Friday, August 16, 2013

Emerald Isle Vacation

My parents invited Brian and I on their yearly vacation to Emerald Isle, NC and we were happy to accept the offer! They rented an adorable house on the water with two other families and we spent a week enjoying the most beautiful Atlantic beach we've seen, meals cooked (and cleaned up) by others, long days of relaxation and copious naps, sunrise workouts and evening walks, cups of coffee and glasses of wine looking out over the ocean, and family time, too.

Brian and I have been so blessed to be able to take so much time in the past few years to enjoy traveling and vacations together. I have a feeling we'll be entering a time in our life soon where our travels will diminish (although not totally ever vanish!) and I can truly say we have savored every bit of it.

Friday, July 19, 2013

5 on Friday!

It's Friday, y'all! Not only that, but it's the Friday before vacation for me. :) Here's a random, but totally acceptable, collection of thoughts because I'm linking up with Natasha for Five on Friday!

One | Vacation! Tomorrow morning, Brian and I are leaving for Emerald Isle, North Carolina for a glorious week-long stay with (most of) my family! I have big plans that include sleeping in, relaxing and reading on the beach, eating delicious food without thinking about calories, not checking my work email once, and generally doing nothing productive at all! It's funny that a beach location with (almost) nothing to do would have sounded dreadful to me as a kid, but now it sounds pretty close to paradise. Bring it on!

Two | Beach Reads! On that note, I'm looking for some good beach reads to occupy my time while I lounge next week. I recently finished Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah (with lots of tears!) and will be wrapping up the sequel, Fly Away, shortly. With how busy I've been at work, vacation is really the only time I have to get lost in a good book, so I'm happily taking suggestions of recent favorites! I think I'll definitely be adding The Cuckoo's Calling by "Robert Gabraith" to my list. Although it's not my typical genre, I can't resist the allure of the author. ;)

Three | Savannah. While nothing is official yet (and with the Army, I'll believe it when I see it), it looks like we'll probably be moving before the end of the year. Brian and I have both really come to love this town, and the thought of leaving is definitely depressing. The impending move, though, has really inspired us to get out and enjoy everything Savannah has to offer. This sounds weird, but one of my favorite things is the way the sunsets reflect on the calm, still water. We have so much love for this place and I know we will miss it tremendously when we leave.

Four | Chips and Salsa. There isn't much I dislike about our favorite Mexican restaurant in town; they have delicious (and strong!) margaritas, amaaaazing chimichangas and beans, and pretty low prices - Brian and I can usually leave having spent less than $20! But my favorite part by far is the chips and salsa. I was thrilled to find that Pioneer Woman's recipe for Restaurant Style Salsa is really similar! I may never buy a jar of the fake stuff again. Brian loves it so much that he helped me make three huge batches this week to take for our trip to the beach. Chips, salsa, and margs for all!

(her picture, not mine!)
Five | Fitness Blender! I have gone through many phases with my fitness goals over the past 10 years or so (some healthy, and some not-as-much), but I am finally at a point where I can acknowledge that having a purely aesthetic goal is a poor focus. Daniel and Kelli at Fitness Blender have been a big part of my renewed outlook. It has been so nice to push myself and feel proud of what my body can do, make healthy choices about eating real, unprocessed food but not beating myself up over an indulgence here and there, acknowledge my progress and successes, and develop a healthier and balanced outlook on all things health and fitness. I just finished my seventh week of one of their eight week programs with an epic 1000 calorie workout (my third one!) and felt SO accomplished when I was done, remembering how far I've come. (And just a note...Daniel and Kelli have no idea who I am; I am just a happy consumer of their free workout videos and wanted to share the love!)

Happy weekend - have a wonderful one!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Fourth Fun

Is it just me or does it take forever to fully get back into your routine after a holiday weekend? I found myself going back for a second cup of coffee again at work this morning, and it's not even close to Monday! Brian and I had a busy trip to Maryland for his sister's wedding, and I think I'm still recovering.

