on the Chopping block

We had another Chopped night this past weekend 🙂 and let me tell you, I think it might have been our most fun and successful one yet! 

In the past, we have only fixed dinner and dessert (we would take turns on this- one time I would make dinner and Josh would make dessert and the next time we would switch). This time, we thought it would be neat to also make an appetizer. But, we would each have to pick two items and then prepare the appetizer together. We were a little worried that we might each pick the same two items, but we settled on me picking a cheese and figured that would have probably been the only food group we would both try to pick. What we should have been more “worried” about is running into each other. Because that happened at least four times and we just laughed and would hurriedly turn into the closest aisle. 

For the appetizer, my picks were cheese curds and fresh Brussels sprouts. Josh’s picks were salami and onion tater tots. 

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What a fun basket and one that actually worked well together! I boiled then fried the Brussels sprouts with some garlic, then fried the salami. Josh baked the tater tots in the oven. When the tots were baked, we threw everything in a cast iron skillet so that the cheese got melty. Right before we ate, we decided to top it all off with some salsa and crema. 

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The basket ingredients Josh chose for me for dinner included thinly sliced NY strip steak, cream of mushroom soup with roasted garlic, fresh green beans, and crescent rolls. 

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He may have accidentally forgotten the crescent rolls on the belt at the grocery store. And we may have had to drive back to the store to purchase more. At first glance, I wanted to do something like a Philly cheesesteak, but the cream of mushroom soup kind of threw me. I settled on putting two crescent rolls flat together like a little pastry square. I sauteed the green beans with garlic and onion. Once the veggies were cooked, I poured the cream of mushroom on top. I quickly seared the steak on both sides. I put the steak on the crescent roll square, then topped it with the green bean, cream of mushroom mixture. It definitely wasn’t super appetizing looking, but it was very tasty. 

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For dessert, I chose balsamic vinegar, canned dark sweet cherries, Hershey’s special dark chocolate chips, and zebra cakes. 

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I think I really befuddled Josh at first, but he rallied and made my favorite dish of the night. He is so much more creative than I am- it’s so fun to see. He whipped up a delicious chantilly cream and made dark chocolate covered cherries. He then layered pieces of zebra cake with the chantilly cream, Oreos, sprinkles, and chocolate sauce and topped it with the chocolate covered cherries. Delish!

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extra ordinary

We sit on the couch. I sip my black tea, scrolling through Instagram. He sips his coffee, playing a game on the iPad. We snuggle under the blankets, hands touching. In our own little worlds, but together. 

We eat breakfast. Hot oatmeal packed with blueberries, cranberries, ground flax, some pecans and a sprinkle of chocolate chips. We talk about our potential plans for the day.  

In the office, he reads his textbook, watches a module or two for homework. I do a load of laundry and catch up on the latest Real Housewives episodes on Bravo. 

We do a really fun partner workout in the garage. It’s 60 degrees outside and it feels good to finally sweat during a workout instead of freezing. 

For lunch, we have tacos. He mixes up some dough for homemade corn tortillas. We take turns pressing the tortillas and warming them on the stove. They are delicious, especially for our first time making them. 

 We spend the afternoon running errands- returning items to World Market and Home Depot, browsing through Target, dropping off old clothes and kitchen gadgets to the thrift store, picking up groceries at Aldi and Walmart, getting gas.

After unpacking the groceries, I sit at the table chopping carrots, broccoli, green peppers, and onions for our dinner and the upcoming week’s meal prep. He mixes up a batch of chewy chocolate ginger molasses cookies. We talk about the day, food, our families.

He cooks up the filling for chicken pot pie while I finish chopping vegetables. We continue chatting. He tops the pot pie with puff pastry and puts it in the oven. We watch an episode of Chopped while it bakes. The pot pie is delicious- full of vegetables, creamy sauce, flaky pastry on top. 

We move back to the couch after dinner. I drink my cider, while he sips his Maker’s Mark. We watch a new movie on Amazon Prime- The Wedding Year. I curl up next to him on the couch with my feet on his lap. One of my favorite places to be. The movie makes me laugh, makes me cry, just makes me happy. 

