Friday, May 22, 2009

Food Friday: Cinnamon Spice Muffins

I don't have cravings very often (unless you count chocolate chip cookies but we're not talking about that, are we?). So I was sitting around one afternoon, and I had a craving for some spice cake. Like, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, you know what I'm talking about. It was an unexpectedly chilly day, kind of gloomy, and I really didn't want to go to the store. So, as usual, I went to All Recipes to see if I could find a recipe that called for ingredients I already had.

Unfortunately, I had some trouble. Don't get me wrong, I found lots of spice cake recipes, but almost all of them (and I mean all) called for apples. Well, I didn't have any apples, and like I said, I wasn't about to drive the 2 minutes to the store that would enable me to get apples. I was just starting to get a little bit frustrated when I came across this recipe for "Cinnamon Teacake". It didn't call for apples, and it also happened to be eggless which I thought would be worth a try. Don't be fooled, though. Eggless does not equal healthy. It seems that they substituted butter for the missing eggs, and so it's pretty fattening. Luckily for me, healthy was not part of my criteria that day, so I made it.

I changed a few things, though, because the recipe only called for cinnamon, and I wanted spice cake so I added some vanilla, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, etc. (Incidentally, I'm not sure if the measurements below are 100% accurate - I sort of just threw things in. But it's pretty close, I think.) I also substituted half of the sugar with brown, because I thought it would be a better pairing with all the spices. I thought about subbing part of the flour with whole wheat flour (to mitigate the unhealthiness of the entire stick of butter I was about to consume), but I didn't want to mess with the recipe too much because of the lack of eggs. I wasn't sure how the consistency was going to turn out, but next time I probably will use some whole wheat flour. I also obviously made muffins instead of cake. Because I wanted muffins.

You should definitely make these unless you're on a diet. They are super moist, and really good warm. The consistency is a lot like coffee cake, and it is so good with some hot spiced tea (or coffee if you're into that kind of thing.) Mmm!
Cinnamon Spice Muffins
adapted from All Recipes

7 tablespoons butter
1 cup self-rising flour
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/3 cup milk

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon white sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a small muffin tin (6 muffins).
2. Melt 7 tablespoons of the butter. In a medium sized bowl mix together the melted butter, vanilla, 1/4 cup white sugar, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1 tablespoon cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and the self rising flour to form a soft dough. Add the milk and mix again till smooth. Pour batter into prepared pan.
3. Bake at 350 degrees F for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove muffins from oven and set aside.
4. In a saucepan melt 1 tablespoon butter and mix with 1 tablespoon white sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Spread over top of muffins.
5. In a small bowl stir together the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon. Sprinkle over muffins.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Baby Steps

There's so much to do at the house, and I'm officially feeling overwhelmed. I feel sometimes like I just walk from room to room, looking around, not even knowing where to begin, and by the time I realize that I actually am just wasting time, like an hour has gone by. This weekend will be the one month anniversary of when we moved in, and we haven't made nearly as much progress during that time as we should've. Now, granted, we have had some family in town (nothing got done last weekend) and more coming this weekend so we do have a small excuse. But still... things are going too slowly for me to be happy.

But, we have gotten some things done, like I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. I probably shouldn't say "done" because some of these things have been "started" but not "completed". But whatever. Baby steps.

Remember my new stove? You probably didn't notice, but there is a desperate need for some storage on that wall (in addition to the pantry that we don't have). So, a few weeks ago we went to Ikea to see what we could find. About 4 hours (seriously) and a couple hundred dollars later, we had purchased a stand-alone pantry, a cabinet to go over the stove to hold the microwave, and a few other miscellaneous items. To mount the cabinet, we had to find studs to hang this mounting bracket:

Finding studs is no easy task in a house this old. They do things differently now, stud spacing is different, they use nails, drywall, etc. Justyn started drilling all these little holes to try to find the stud, and I said, "Why can't we use a stud-finder?" Well, apparently a stud finder is just a little mini-metal detector looking for nail-heads in the drywall. So, we can't use one. Instead we drill holes. Lots of them. This project took an obscenely long time, and when we finally got the cabinet mounted, we realized the door we bought wouldn't open all the way because of this whacked-out piece of wall that is in the way. So, I don't have any finished pictures for you yet because (like I mentioned before) it's not done yet.

