Thursday, January 31, 2013

A few new things

My grandfather is quite a collector.  He's the most generous man and loves finding old, beautiful and/or quirky things and buying them for himself and his family!  There are certain "staples" in every Colbert household that were either gifted or passed down over the years - all originating from "Pa and MiMi".  When we came home from Christmas, we managed to bring back a few of these fun things we'd been keeping in North Carolina until we had room in the car to bring back with us.  I think you'll like them!

The first is an antique copper and brass fire extinguisher.  Yep - you heard me correctly!  I love old copper things, and was SO excited about this new piece.  As you can see below, it's a restored "Buffalo Fire Extinguisher" and is beautiful!  I knew exactly where it was going to live when we got back to Boston, so I was really excited when it fit in the floor of our car coming home.

It goes really well with the other copper things around the fireplace.  See the little thing holding books beside the fire extinguisher?  I'll give you two guesses as to what that is.'s an antique popsicle mold.  See the popsicle shapes along the bottom?  There are actually 3 rows of molds, so you'd pour in your liquid and freeze the whole lot of 'em.  On the other side of the fireplace there is a large copper tea kettle I got on one of our trips to Antique Alley.  Finally, there's also a small painting on the mantle that has a copper painted frame.  Our friend, Adrian, is a fantastic artist and gave us this last year - it's beautiful!

The second thing that must be present in every Colbert household is the wooden duck.  I didn't realize until we were visiting my family in Virginia over the 4th of July, when I saw my cousin and aunt's ducks, that everyone has one of these in their house!  I love birds (ducks...chickens...little birds...all of them), so we were excited to bring this guy back to Boston.

The final thing I thought I'd share is another little bird - this time a funky black and white chicken.  When we were on vacation in the Berkshires this fall, we were in a little shop with husband's parents and they immediately scooped up the little spotted guy to go in my stocking at Christmas.  It was made in Bolivia and every one of his spotted "feathers" is made of clay.  My kitchen has lots of chickens in it, and this little guy fits in perfectly, don't you think?

What are some of your favorite accessories in your house?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Our Favorite Chili

I love chili.  I'm don't think I've ever met anyone who doesn't love chili, actually.  One of the things I like so much about this delicious dish is how many ways you can make it...and it's still chili!

The first fall Travis and I were married, we were excited for it to get cold enough to warrant our first chili of the season.  Being "new" New Englanders, we didn't have to wait too long for us to think it was quite cold enough.  October in New England = December in North Carolina.  Crazy...I know.  

When I got ready to go grocery shopping, I did what every newlywed does when they are cooking their first chili.  I called the moms.  I got my mom's recipe and Trav's mom's recipe and sat down cross-eyed wondering which one I should make.  Then it hit me - let's have a "joining of families" via chili too!  My mom's chili is full of beans and Trav's mom's is I set out to mix the two family styles and make our own recipe!

Be forewarned - the below recipe makes a LOT of chili (a 12 quart stock pot FULL), but it can easily be halved.  We eat chili for a week and then freeze the other half in 4-serving containers to enjoy all year.

5 pounds ground beef (80/20)
2 large onions, chopped
2 large cans (1 lb 13 oz each) Goya Chick Peas, drained
2 large cans (1 lb 13 oz each) Goya Red Kidney Beans, drained
2 cans (1 lb each) Goya Pink (Pinto) Beans, drained
12 ounces chopped carrots
2 large cans (28 oz each) Hunt's Diced Tomatoes
2 large cans (29 oz each) Hunt's Tomato Sauce
1 can (18 oz) Hunt's Tomato Paste
2 cups Ketchup
1/4 + 1/8 cup Chili Powder
1/8 cup + 1 T Garlic Powder
1.5 Tablespoon salt


Brown ground beef.  Drain half grease off and transfer beef into stock pot.  Saute chopped onions in the other half of the grease.  Once translucent, transfer them into pot with the beef.

Strain and add beans, then chop carrots into "bean-size" pieces and add to the pot.  Add diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, paste, ketchup, and all spices and stir!  Just make sure you stir carefully so you don't bust the beans!

Cook on low for 1-3+ hours, siring every 30 minutes.

