Wednesday, May 30, 2018

I Can't Stop Farting in Pilates Class and Other Life Problems

1.) It's true.
The past couple times Luke and I have gone to Pilates class on Saturday mornings, I have audibly passed gas at some point during class. The first time it happened, thankfully the music was turned up loud enough, making it so no one could really hear it. But then the next time it happened, the music was quiet and IT WAS NOTICEABLE, you guys. So I did what any emotionally stable adult would do, and completely pretended that my problem didn't exist.
But then on the way home from the YMCA, I confirmed with Luke about how loud it was.

Me: So did you hear me totally let one rip in the middle of class?

Luke: That was you?! I wasn't sure who did that. People probably thought it was me.

Me: Aww, thats true! That does make me feel better. I guess that's a benefit of having a guy next to me... I can just blame you.

Luke: Oh if you do that, I will throw you under the bus so quickly. Don't even test me.

Vienna (from the back seat): You're gonna throw Mommy on top of a bus?!


(Marriage is beautiful.)

Anyway, my advice to pass along is this:
Stop eating beef and bean enchiladas the night before you exercise in public.
Or just stop exercising at all. However you prioritize life.


2.) My kid drew a "compass" on the side of our house with a sharpie.



Apparently one day Boaz felt deeply convicted that our family needed to work on our sense of direction, leaving him with no other choice than to mark up the siding of our house with a permanent marker. 
This nice new addition to our exterior decor runs almost the entire the length of that wall, but thankfully he at least got most of the letters right. 
Except for the backwards 'S', but hey, let's not be nitpicky about the way vandalism is done!



And then if you follow the compass to the west, you'll find the lesser known, but still important, direction: 'H'!

Standing for.... House? Hamburger? How many times do I have to tell you to not touch the sharpies?


Who knows.



3.) I almost broke my foot doing a cartwheel.


On this week's episode of Elise's Weird Bruises...

Vienna and I have been working on our cartwheels lately (which is already a poor idea for two people who live life with the grace and poise of Mr. Bean). In spite of that, after doing like fifty cartwheels, I was really starting to stick my landings better right up until the last one, where I somehow bent back my outer toes and ended up with a dirty-looking bruise on the top of my foot.

Which is obviously God's way of gently reminding someone that they are not in middle school anymore and to be more realistic about the hobbies they pick up.



4.)  I now wear fashion from farming supply stores.

The other day I bought a shirt from Mill's Fleet Farm.

We were there, buying our chicken feed and looking at electric fencing and then right there, in between their racks of insulated overalls and plaid flannels, there was a display of t-shirts that I actually kind of liked!

(Let's just take a moment right here to remember that I was raised by an opera singer and a hair stylist. We ate fancy food and drank wine and threw parties, and our idea of "outdoorsy" was eating and drinking said food and wine out on the deck. We attempted going camping once and ended up leaving early because being out in nature literally almost killed us. Half of my closet always consisted of an arsenal of cocktail dresses for all the concerts and galas we regularly attended. A closet, by the way, that was in a glamorous bedroom with the theme of Breakfast at Tiffany's.)

And then last weekend, in a new low for my life, our cashier at the redneck version of Costco, rang up two bags of chicken feed and a brand new t-shirt for me.

But here's the thing, the new low really isn't the shirt itself but how little I'm affected by where it's from.
That, right there, is the true test of how far one has fallen from class and sophistication.


BUT it did feel a lot like a 'Ron and April buying ground beef and dead crows at the Food'N'Stuff' moment, and that's just good comedy.




Me in my new favorite shirt. Holding a chicken, no less.

Life is pretty funny, the way it turns out, isn't it?


Thursday, May 17, 2018

In the End, it's Him and I


Luke and I had the fun opportunity to be photographed by the incredible Samantha Lauraina a few weeks ago. We have friends and family in common, but this was our first experience with her as a photographer, and let me just say- SHE IS AMAZING.



Samantha is so creative and imaginative, has a fantastic eye for detail, and is just crazy talented.



We had such a great time with her, which to me always says something, because getting couple or family photography done can feel awkward, unless the person doing it makes you feel comfortable and at ease, which Samantha seems to do effortlessly.



 Please go check out her other amazing work at SamanthaLauraina.com , follow her on Instagram @s_lauraina, and then hire her to make you look waaaay better than you do in real life.  Uh, I mean..capture your natural good looks so well!


Here are some of my personal favorites from our amazing shoot:



The last time we did a photoshoot without anyone around (like kids or bridesmaids) was our engagement photos, and it's a funny feeling to compare the two.
While both are artistically stunning, I look at these and the couple who I see is much more recognizable to me than the young, hopelessly in love couple I see in the old ones.