So instead we moved on to the medicine cabinet in the main floor bathroom:

Notice anything missing? How about a DOOR? (And, by the way, check out my new outlet. Heck yeah.) The thing about these old medicine cabinets are that they're all one piece. So we can't just get a new door. We had to rip this one out of the wall and get a whole new cabinet. Luckily there is an amazingly awesome place here in Portland called The ReBuilding Center where people take all their old house crap and you can buy it. So we found a medicine cabinet exactly the size we needed for only 5 BUCKS! How awesome is that? And it's recycled. Woot!

Tangent: (It's relevant, I promise.) So, Justyn has a tool belt. He's had it for many, many years from when he first started working in construction. He loves his tool belt, and I think it's hilarious. He really will not do any project unless he has it on. I have never quite understood it, myself, but he's a dude, so I guess I'm not supposed to understand or whatever. Well anyway, back in our last house, I bought a trusty little tool kit from Target for like 10 dollars or something that has a hammer, pliers, a utility knife, a screwdriver, and a tape measure. It's all a gal like me needs, you know? Well, every time I get something out of it, Justyn looks at me and says, "Oh, you got your little hammer, huh?" or "Hey, can you bring me your little screwdriver?" And so I'm like, "Hey, why are all my tools preceded by the word little? They're just as good as yours." (Granted, they are smaller and not as heavy-duty as his, but that's beside the point.) But since we've been doing all this stuff around the house, my little screwdriver ends up in his tool belt, or I end up with his pliers, etc. It started to become a little bit of a problem.

Anyway, you know already that I have zero construction/remodeling skills. And this medicine cabinet has been in the wall since 1925. And trust me, it was in there. So, I took out the glass shelves (something I can do, thankyouverymuch) and proceeded to score around the edge of the cabinet so as to proceed removing it. But, 80+ years of paint, plaster, and goodness knows what else, made it somewhat difficult. So, Justyn and I are standing there looking at it, trying to figure out how to get it out, and he says, "Aha. I have the perfect tool for this job." And he walks out to the garage. Well, I grab my trusty little hammer, and start prying the cabinet away from the wall. In less than 2 minutes, I had that thing out of there, before he even came back with his whatever he was going to get. You should have seen his face when I walked out with the cabinet in hand. It was awesome! (And, I think he was totally impressed.) He was like, "How... did you... ?" And I said, "Oh, just me and my little hammer." Ha!

When I came back into the bathroom and looked in the hole, I saw this:

I was like, "What is that stuff at the bottom?" And I looked more closely:

Those are used razorblades, my friends. Lots of them. And I betcha they're about 80 years old, too. Gross! I called my mom (because I like to share these odd occurrences with her) and she explained to me that the little slit in the back of the cabinet is for dropping in your used razorblades. So, I asked the obvious question, "Yeah, but how do they get them out?" And she said, "They don't." And, again, all I can say is... Eww. And... Weird. But anyway, we got it all cleaned out, got the new cabinet up, and that project is mostly done, except some of the paint and plaster came out with the cabinet so it's a little rough around the edges. Another project started, but not completed. And thus, no photo for you. I know you're disappointed, but get used to it. This is the reality of fixing a house. It is a lesson you and I must learn together.

And so guess what I got:

Yep, my very own tool belt...check me out! I've already used it once to put on a light switch plate cover. I also got a new nylon coated, self-locking tape measure (because my last one was too short, according to my husband) and a speed square (which I'm not entirely sure of it's purpose). I am supposed to get an upgraded hammer, too, because mine is so small it falls through the loop and almost gouged our new floors once already. I guess it is kind of small, now that I think about it. But, hey! It has been a good hammer for me for many years. It served as a good stepping stone for me. It's all about the baby steps.

Monday, May 18, 2009

But Wait! There's More...

So, I told you that some of our neighbors had brought us some grilled food, let us borrow their caulk gun, and their lawnmower (twice). To return the favor, at least partially, Justyn agreed to help the guy unload some cabinets that he'd purchased and help carry them down into the guy's basement. I felt good because we were finally helping them out. But later that day, he brought this over:

"Just a bottle of wine to say thanks for Justyn's help today," he said. Then last Saturday morning, one of the little girls from across the street delivered these cookies (still warm). They were almost exactly like my friend Amy's "Grandma Cookies," but with raisins added. They definitely made me miss my friend.

Then this weekend, another neighbor (not yet introduced) brought over some fresh-baked (again, still warm) chocolate chip cookies. I'm tellin' ya... these people are either stalking me, or we're a match made in neighbor heaven. Surely she didn't know that chocolate chip cookies are my favorite? I mean, seriously, does this ever stop? I'm not complaining at all, it's just kind of weird, and I'm starting to feel sort of guilty.