Taste chili about halfway through and feel free to add additional spices to suit your taste.  I like to syphon some of the extra liquid from the pot as the chili cooks so that it isn't too thick.

Serve with grated cheese and sour cream.  So good!

for fantastic recipes, cake how-to's, and diy projects!

Our friends Anna and Terence came over for dinner with their dogs Sara and Amelia.  Since Ann is Gluten Free, I found some Gluten Free cornbread mix at the store and decided to give it a try with dinner.  It was actually pretty good - definitely one of the better GF mixes I've tried.

Ann and Terence ALSO brought over a braaaand new sweater for Toby.  It is by FAR my favorite sweater ever - brown with a sock monkey on the back and a hood with monkey ears!!  It's the cutest thing ever.

It was a fun night with good friends, lots of pups, and yummy chili.  There isn't much better!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Cake Decorating How-to: Valentine's Cupcakes

If you've walked in any store lately, you can't miss the fact that Valentine's Day is just around the corner.  Pinterest is exploding with fun ways to change your everyday food into heart-shaped treats and decorate your home for the sweetest day in February.  In honor of the sweetest day of the year, I put together a Valentine's inspired cupcakes you can whip up to impress your friends or that special someone.  ( a special bonus, there's a cupcake nail polish design by my bud Bailey at the bottom!  Keep reading!)

These are so easy to make and take almost no time.  If you've never used fondant before, don't be worried - this would be a great decoration to start with!

All you'll need is:

Baked cupcakes
White buttercream frosting (here's a great recipe...or you could just use store-bought)
Fondant (red and white)
Red gel coloring ("No Taste Red" or "Christmas")
Several heart cookie cutters (different sizes, all under 1")
Small rolling pin
Piping bag
Wax paper

Start by mixing your fondant.  You can either buy pre-mixed red fondant at a craft store (try AC Moore or Michael's), or mix your own by using gel coloring + white fondant.  

For this design, I made several shades of red and pink.  I wanted to make sure that all the shades were in the same gradient, I started with one ball of white and one ball of red fondant.  For the below colors, I used the following ratios of white to red. 
From left to right, they are - all red, 1:1, 2:1, 4:1, and 8:1.

Tape a piece of wax paper to your counter top and rub some Crisco in the center.  This will keep the fondant from sticking to the wax paper as you roll it out.  Roll one colored ball on the wax paper.  Using the heart shaped cookie cutters, cut out several different sizes of hearts.  
Do this with each color, laying the hears on a separate sheet of wax paper to dry.  

Let these sit out until they are stiff enough that they won't flop over when you pick them up - at least an hour.  You can store them in a Tupperware container overnight if needed.

Now to put the cupcakes together!  

Fill a piping bag with your white icing that has a 1A decorating tip.  
Pipe a large swirl of icing on the top of each cupcake, like you would a soft serve ice cream cone.  Start by piping around the outside edge of the cupcake.  Without releasing pressure, continue your swirl with a second, smaller swirl on top, and finally a little third swirl, pulling up as you release tension on the bag.

Now stick your little hearts into the frosting.  Try to use each shade of red and pink in each cupcake and vary the combinations on each cupcake so they are all a little different.  I used one large heart, one medium heart, and 3 or 4 small hearts on each cupcake.

These would be fun to bring for a school party too, since the hearts are edible.

I'd shown my friend Bailey a picture of these cupcakes last week and we decided to have a little cross-blogging adventure.  She puts together super cute nail polish designs on a regular basis (we've even spotted a big YouTube "star" sporting her designs), so she agreed to do a "cupcake nails" tutorial inspired by these cupcakes!  (EEEEE!!)  I think my favorite part is the cupcake wrapper - super sparkly!

Without further ado (haha)...check out her Valentine nails blog and leave her some love.  :)

Happy cupcaking!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Favorites this week - January 26

It has been so cold here in Boston this week!  With lows in the single digits and highs in the low 20's, I've been scrambling from my car, to the office, to the car, and back home as quickly as I can.  No time for dilly dallying outside!