We end the night curled up together in bed. I can feel his chest rise and fall, hear his steady breathing, feel his warmth. What more could I ask for than to fall asleep next to this man who challenges me, who frustrates me, who makes me laugh, who loves me, who accepts me just as I am?          

What I wouldn’t give just to bottle up the magic of this perfectly simple, extra ordinary day…

happy anni-four-sary

This Thursday will be Josh and my four year wedding anniversary!!! Some days it feels like it’s not even been a year and other days I can’t believe we haven’t been married for our whole lives. And I mean both of those in the best way. I can’t possibly imagine how my life would have turned out without Josh in it. He has opened me up to a whole new world outside my comfort zone – moving to a new state away from friends and family, starting a new job, living in a big city, etc. And at the same time, he has shown me how amazing it can be to be passionate about something, to become the best version of yourself, and to never settle.

Since we’ll be married for four years, I thought it would be fun to talk about four things that have been super important in our marriage this past year! 

  1. Forgive, but don’t forget. By this, I definitely don’t mean to hold a grudge. It has never been healthy for me (or us) to ruminate for a long time about our disagreements or arguments. And it’s definitely not been conducive to a healthy relationship for us to keep bringing stuff back up after we’ve made up. After an argument, I usually need a little time to think about what was really bothering me or what I think maybe was bothering Josh and then I’m ready to discuss it right then. It is so important to us not to go to bed angry. We don’t always come to a perfect agreement (I mean, does anyone?), but we always make sure we listen to each other and come up with a plan for it not to happen again. And so while we forgive each other, we don’t want to forget because we don’t want to repeat the same mistakes or things that have made us argue.    

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  1. Don’t keep score. Often, it is so easy to fall into the trap of “woe is me”, to think of all the things I do for the relationship, for our house, for our family. Even when Josh is contributing just as much as me. It is more often than not that just because I’ve done the dishes one night, Josh has actually done them the past four and I’ve just had a rough day and can only focus on me, me, me. We both have days like that, I think everyone does. So, instead of focusing on “me”, I try to focus on “we”. What we can accomplish when I simply ask for help and we work together as a team, instead of putting the pressure on myself (or Josh) to do it alone. 

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  1. Laugh. One of my absolute favorite things to do (besides hugging) is to laugh. I love being super goofy by making up silly songs or doing a weird/awkward dance and making Josh laugh. And I love when Josh does something goofy or says something sarcastic that makes me laugh. I truly believe that having the ability to laugh in some of our hardest times and some of our best times has been so important for our relationship.   

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  1. Listen. This one is definitely more for me. I so easily get excited about an idea or feel like I need to share my point of view instantly and that has led to me talking over Josh more than once. I have really been working on taking a deep breath and actually listening to what Josh has to say instead of dominating the conversation. If we don’t take the time to listen to each other, it feels like we don’t respect the other person’s opinion and I never want to make anyone feel that way- especially my husband. I think I might always be a work in progress on this one, but it is one of the most important things I’m working on.  

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I am so blessed to have spent the past four years with Josh as my partner, my husband, my everything in this crazy adventure called life. I can’t wait to see what the next year has in store for us!!!

franklin park conservatory & botanical garden

The Friday of Labor Day weekend I had the good luck of being able to get the day off of work to spend with Josh’s parents and sister. It was a great start to the day just being able to lounge on the couch with a cup of hot tea and not have to rush out the door to get to work, even though Josh still had to go in to campus for class. My in-laws like to explore and see new things, so I wasn’t surprised when they suggested we head to Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens for the morning while we waited on Josh to get finished with class. Josh and I had been once before with my parents and it was totally worth another visit! Every room offers something beautiful or bizarre, plants that are very common among some you never knew existed. And the exhibits were spectacular- Blooms & Butterflies, Bonsai, and Chihuly: Celebrating Nature. 