The other bonus about this particular neighbor is that she has an amazing yard. She told me about a garden store only about 10 blocks away where they sell organic vegetable starts. I'm so excited! I walked there today in only 15 minutes, browsed a bit, and plan to go back to pick up some things. Don't worry, I will share every step of my gardening blunders with you. And, I assure you, there will be blunders.

We also finally found out who left the anonymous tulips on our front doorstep, and got the chance to say thanks in person, which was nice. After all this niceness, I decided that my original thought of baking something in return wouldn't quite cut it. So, I dug out some stationery and delivered some handwritten notes to each of them to say thanks. Maybe that'll be the end of it, and maybe not. Only time will tell.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Food Friday: Asparagus Soup

I have been eating like total crap lately. Don't let this blog fool you... there are plenty of days (moreso lately than ever) that I just don't have time or energy to make something. We've been so busy moving and unpacking, and trying to fix our house, that I seriously have not been to do a major grocery run in like 2 months. So, I've been eating a LOT of beans and rice, popcorn, frozen Boca burgers, frozen vegetables, and pizza (YES with pepperoni... leave me alone.) Luckily for you, I was cooking like a fiend before all this house stuff happened, and so I have some recipes saved up to last you until I get my freaking act together.

Asparagus is one of those vegetables that I think people love to hate. Like broccoli, or brussels sprouts. So many people just don't even give it a chance, you know? Like even the sound of the word makes them lose their appetite. But I honestly think that asparagus gets a bad rep for no real reason (other than the whole pee thing). About that... did you know that it makes everyone's pee smell, but some people don't have the ability to smell it? You know how they found that out? 2 people ate some asparagus, one person said their pee smelled funny and the other one said their pee didn't smell funny. So they took the first person's pee, and held it under the nose of the second person, and the second person still couldn't smell it. I actually looked this up a long time ago... I don't know why this is so fascinating to me, other than the idea that someone would willingly smell another person's pee for the sake of science.

Anyway, asparagus is yet another vegetable that used to make me turn up my nose, but I have really grown to like it. Roasted asparagus is my favorite, but when I saw this recipe for asparagus soup, I thought it might be a nice variation. Incidentally, roasting asparagus is a fantastic quick side veggie, and it is super easy. Just wash and trim the bottoms, drizzle with lots of olive oil, sprinkle with salt & pepper, and roast at 400 for about 15-2o minutes. It's THAT easy. Seriously. And, again, the benefits: asparagus is a low-calorie, fat-free, cholesterol-free, low sodium veggie. It's also a good source of vitamin K, fiber, folic acid, and potassium. By the way, I only eat green asparagus. I've never had white asparagus and I don't want to . Something about it just... doesn't... seem... right.

Anyway, the soup. I read a ton of food blogs every day, one of which is use real butter. She makes some amazing food, and her pictures are waaayyy better than mine. She even put her asparagus soup in shot glasses and served them with mini-grilled cheese sandwiches which was super cute. And, I personally LOVE grilled cheese sandwiches, but that's a whole different topic. Anyway, I'm no Martha Stewart, and am the first to admit it, so I served my soup in a regular bowl with other regular food like the regular gal that I am. Remember the Sesame-Ginger Rice I made for you a few weeks ago? Perfect side for the soup. Add a scrumptiously roasted acorn squash (again, super easy, tasty, and amazingly cheap) and you've got yourself a colorful, well-balanced meal.

Asparagus Soup
from use real butter

1 lb. asparagus spears, bottoms trimmed
2 tbsps vegetable oil
5 cloves garlic, diced
1 cup yellow onion, diced
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsps flour
1 quart chicken broth (remember what I told you about chicken broth??)
1-2 tsps lemon juice

1. Cut the asparagus spears into 2-inch pieces. Heat the vegetable oil in a large pan or pot (you'll end up putting all the soup back in this pot, so make sure it's big enough). When the oil is hot, add the garlic and onions. Sauté until fragrant. Add the asparagus to the pot, season with salt (don't be shy here), and stir-fry until the spears turn a deep green. Do not overcook!

2. Remove from heat and empty the vegetables into a food processor or blender or food mill. (I used a blender, and the consistency was a little coarse, but not bad at all.) Purée the asparagus with about a cup of the chicken broth.

