, stuffed inside and I just couldn't resist! Plus, my photos came out soooo pretty, which is always a bonus. Natural light is the best light, unfortunately my lil kitchen can only take so much and natural lighting just isn't abundant there. But it is shiny shiny over at our kitchen table... so I set up the food by the window so you can really SEE it. And it's in my pretty new blue dish from Sur La Table (where we took our first cooking class) that I scored on clearance for $12! *happy dance*

Let's get to the good stuff, shall we? I mean, aside from the most gorgeous food photos you've ever seen in your life, right!? 

It's recipe time... grab a pan, y'all!

**Note: I purchased beef patties that came with corn, cilantro, cheese and jalapenos already mixed in them. I was going to make burgers, but didn't feel like eating that after I had thawed out the meat, so I came up with this recipe instead. You can add similar ingredients to your beef before you put it in the pan, or you can go without. The same rule goes for the rice! Our HEB had microwaveable bags of frozen white rice with corn and poblano peppers already mixed in. Cook your rice of choice and add cooked or steamed corn and sliced steamed peppers as you wish if you can't find the premixed version.

2 pre-seasoned beef patties at your grocer's butcher counter OR 2 lb. ground beef
1 bag frozen rice w/ corn & poblano pepper OR 2-3 cups rice prepared to directions mixed with one can of corn and 1/2 a sliced poblano pepper (steamed)
1 can black beans, drained
Lawry's seasoning salt
1 lime
Fresh ground pepper
Dried or fresh cilantro
Tortilla chips for garnish and serving
Shredded cheese of choice for topping

*If you are not using the pre-seasoned beef mix, it might also be good to add in some jalapenos (from a bottle is fine), onion and cilantro on your own to pump up the flavor. Plain beef can taste bland against the other items in this dish! I also had a cob of corn leftover that we'd grilled the night before, so I shaved the kernels off and added it to my pan as well. Get creative - see what's in your fridge!*

Place the thawed beef in a large saute pan over medium heat and let it begin to brown gently, crumbling the meat with a spoon or spatula. When it's half-way cooked, turn the heat up to medium-high to finish cooking the meat through. Stir often. While the meat is cooking, steam your rice mixture, then add to the pan of cooked beef. Stir in your beans, cilantro and any additional ingredients you've chosen to add. Sprinkle the pan with Lawry's and a liberal amount of cracked black pepper. Squeeze the juice from one lime into the pan, as well, and stir thoroughly. Let heat through, then pour into a large dish. Garnish with tortilla chips around the edges and sprinkle cheese on top.

Git 'er done!!!


Date Night: Gourmet Tuscan

Every time I get some good ideas for blog posts rolling around in my head, I end up getting super busy with work and either forget about them or forego any posts for a week... like I just did.

So hello strangers, I'm back! And I missed ya.

(Oh, that's just me, havin' a beer while I'm typing all this. What? You didn't think I was letting all the stress ruin the fun of drinking, did you?)

Living life as a full-time freelance writer has it's share of perks, to be sure, but it also has it's fair share of deadlines. For the past five weeks, I've been on an average of two to three deadlines a day, people. That's insane! It also means I wake up at 7:30am and walk to my computer and begin work (PJs and all) and that I'm still typing away into the night. Around. The. Clock.

In the past year or so, I've also developed a keypad writer's nightmare: carpal tunnel. Ugh, it sucks! I finally caved in and bought a brace yesterday and it seems to help for the most part. But it's a beast to wear and I feel like a schmuck when I have it on.