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My personal favorite was the Blooms & Butterflies. As soon as you walk into the exhibit, butterflies flutter all around you and the lush greenery. Gorgeous glass Chihuly sculptures are nestled between the plants, hanging from the ceiling, and cascading like a waterfall into a clear pool of water full of plump koi fish. It’s a magical paradise.

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A few days later, Josh and I headed back to explore the outdoor walking loop and the community garden campus. 

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I am so excited to visit again to see the new exhibits with the change of seasons!

service bar

I think I might be a little behind on keeping up with blog stuff…whoops! With Josh starting back at school and adjusting our schedules, I have been kind of out of it lately. Just when we get in a routine and I feel like we have it all together, something seems to change again. That’s just life, right?! 

For Josh’s birthday (yes, that was over a month ago), we finally had the chance to have dinner at Service Bar. It’s been on my expansive list of places to eat for quite awhile now and for whatever reason, we kept not going. And after eating there, I am very sad we waited so long to try it out! It is most definitely our new favorite restaurant. 

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Service Bar is the restaurant at Middle West Spirits distillery. As soon as we walked in, I knew I loved it- the decor, the large mirrored bar on the back wall, the cozy booths and tables set up close to one another for enjoying each other’s company. The chef, we learned while looking over the menus, is inspired by his midwestern upbringing and his Bangladeshi roots resulting (in my opinion) Ah.Maz.Ing food. I really enjoyed that Service Bar has a standard menu that usually stays the same, while also offering a “Secret Kitchen Menu” which changes as the chef decides. Even though everything on the standard menu sounded amazing, we ended up ordering from the secret menu because that’s just way more fun! 

For an appetizer, we ordered the pull apart garlic bread with radish spread. I was very surprised how much I actually loved something that sounded so simple. It was a flavor bomb. The bread had a nice crunch on the outside, but was so soft on the inside. The radish spread was light and creamy and paired so well with the garlic flavor. 

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We had eaten our appetizer and were enjoying our drinks while our main courses were being prepared. We kind of noticed it seemed to be taking a while, but we were there on a Friday night at 6 pm, so I didn’t really think anything much about it. We were certainly in no rush. Our waiter was so kind and apparently felt bad because he offered to bring us a cheesy brisket crunch while we waited. We were definitely not turning that offer down! Let me just tell you, it was everything I have ever wanted a Taco Bell cheesy gordita crunch to be and beyond. What made it so good was that it had a crispy corn tortilla wrapped in Indian fry bread. And that was then filled with house made queso, crispy lettuce, tender smoked brisket, and smoked cheddar cheese. I have been ruined to Taco Bell and will only be able to eat Service Bar’s cheesy brisket crunch from now on. We ate it so fast, I didn’t even think to take a picture. 

Josh ordered the shrimp and grits for his main course. Don’t be fooled into thinking it was anything ordinary, though. The shrimp and grits was actually a tiger prawn Malai Curry, saffron coconut rice grits, crispy taro beresta, and panch phoron pickled eggplant. It was so much better than I’ll ever be able to describe. The best part of the whole dish was the eggplant. It melted in my mouth and had the most delectable flavor. 

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I ordered the hand cut noodles- Old Beijing Zha Jiang noodles with pork cheek, cucumber, and long bean. The vegetables were the perfect crunchy complement to the tender pork cheek and chewy, delicious noodles. I’m a sucker for noodles every time. And I’ve yet to be disappointed. 

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For dessert, we had the chocolate cake. It was an adorable miniature cake the perfect size for two people. And we got to decorate it ourselves! We were given individual cups with icing, raspberry sauce, and fried cocoa nibs, so we could put the cake together however we wanted. The cake was moist and had a wonderful chocolate flavor which paired well with the sweet of the icing and the tartness of the fruit. And the cocoa nibs added a great texture and crunch. It was such a fun way to end our experience at Service Bar! 

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We are both already looking forward to the next special occasion we have to celebrate at Service Bar!