3. In the same pot you used before, melt the butter. Add the flour and stir until it foams. Pour the chicken broth into the pan a little at a time and stir to incorporate (so you avoid chunks of flour-butter floating around in the broth). Pour in the remaining chicken broth and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in the purée. Add lemon juice (the more, the better, IMHO) and pepper to taste. Serve hot.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Bike At Your Own Risk

I am afraid of my bike. Like, totally terrified. I don't really recall riding bikes as a kid growing up in the south. We mostly rode 4-wheelers (now more commonly known as ATVs) around in the mud where there were no other cars or people or roads, etc. But, Justyn is super-active, and having grown up in Colorado and lived in San Francisco, he's a biker. In my never ending quest to improve myself and open my mind, I told him a couple of years ago that I'd try mountain biking with him (no traffic to worry about) so I searched Craigslist and found this for pretty cheap:

I think we went mountain biking twice in Nashville, both of which involved me getting scared from going too fast downhill or almost hitting a tree and then walking for a good portion of the trail. You see, I'm not a clumsy person (at least I don't think I am), nor am I accident-prone. But I am one of those people who gets hurt. You know, like... I don't always get hurt, but if someone is destined to get injured during some sort of activity, it's usually me. I also don't generally do well with activities which involve some type of device between my feet and the ground (think ice skating, skiing, skateboarding, etc.)

I also had a traumatic experience with a bike when I was a child. I was riding on the back of a bike with my mom, and even though I was small (about 6 or 7 years old, I think), I just couldn't keep my feet on those little pegs that were about 2 inches long. So, genius that I was (even at that young age) I decided I would just stick my legs way out to the sides and I'd be fine. Well, mom turned a corner and my foot got sucked up into the rear spokes. There was crying, blood, an exposed tendon, and a trip to the emergency room with my foot wrapped up in a blue kitchen towel. But the whole time I was sitting there in my mom's lap in the front seat on the way to the hospital, all I could think about was that I had ruined my favorite Strawberry Shortcake socks with the little pink fuzzy ball on the back.

Anyway, you can see why I have a deeply ingrained fear of bicycles. When we were packing to move, there was a moment when we both stood in the garage looking at all of our crap - Justyn looked at me and I looked at him, and we discussed if it was worth moving the bike (that I had only ridden twice) 2500 miles with us to Portland. In the end, I chose to keep it in hopes that I will be brave enough one day to call it my friend.

Because the thing is, that Portland has quite a reputation for bicycling. Apparently it's the most bike friendly city in the country, and number 2 in the whole world (second only to Amsterdam). Almost 10% of Portlanders commute by bike, and there are 164 miles of bike lanes, 66 miles of bike paths, and 30 miles of bike boulevards throughout the city. Almost 15,000 people crossed the bridges into the city by bike in 2007, and that number is growing about as quickly as gas prices. All those statistics should make me feel safer, right? I mean, in Nashville, you don't see many bike commuters... there is no "Share the Road" mentality there, and for that reason I would never consider biking in Nashville. Southerners + Hummers + Bicycles = Disaster Waiting to Happen. But here, I shouldn't be so worried. Drivers are used to bicyclists here, and bike lanes. There is a great biking community here, and even classes for women who are scared.

So, the point is that lately I've been thinking a lot about it. Our apartment was in a super hilly area of Portland (not very bikeable for a rookie/weakling like me). But now that we've moved to a flatter area where there are actually things to bike to, I've been thinking of giving it a shot. Justyn can bike downtown to his job in 15 minutes! I am sufficiently jealous every time I get on the bus to go downtown, wearing my gloves because I'm afraid I'm going to catch the swine flu. Plus, mass transit is not as cheap as I thought it would be. It's $2 for a 2 hour bus ticket, so $4 for a whole day. To me, that's no bargain because I'm pretty sure I would pay less than that for gas in my hybrid to get downtown. But whatever... it's still better for the environment I guess. But, it would be nice to not have to pay that, or pay for parking, and also to be in shape.

So May is national bike month, and this week is national bike to work week. Now, I am not going to be biking to work, for obvious reasons. Gotta start small, you know. In fact, the mayor of Portland, Sam Adams (yep, like the beer) has announced that he will be going car-free this month and ride his bike instead. Wow, he's really in the spirit! (Or, it could be that he totalled his truck last week in a controversial crash that some are saying involved some type of libation. Maybe the whole Beau Breedlove thing is getting to him.) It's a complete tangent, but interesting if you need a distraction for a while. Lots of drama here in Portland politics.