In the days leading up to Kathy's nuptials, we logged a few hours by the pool at my parents' house and I got to hang out with my favorite dog. My sister had also dropped off her cat, Ollie, with my parents and I had fun trying to get him to warm up to me. I really miss having a pet at home. We have recently been thinking about adding a furry friend to our family, but my husband has to thoroughly research anything before committing (an endearing trait I love about him...usually). He had his nose in The Art of Raising a Puppy throughout the weekend, but I still think it will be some time before we're actually ready to take the plunge.

My family had a small get-together for Independence Day and I made a beautiful (and quite delicious) Patriotic Trifle (that I found on Pinterest, of course). I was feeling kind of emotional and patriotic in the morning and flipped back through the pictures we had taken at Brian's homecoming (generously gifted to us by Scott Hopkins Photography). I am so grateful that there are men and women like Brian who feel the call to protect the freedoms we usually take for granted.

On Friday, Amber visited for some some Maryland crabs and ice cream, and then Brian and I got cleaned up and attended the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner for Kevin and Kathy's wedding!

Saturday, we were up bright and early for a brutal 1000 calorie Fitness Blender workout, and then a trip to the salon for hair and makeup. Despite the 90 degree heat, we got some photos of the bridal party before heading to the church, cheering for the newlyweds, and heading off to the reception. The two flower girls were absolutely adorable and Brian and I had a great time spinning them around the dance floor. It was also the first time Brian has seen most of his extended family since he got home from his deployment, so it was nice for him to have time to catch up and also celebrate his sister's new marriage. Sunday morning and our flight back home to Georgia came way too soon!

Photo by Jay Moore
Luckily, we already have another weekend coming up and I plan to spend a lot of time on the couch relaxing!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Menu Monday: Cooking for Two!

I am thrilled to be returning to regular cooking and meal planning now that Brian is home. It actually makes me a little sad that he gets home from work before I do and usually has dinner at least halfway done by the time I pull in the driveway, but I am loving our joint return to the kitchen. We had developed some really good habits regarding eating at home in our first year of living together, and I'm really happy we've fallen easily back into it. This time of year is wonderful for cooking, much fresh and in-season produce! We have definitely been taking advantage. Today I'm sharing a few favorite meals (that I remembered to photograph) from the past month or so!

I tore this recipe for Blush Macaroni and Cheese out of April's Cooking Light just before Brian came home. We've already made it twice! This recipe uses a modest amount of cheese, making it a pretty guilt-free macaroni dish. We use whole wheat pasta as well.

You'll notice that I am having a full-fledged blogger obsession with Iowa Girl Eats (in the least creepy way possible). I have always loved Kristin's recipes, but her blog has been a staple for me when meal planning for the past month or so. I haven't gone wrong with any of her recipes, including this mayo-free Honey Roasted Chicken Salad served with a side salad drizzled with the best aged balsamic vinegar ever.

We celebrated Cinco de Mayo with yet another recipe from Kristin, Fresh Margarita Chicken with Cilantro Lime Rice. The chicken was incredibly flavorful and cooked up well on the grill! I mixed some homemade salsa (the Pioneer Woman's recipe is the best I've tried) with an avocado for the "salsamole" on top.

My favorite steak fajita recipe is from Rachel (who I'm actually linking up with today for Menu Monday!) This time around, I deconstructed the fajitas for a delicious steak salad served with corn, black beans, pico de gallo and a homemade cilantro lime vinaigrette. I will echo Rachel in saying that you have to try this steak really is the best!

I've tried a few different at-home takes on P.F. Chang's infamous lettuce wraps with varying degrees of success. While Kristin's recipe isn't an exact replica (yes, this is from Iowa Girl Eats, yet again), the flavors of this meal are a great interpretation. I also liked that the filling wasn't super greasy, making this an easy, light meal.

Spicy Roasted Vegetable Macaroni and Cheese is another fun take on the classic pasta dish, and I love that you can adjust the veggies to whatever is in season or suits your tastes. It was the perfect amount of spicy, as well.