To make matters worse, our heat stopped working in our apartment for most of the week.  The makeshift solution husband figured out a few months ago gave out, so after short-lived stints of heat for the better part of the week and the thermostat not going above 50 degrees, we called the landlord.  I know...I know...just call the landlord the first time.  It's why you rent!  (Well...that and homes around Boston are crazy expensive.)  Oops.  :)

The plus to all of this is that Toby, our mini dachshund, came to work with me yesterday, since the plummer was going to be in and out of the apartment fixing things.  THAT makes for a fun day at work!
Toby's set-up for the day - toys, bones, blanket, cat bed, and tennis ball.  Now if he can just get that sweater off...

Now, on to some of my favorite blogs this week.  Several of the recipes would be perfect for the Super Bowl, so check'em out if you're hosting a party!

The Feta Stuffed Buffalo Chicken Meatballs from Iowa Girl Eats look a-mazing!  You could swap out the Feta for Bleu Cheese if you wanted to be a purist.
Get the recipe and make these meatballs!

I recently found A Beautiful Mess, and I had a hard time picking which of her blogs was my favorite this week.  Finally the Grapefruit Donuts won out...but her painted kitchen cabinets were a close second!
Every Super Bowl party needs a yummy Onion Dip...and A Spicy Perspective's recipe is as far as you need to search, as it calls for bacon and caramelized onions.  Mmmm...
Dip those chips!
I was really excited to come across a recipe for Chili Lime Cauliflower this week.  I've been trying to get husband to eat cauliflower with me for years...this may be the recipe to win him over!  It would also make a great side (that's not the predictable chips, beans, or salad) for fajitas or tacos!
What a way to enjoy cauliflower!
I've been wanting to hang more pictures of US in our apartment, and this week Young House Love shared how they are doing just that with their Instagram Photo Project.  I don't use Instagram (i know...only person out there not using it...), but you can totally do this with regular pictures too!
Such a fun way to display your family pictures!
And finally...the solution to the cold.  My cousins-in-law have the coolest life...ever.  They moved to St Croix (Virgin Islands) a few years ago and have been keeping a blog of their experiences.  Jeff is a Scuba/Dive guide (coolest job ever) and posted this blog from a recent dive when they came across a group of dolphins.  Watch the videos...and then check out the rest of their adventures!  They also have the best blog name ever - Life is short so are my pants.
Oh to be swimming with dolphins right now...

What were some of your favorite blogs this week?

*Here's to warmer weather next week*

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Berry Banana Smoothie

The past week has been brutally cold here in Boston.  Even through we dodged a snowy bullet earlier this week (we were supposed to get 5"...coast was due for 12", and we just got a dusting), we have not dodged the "arctic air".  Being from the South, I'm not a huge fan of walking around in the single digits, but have gotten used to it to some extent.  Unless it's windy.  Nothing helps if it's 5 degrees and windy.

That being said, I still love having something cold at the end of the evening.  This weekend I made some Blueberry-Honey Frozen Yogurt, which was delicious.  But alas, since you can't shouldn't have ice cream every night, I like to change it up with smoothies and parfaits from time to time.  They are definitely yummier than a Popsicle...and much better for you!

Here's one of my favorite combinations - a Berry Banana Smoothie.

All you'll need is...

6-7 large frozen strawberries (about 1.5 cups)
1/2 cup frozen blueberries
1 banana
1/2 cup skim milk
3 ounces (1/2 single serving cup) blueberry Chobani (stir before adding)

Add all ingredients to your blender and blend until smooth!

This recipe makes two medium sized smoothies with 170 calories in each.  I like using frozen fruit because it acts as the ice.  More fruit is a good thing!

It's a great way to end a night!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Date Night - Audubon Circle and the Lorelei Ensemble

Friday night, Travis and I went on our first date since coming back from Christmas vacation.  Being sick for three weeks really puts a damper on going out, so we were excited to have a nice evening!  Our friend Kim is in the Lorelei Ensemble, who was having a concert that evening at Boston University's Marsh Chapel, so we decided dinner and the concert would be perfect.