Anyway, this past weekend was really nice, and a friend of mine told me about an awesome breakfast spot pretty closeby (Justyn is always on the hunt for good breakfast). So, on Sunday morning (Mother's Day) we decided to take advantage of the beautiful sunny weather, hopped on our bikes and rode to Bridge's Cafe. It was only about a 5 minute ride, and we didn't have to cross any busy streets to get there. And, it was totally awesome! I have never in my life used my bike as a mode of transport, and it was rad. I loved it! I felt like a real Portlander, locking my bike up outside and walking in with my right pant leg tight rolled up to my calf like the 40 year-old virgin. Oh yeah. It was awesome. It sounds dorky, but it means I'm part of a club now. It's like a gang sign, or a calling card. I'm a biker. And, I'm gonna do it some more too. Just wait and see.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Food Friday: Too Much Chocolate Cake with Baileys Buttercream Icing

I promised you birthday cake, and here it is. And, man oh man, is it good.

Justyn's birthday was last weekend, and since this is officially his favorite cake, of course I made it for him. I don't make cakes that often... not because they're hard or anything, but just because it makes so much cake, and I never think it's a good idea for 2 people to have a whole cake sitting around just waiting to be eaten. But, for his birthday, I make no exceptions.

It's a bundt cake recipe, and so not healthy. Do not be fooled by my previous rants and raves about eating healthy food, cutting back on meat, sauteing your veggies in water instead of oil, etc. This is a "no holds barred" kind of a birthday cake, and by that I mean I made no substitutions of applesauce for oil, or whole wheat flour or any of that business. I even splurged for the Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips. Because it's my sweetie's birthday, and he deserves only the best.

Ahh... the icing. This is the best icing you will ever have (if you like Baileys) and it's so super easy. But, I do have one confession to make. This was not the perfect birthday cake experience. You see, I sort of screwed up. We ended up spending almost all afternoon in Ikea on Saturday (another story for another time, let me assure you), and around 10:00 on Saturday night I realized that I had no Baileys Irish Cream liqueur, and obviously nothing would be open on Sunday (when I needed the cake). I used to have some, but when I moved across the country, the sucky moving company wouldn't pack or move our alcohol. And, since I only use Baileys about once a year, I gave the whole bottle to my mom, whose cabinet it is probably still sitting in as I type this. When I came to this horrible realization, I jumped in the car to go grab some. I mean, it's Saturday night, only 10 o'clock. Surely there are liquor stores open. Well, guess again. Closed. Closed. And closed again.

Shite! What was I going to do? I only needed 4 tablespoons for crying out loud! Maybe I could go to a bar and order a couple of shots, and sneak them home? Nah, something about that doesn't seem like it'll work. I did some research online, and found that some grocery stores carry Irish Cream syrup in the coffee section. Well, I went to my grocery store and they didn't have any. So, I bought some Irish Cream coffee creamer and figured it was my best shot. I threw some of that in, in place of the Baileys, and added some brandy to try and get that "liqueur taste" (and because I had some). Well, let me tell you, it was nowhere near as good as it should've been, and as I result I truly feel like I failed at this year's birthday cake venture. But, let me also say that this cake is so freaking chocolatey and moist, that it's pretty darn good without any frosting at all.

The other thing is, that this is a super easy cake to make. It's not from scratch (I know, I know, but it's so good! It really doesn't even matter). It's not a mix either, it's a hybrid. You know, think "Semi-Homemade with Sandra Lee" on the Food Network. It's sorta like that. I found this recipe on All Recipes, which I've mentioned before. And normally I wouldn't try something like this (using a boxed mix as a base) but it had like a million 5 star reviews so I figured it was worth it. The icing recipe is from a similar site, RecipeZaar. It's almost exactly like All Recipes, but All Recipes doesn't allow any brand names in their recipes, so you can't find Baileys anything on their site.

Too Much Chocolate Cake with Baileys Buttercream Icing
Cake recipe taken from AllRecipes, Icing from Recipezaar
1 (18.25 ounce) package devil's food cake mix
1 (5.9 ounce) package instant chocolate pudding mix
1 cup sour cream
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup warm water
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

1 cup (2 sticks) real butter, at room temperature
3 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons real vanilla extract
4 tablespoons Baileys Irish Cream liqueur
milk, if needed for desirable consistency

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a large bowl, mix together the cake and pudding mixes, sour cream, oil, beaten eggs and water. Stir in the chocolate chips and pour batter into a well greased 12 cup bundt pan.
3. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until top is springy to the touch and a wooden toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool cake thoroughly in pan at least an hour and a half before inverting onto a plate and icing.