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PS- this is, as always, all just my opinion!

topgolf

About a month ago, I went to Topgolf for a team building event with my coworkers. I had expected it to be fun, but it was waaayyyy more fun than I could have ever imagined. And this is coming from someone who has only played golf once in her whole life and didn’t enjoy it at all. I came home and immediately told Josh we needed to go together sometime. This past Friday I took off work to spend the day celebrating Josh’s birthday and I was so pleased when he chose Topgolf for one of our fun activities! For those of you that haven’t been, there are over 100 climate-controlled hitting bays spread between three different levels. Each bay has their own little putting green, set of clubs for men and women, and a screen that tracks each player’s score/number of balls hit. There are several targets spread across the field that you try to hit your ball into. Depending on what game you play, you might have to hit it into a specified target or into specific portions of a target. We chose to play the signature “Topgolf” game where you just hit your ball into any target you can, but the farther the target you can hit or the closer to the center of the target the more points you get. We loved it so much, we played for two straight hours. Sometimes, I would get in a groove and be able to hit multiple balls in a row into “far” targets and sometimes I would miss a few swings then barely get it a few feet away. For someone who is not a golfer, I was super happy with how I played. I have to say, I kicked Josh’s butt on the first couple of games, but he came back strong at the end and beat me in the last couple. We can’t wait to go back!!   

 

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Surprisingly, the food at Topgolf is scrumptious (I say surprisingly because most “sporting” venues seem to mostly serve microwaved hot dogs and plastic cheese). We had the jumbo pretzel board. It was a huge amount of food and I fully expected us to take half of it home, but we demolished almost the whole thing! The jumbo pretzel board (to me) is like the ultimate appetizer. The warm pretzel was larger than my head. No kidding. The pretzel holes were filled with jalapeño sausage, genoa salami, prosciutto, pepper jack and cheddar cheese, blackberries, apples, red grapes, and candied pecans with sides of PBR cheese sauce and horseradish Dijon mustard. The pretzel had a great crunch on the outside, but was soft on the inside. The fruit was that perfect bite of fresh to cut through all the amazing fat of the meats and cheese. It was just delicious and I would happily order it again and again.    

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We went before lunch on a weekday and were able to get a hitting bay right away, but would definitely make a reservation for any evening, especially on the weekends. If you’re ever in need of a fun date idea or just a great time with friends and family, I highly recommend Topgolf!