In my mind, Ina Garten can do no wrong. I see her as a very "back to basics" chef, which made her recipe a natural choice for Homemade Meatballs. Meatballs are one of those things that seem easy in theory, but I've never been 100% happy when making them from scratch. I switched it up a bit by using all ground beef (I'm not a huge pork or veal fan). While I loved the actual meatballs, I wasn't as big on the time I'll drop them into the best tomato sauce ever and call it a day.

What's for dinner in your house this week?

Friday, May 31, 2013

Second Anniversary Mountain Weekend

The past almost two months that Brian has been home have been the best kind of whirlwind. Returning to normal life has been a happy adjustment, but an adjustment nonetheless. On Tuesday, we celebrated two years of marriage. Since our last anniversary, we've spent 8 months apart. I'm hoping that our next year as husband and wife will be spent on at least the same continent.

To celebrate our commitment and getting through a hard year stronger than we started, we took a weekend trip to north Georgia and stayed in a beautiful cabin in Morganton. (I won't mention the terrifying drive up the mountain that at least paid off in some gorgeous views.) We had been wanting to return to the mountains since we traveled to Ellijay with our small group, and our anniversary was the perfect excuse. It was one of those weekends of memories I will cherish: long days of easy conversation and laughter, reflecting on the past year and what we have come through together, and some amazing experiences.

To compromise on the very different ways we envisioned spending a weekend away in the mountains, Brian and I each planned a day with whatever we wanted to do and agreed to enthusiastically participate in whatever the other chose. Brian planned an active day of hiking. Me? Spa day and wine tasting, of course.

After fighting Atlanta traffic on Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend (bad idea, much?), we arrived in the charming town of Blue Ridge and grabbed burgers and beer at the Blue Ridge Brewery. I'm not a huge beer fan, but a flight of their house craft beers may have converted me. My favorite was a blonde ale brewed with local strawberries. Definitely exactly what we needed after seven slow hours in the car! And I was definitely happy I had a beer or two in me for our first drive up the mountain in the dark.

On Saturday, we ventured out on a hike to Long Creek Falls (after a treacherous drive down the mountain from our cabin, and then an almost as scary drive out to the trailhead...I am not made for mountain living and am forever thankful for four wheel drive.) The short hike out to the falls was a little tougher than anticipated due to the steep grades, but we were happy to reach the waterfall and rest for a minute!

Our next stop (after some more scary mountain driving...theme of the weekend for me) was Brasstown Bald, Georgia's highest point at 4,784 feet above sea level. The views were incredible. It was such a clear day, and you could see for miles.

For the rest of the day, we enjoyed hanging out around the cabin, throwing some chicken and veggies on the grill, and enjoying the sunset view from the cabin's back porch. The weather was perfect and just cool enough for enjoying the outdoor fireplace and hot tub!

Sunday morning we headed to the Brasstown Valley Resort for our day of relaxation at the Equani Spa. This was the most amazing spa experience I've ever had. An awesome massage, quiet time in the relaxation room, a beautiful view of the mountains from the hot tub on their outdoor deck, and a delicious and light lunch with fruit smoothies (while still comfy in our seersucker robes!) to wrap it all up. Pure bliss.

I knew I wanted to visit one of the vineyards in the area, and when I discovered that Crane Creek Vineyards is owned by a retired Army officer and West Point grad, I knew I had found the place to stop. We had a wonderful time sampling all the wines, and the owner was kind enough to stop and introduce himself to us as well as "talk Army" with Brian. It is nice to see someone doing something they truly love and have a passion for. It also reminded me that, yes, there is life after the Army (albeit probably a little bit sooner for us)! We sampled a few glasses of wine, picked our favorite bottle 'to go,' and enjoyed the view.

That evening, we ventured back to Blue Ridge for our anniversary dinner at Harvest on Main, a neat farm-to-table restaurant that uses local ingredients whenever possible.

Monday morning came way too quickly. After breakfast at L and L Beanery and a quick cupcake stop at The Sweet Shoppe of Blue Ridge, it was time to head back to the Lowcountry.

I couldn't imagine a better way to celebrate two years of marriage. It was a weekend of many treasured memories.

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