But aside from working, I was also celebrating my birthday and took time out for a trip to the lake with some girlfriends. Lemme tell ya, I love the sun. Me + Sun = happiness forever.  So on Sunday, when we decided to spend a few more hours cruising the water on the boat, I was a good girl and actually put on sunscreen (normally it's tanning oil). However, I still got burned. I must have had second-degree burns on my stomach, because it was redder than a cherry and hurt like h-e-double hockey sticks. I couldn't move, I felt sick and if I even accidentally walked through a wayward ray of sunshine peeking through my window, it burned, baby, burned!!! 
Even the backs of my hands were sunburned. I have been lathering up in aloe lotion nonstop since Sunday evening, and last night I soaked in an oatmeal-lavendar oil-vitamin E oil bathtub concoction that definitely helped soothe the prickly heat. Needless to say, it made the last couple days pretty brutal... but I think I have survived the worst. 

Anyway, I promise this wasn't a "woe is me" blog post... it's really about one of my favorite things: food! For my birthday, the husband and I went to Sur La Table for a cooking class. It was the first for both of us and I was pu-pu-pu-pumped. Plus, it was Date Night: Gourmet Tuscan. Perfect!

I learned how to properly mince garlic, hold a huge knife (you put your thumb on the blade just above the handle, then wrap the rest of your hand downward around the top of the handle... women have smaller hands, so we can't control a knife as well when we hold it by the handle alone!), make delicious tomato sauce from scratch and how to bake profiteroles, among other things.

Since I've already rambled on ridicously, I won't recount every little bit of the class. But I will share a tip: if you're taking a Sur La Table cooking class anytime soon, it's BYO-WINE! We didn't know this and it doesn't say anything on the website when you register. So when we arrived for a glass of red to go with the steaks we were grilling, we were empty handed to say the least. Fortunately, there was a Tasting Room wine bar across the road so the husband ran out (along with several others) to grab a bottle for the evening. Wine and cooking go hand-in-hand if you ask me. And the more wine you drink, the better it all tastes! ;)

Here are photos of each course and a complete set of recipes you can print out for yourself at the very end. And, because I just love you all so much, I've included a secret sauce recipe from the instructing chef for a simple tomato sauce that's quick to make and tastes amazing.

First, we made crostini with sage and parsley pesto and some herbed goat cheese with a balsamic reduction. It's so much easier than it sounds... you can make the pesto in like five minutes and just pulse it in a blender (a big crowd pleaser/impresser without a big to-do). The herbed goat cheese is pretty much the cheese mixed with some parsley and chives, and the reduction is balsamic vinegar cooked in a pot till, well, reduced and seasoned with a touch of honey.

In between courses, it was wine time!!

Next up was carmelized onion, tomato and cannellini bean soup. Oh my goodness, was it good! Much like a minestrone soup, but this one had kale in it (not something I thought I was down for eating) and a really hearty soul. A great comfort food for sure, and easy to prepare in large amounts.

Any cooking class that features steak as the main dish has my vote. The steak florentine with hearty tomato sauce was delicious and very savory. I thought I was going to be intimated by making the tomato sauce, but it was so much more manageable than I thought. Check out the recipe at the end, the magic is in the can of plum tomatoes - they break apart as they cook and end up making the sauce perfection!

Lastly, we had profiteroles with dark chocolate espresso sauce for our final course. I am actually not a huge profiteroles fan (they don't have a ton of flavor to me when eaten alone, so I don't see the bother of going through all the trouble of making them!), but it was interesting to get a little mini baking lesson in the process. The delicate pastries were pretty tasty when paired with the chocolate sauce and some vanilla ice cream. One of the gals in class had the idea to add paprika to the chocolate sauce while it cooked, which actually did make it taste good. But the espresso flavor was a bit much for me...

At the end of class, we were so happy and full! 

Click on the images below to view all the individual recipes from this class, and even print them to try them at home! 

I leave you with an exclusive scoop on an easy peasy sauce recipe our instructor told us about:

Melt one tbsp olive oil and one tbsp butter over warm heat. Add one sliced shallot and some rosemary and red pepper flakes to the mix. Once it's fragrant, then add 28 oz. of tomatoes (roasted, diced or crushed) and cook until heated through. Top with fresh basil.


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