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catching up

It has been a LONG time since I’ve posted, yowza! We have been deep into purchasing our new house, cleaning,  moving out of our apartment, cleaning some more, and fixing up our house. I thought it might be kind of fun (or at least interesting/informational) to do a little break down of what we personally went through in purchasing our house. I think I talked about it in my previous post, but here’s a little recap- we originally found a house that we thought was going to work out great. It had 3 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, a full basement, and a detached 3 car garage. There was so much room to make ours, with what we thought would be some minor improvements and updates. We made an offer on the house. Once the offer was made, we began working with our bank. I had to provide proof of insurance, our last two months bank statements, proof of employment, proof of earnest money, etc. It seemed like so many things! It is no joke buying a house! On top of all that, we had to schedule an inspection and appraisal for the house. I am so so thankful we did an inspection because the house was in way worse shape than we even realized- the chimney was crumbling and needed to be torn down and replaced, the foundation of the garage had shifted and one of the walls had cracked so much you could almost put your hand in it, the grading in the yard needed leveled so water wasn’t pouring towards the house when it rained, the roof was in bad shape, and the ceiling in the garage was so full of mold that it was falling down and the garage door wouldn’t open all the way. It was just such a disaster. I don’t know how we didn’t notice some of these issues when we first walked through, but it was a lesson learned for sure. We were able to walk away from that house because of the inspection being so bad and weren’t penalized, thankfully! Back to the house hunt we went. And we found our new home so quickly! We went to an open house to see it- honestly, I had pretty low expectations from the pictures and didn’t want to get my hopes up after what we had just been through with the other house. Walking through it, though, I just fell in love. It’s nothing grand or spectacular, but it was exactly right for Josh and I (and of course, Rocko). The house was built in 2002 (unlike the other house built in the 1960s, I think), so that made me feel better already. It was built on a slab, so we wouldn’t have to worry about water in a crawl space or basement. It has 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and a 2 car garage…exactly what we were hoping to get, but hadn’t been able to find in our price range. The house is on a corner in the neighborhood and the neighborhood is basically a giant cul-de-sac, so there is no through traffic, which is wonderful!! There is an open, empty field behind the house, so we don’t have to worry about more people or houses behind. I knew as soon as we left that we were putting an offer on it. Of course, it can never just be easy- we put an offer in on that Saturday knowing that offers were being accepted until that Sunday evening. The seller was elderly and had gone out of town to visit family, didn’t own a cell phone or a computer, and the weather ended up being very snowy/icy and unsafe to drive back in. But, we didn’t know any of this had happened! We didn’t hear anything all Sunday night or Monday morning. I worked myself up so much, I had a stomach and headache! Why do I do that?? I knew in my heart that everything would work out, that God was going to provide for us no matter what, that if this house fell through there had to be a better one out there for us. I finally reached out to our realtor when I still hadn’t heard anything around lunch on Monday. He explained that the seller had been out of town and unable to look over the offers, but was meeting with their realtor right then to make a decision. I was so anxious. Just a bit later, I received a text message that our offer was accepted and we got the house!!! I was SO relieved and excited! And so we began the process all over again of moving forward with getting a house- I had to compile previous bank statements, proof of home insurance, proof of earnest money being received, and proof of employment. There were also several phone calls back and forth with the bank about our different loan options and monthly payments dependent upon what our down payment would be. I finally got everything together and sent off to the bank for the mortgage department to begin their part of the process. And let me tell you, it seemed like that would never end. Just weeks and weeks of waiting after rushing around getting all that paperwork together. The weeks slowly went by though and we finally closed on the house in April. Closing on a house is a whole other kind of stress. There are pages upon pages upon pages for you to sign. Not to mention the large amount of money being taken out for the mortgage on the house. So. Much. Money. In the end, for us, it is worth every penny. We still had possession of our apartment until the end of June, but as soon as we had the keys to our house, we began cleaning and moving stuff over. We just couldn’t wait to be in our own space again. I spent an entire day at the house sweeping, vacuuming and shampooing the carpets, cleaning the toilets, sinks, and showers, wiping down the insides and outsides of the cabinets, and wiping down the appliances. For the next few days, I packed my car with as much as I could and stopped by after work to drop it off. Taking a smaller amount over at a time was great because I could unpack everything right away and put it in its place, I didn’t have to just throw a bunch of boxes wherever they would fit to worry about later. That illusion quickly came to an end that following weekend though. Josh’s parents came in to town to help us pack up a uHaul and move everything out. I really don’t know how we would have done it without them…although I can guarantee it would have taken at least twice as long and would have been much more stressful. We were both really grateful to have them both there helping. I was just throwing stuff in whatever box or container was available with no organization at all. Moving so quickly meant that we did exactly what I was trying to avoid haha- boxes stacked up randomly and furniture stored wherever it would fit. I am the type of person that really doesn’t like things not being in their place, so I had to rein myself in not to stress out too much. We had about two weeks before some of our friends were coming to stay with us, but that gave us an extra little push to actually unpack everything, organize, and settle in. When we did our original walk through during the open house, we knew we wanted to replace the flooring eventually, but we didn’t think there would be much other work for us to do right away. Once we got in, we realized we actually wanted to do quite a lot. Even though the house is “young” (17 years old), everything was original- it needed new appliances, new paint, new light fixtures and blinds (they were all covered in a dirty, dusty goo), and new curtains. Whew, isn’t buying a house so much fun?? Really, isn’t it?? Despite all the stress of house hunting, a bad inspection, closing, cleaning, moving, unpacking, painting, replacing things, cleaning the apartment, decorating, more painting and unpacking, rearranging, this house has been such a blessing for our little family. We’ve been able to share our house with many visiting friends and family (honestly, more people have been to/stayed at our new house than the house we lived in before for 3 years!) and now this adorable little house has become our home.