1. Cream together butter, powdered sugar, vanilla and Bailey's. Add milk if it is too thick.
2. Slather on a VERY cool cake.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Welcome to Pleasantville

Did I ever tell you how mean our neighbors were to us when we moved into our apartment last summer? I think the first night we were there, they banged on the ceiling after I closed the washing machine door a little too loudly (apparently). Then a few days later she came up and was all, "Umm... hi. Umm... I just wanted to come up and tell you... that like... besides, like, welcome to the neighborhood and everything... that umm... we can hear like... everything in your apartment." She had this totally snooty, valley girl-esque way about her, had bleached her hair a few too many times, and I'm pretty sure she also had on leopard print ballet flats (not that there's anything wrong with that, because I kind of find them to be cute myself, just not on her.) So I said, "Oh my gosh, really? Like what?" She said, "Well, like... everything. I mean, like... we can hear you walking and stuff. I mean, it's like... so bad that I even went downstairs to our neighbors and asked if they could hear us, and they were like, 'yeah', and so now I like... just... tiptoe around my apartment all the time." And when she said "tiptoe" she actually acted it out like charades and showed me how she tiptoed around in her ballet flats. So, I said, "Oh, that must really suck. I'm sorry...but I mean, we have to walk around so.... " And then she said, "Well, I just wanted to let you know." And I was all, "Thanks." And, I never spoke to her again in the 10 months we lived there.

Anyway, that was the "Welcome to Portland" we received, and it totally sucked. After a few other tense encounters (a near fist-fight at the first movie we went to, and a napkin Nazi at a concession stand near the Seattle Locks) I was starting to think this place was full of nothing but a bunch of mean hippies. Oh boy, was I ever wrong.

We met our first neighbor before we even put an offer on our new house, who told us some of the horrible stories about the previous family who lived here. I won't get into all those details, but suffice it to say that there were several confrontations involving the Portland police, guns, jail, escaped juveniles, and a recycling bin full of forties of Olde E to prove it all. From that time until last week when we moved in, we had already met 7 houses of neighbors (they all came over and introduced themselves.) In fact, one of them even brought this beauty over as a gift for us:

Just to give you a frame of reference, I only knew 2 of my neighbors in Nashville and I lived that house for almost 6 years. Also during the 2 weeks we were refinishing floors and painting, etc, we borrowed a shop vac from our gay neighbor ("Bob"), a caulk gun, and a lawnmower. They even brought us each a plate of grilled delicacies, complete with sides (Greek salad, some sort of Moroccan rice with pine nuts and cranberries) and 2 Sierra Nevadas (Justyn's favorite beer). How awesome is that?! They all kept coming over and saying, "We're so glad you're here!" or "We're so excited to see activity over here!"

It all seems great so far, but for a guarded, private person like me, it also seems a little bit strange. You know what I mean? For example, one of our neighbors, "Mick," was saying to us (regarding the previous owners of our house), "Things really started getting bad, and Bob and I had just had enough. So, we made things very difficult for them." I sort of did a double-take, like, "Come again?" Like, seriously, what does that even mean? "We made things very difficult for them." Kinda creepy, right? But whatever, I shouldn't complain. I mean, they have all been nothing but nice to us, so I have nothing to worry about. ... Right?

So then yesterday morning, I walked out the front door and saw these:

Ahh... surely they don't know that tulips are my favorite... or do they?

Aren't they pretty? But I don't know who they're from. They're anonymous tulips.

I mean, maybe it's just another nice gesture. Or, maybe it's "Pleasantville code" for "Please mow your lawn and get rid of the box spring sitting in your backyard." (I'm not a redneck, it just won't fit up our stairwell and we haven't figured out what to do about it yet.) Either way, I guess I'll never know. But I'm thinking maybe I should bake them all some cookies, just to be on the safe side. Problem is, I don't have a "to die for" cookie recipe. And, I think that's what's in order here. I'll have to think on that for a bit... any ideas, let me know!

P.S. I don't know if you noticed, but I now have curtains in my dining room. That's one of many home improvements I've got to tell you about later.

P.P.S. Sorry about no Food Friday last week. I'm sure you can imagine things have been kinda crazy. But, there is a birthday cake waiting for you. And, I promise it'll be good.