About a year ago, I put together a power point presentation for my boss with the pros and cons (mostly pros...) of moving to Arizona (he was trying to convince his wife to move there).  As a thank you, he gave me a gift card to a restaurant down the street, Audubon.  Not much better than dinner on the boss!  :)

We got to Audubon around 6 and had no trouble getting a table (apparently the crowd shows up around 8).  The inside is like a nice lounge - dark wooden walls, metal pendant lights and a cool triangular table down the center of the restaurant for after hours.  Across from the long bar running down one side of the restaurant are the dining tables where we sat.

Since the gift card was for $75, we decided to live large and get an appetizer, dinner, and dessert.  We started with the Grilled Shrimp with Citrus Sauce (which was sweet with a serious kick).

Travis immediately knew he wanted the bowl of Turkey Chili, but I had more trouble deciding on the main course.  It was between the Vegetable Risotto and Pan Roasted Chicken.  I decided that the chicken dish is usually a cop-out, so I gave the risotto a try.

The Turkey Chili was massive and was topped with cheddar and sour cream.  It was thick, "nice and spicy", and great once he added a little salt.

The risotto, on the other hand, was just really bland.  The veggies (peas, asparagus, and mushrooms) were cooked perfectly, but there just wasn't much flavor to the dish.  I decided that since we had more than enough money to cover dinner in the gift card, I was going to order something different (after-all...dinner was on the boss!).   I asked the waitress if I could see the menu again to pick something else and assured her that it wasn't something wrong with the just wasn't to my taste.

I decided to go with my gut the second time and got the Pan Roasted Chicken with Mashed Potatoes and Mushrooms. It was amazing.  This was no ordinary chicken dish - the chicken was juicy, tender and FULL of flavor.  The mountain of mashed potatoes was rich and fluffy, and paired well with the mushrooms and gravy.  I gobbled most of it up almost immediately and was more than happy!

The icing on the cake was that the restaurant comp'd the risotto (even though we weren't expecting it) for good measure.  You can tell a really great restaurant by the way they fix issues that come up.  Audubon was fantastic.

There was only one option on the menu for dessert, Goat Cheese Cheesecake with an Oreo crust and crumb - but with a dessert like that...who needs a second?

It was tangy, sweet, and chocolaty - everything we could wish for.

At this point we were completely stuffed.  There was, however, one more pleasant surprise (which doesn't happen often around here), which was the BILL.  Appetizer, 2 entrees, dessert, and a beer (Travis was so excited they had a local brewery's Fisherman's Ale) - all for about $55.00.  We handed over the $75 gift card and walked out with some extra cash from the unused value.  We MADE MONEY eating here.  :)

Audubon Circle Restaurant Bar on Urbanspoon

After dinner we hopped in the car and headed over to Boston University's Marsh Chapel for the Lorelei Ensemble concert.  Thankfully we we found a parking spot right outside (which is unheard of), so we didn't have to walk too far in the cold.
Wrapping your entire face in a scarf helps...

The inside of Marsh Chapel is beautiful (as you just saw) and was the perfect place for the concert.  I have to say, this was one of the best concerts I've been to in a long time.

The Lorelei Ensemble is a group of 8 ladies (and their leader, Beth) who performs both new and early music for women's voices.  They perform pieces for the entire ensemble and in smaller groups (solo, 3, 4 or 5 voices).  Friday's concert was titled Lineage, and focused on the shared musical language between sixteen-century repertoire, colonial America, and the new music of today.  It's not often you go to a concert that includes chant, shape note music, lyrical pieces, and works composed just this year, and have it not just make sense, but be a fantastic and inspiring evening!

The concert included pieces by Paul Chihara, John Sheppard, William Billings, William Byrd, Mary Montgomery Koppel, Joshua Shank, Thomas Tallis, and Karin Hoghielm.  The pieces that particularly struck me were Chihara's Magnificat and Joshua Shank's Magnificat for the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo.  Shank's Magnificat takes on the heavy subject of Argentina's "Dirty War", using text from an organization of Argentine mothers whose children had "disappeared".  He took a truly heartbreaking event and paid honor to what the families and children experienced through the settings of their stories.  The piece is not yet finished (they premiered the first 4 movements in this concert), and I can not wait to hear the rest.

The Lorelei Ensemble will be performing with the Harvard Women's Choral Festival in February, so if you're in the Boston area, you should definitely go hear this group!

Such a fun evening out with husband!