In these, I see a beauty that comes only with some years and roots.



I see two people who know each other deeper, laugh harder, and have learned how to serve and protect each other better than we did back then.




Almost like rings in a tree trunk, its incredible to me how different two people look after experiencing joy and loss together.




We have felt the change of Young Love turning into Old Love, where there is a far more intimate comfort with each other and with that, more tendencies to get too comfortable. Where it's easy to stop making the effort here and there and let ourselves get bothered by the little things.





Life can be really hard.
This past year, I've struggled with depression, the pain of relational conflict, and a heartbreak from my past. Likewise, he's carried his own burdens and has taken challenging risks.

No matter what it is, from parenting to paying bills, there seems to be endless opportunities for two people to shut down and withdraw.




But life is also so beautiful.

It's amazing to watch God growing the person next to you in strength and grace, and for you to grow alongside with them.
 It's incredible to feel the weight of bitterness lifted when you apologize to each other, and you both forgive often.
 It's a blessing to delight in shared interests and just have fun together.
And it's remarkable to be continually vulnerable about your fears and struggles with someone and for them to deeply care and never once act like your darkest spaces are too much for them.





These rings in our tree trunk, and the roots below it, are made up of pleasure and pain and all sorts of ordinary things in between.

And this ordinary life with the ordinary person next to us is worth fighting for.
It's worth it to engage when it would be easy to withdraw.
It's worth it to cling to each other for dear life, when shutting down seems almost too natural.

Take a good look at your tree amidst the mundane.
It's more alive and exquisite than we realize.



Someday when we are old and wrinkled, when our roots have weathered many more days of storm and sunshine, we will never regret all the micro moments when we chose to engage and all of the big moments when we laid down our pride. 
I believe in my soul that never giving up on each other will be one of life's greatest rewards.


Because I am his and he is mine.
And in the end, it's him and I.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Current Faves: Spring Has Sprung Edition


Happy Official Spring, everyone!

Unlike Technically But Not Really Spring (March and April), May is here with its warm weather and green grass and blooming trees and WE ARE READY.

Over here we have our happy chickens roaming free, giving us fresh eggs every day (as long as we win the fun game of Let's Find Their New Secret Laying Spot) and our precious kittens are bouncing around, doing cute kitteny things all day.




This one likes being cradled like a baby and I'm thinking about buying a new crib and painting a nursery for her.




Oh and then there's the fifty baby chicks in our garage.



Hello!

Funnily enough, the kittens and the chicks have somehow lived together harmoniously in our garage for the past week or two now, with no hunting incidents whatsoever!


And with all the fresh air, fresh eggs, fresh kittens, and fresh baby chicks, I also have fresh recommendations for you to refresh your life even more:




1.) The Greatest Showman Soundtrack


Ever since The Greatest Showman hit theatres, I was hearing praises for it ALL THE TIME.
It amazed me that everyone who saw it not only loved it and raved about it, but they were going to the theatre multiple times to see it.
To which I thought 'Ummm ok, well I guess I went to see The Dark Knight like 4 or 5 times in the theatre, sooo I suppose I get that, but.... it looks like X-Men meets High School Musical. I don't doubt that it's good, but is it really that good?'

Answer: Turns out... YES IT IS!

When I finally got around to renting it on Redbox, I went into it optimistic (based on all the great reviews) and from that first epic intro...

"Ladies and Gents, this is the moment you've waited for."

...I was pretty hooked.
I was definitely drawn in and entertained with the initial character development, with the songs A Million Dreams and Come Alive, but I swear you guys, as soon as Zac Efron and Hugh Jackman started singing to the beat of slamming shot glasses during The Other Side, I WAS IN ALL THE WAY.
I think my jaw just dropped and was probably open the entire rest of the movie.

(Although in spite of the amazing rhythm and their suave tap dancing, all I could think was that they needed to go straight to the ER because after that many shots you most definitely have alcohol poisoning and should probably have your stomach pumped POST HASTE.)

And then when the character Jenny Lind sang Never Enough (which I thought was a beautifully dark metaphor of the slippery slope that our lovable main character, Wolverine, was going through when finally tasting fame and fortune), I had chills running up my spine.
It was stunning and glorious.

AND THEN...
Zac Efron and Zendaya went on to Rewrite The Stars while doing crazy acrobatics and you guys... I had TEARS STREAMING DOWN MY FACE. 
Their story of these two people from opposite side of the tracks who are commiserating over not being able to have each other was intimate and exquisite and took my breath away.
Did I mention that THEY DO ACROBATICS WHILE SINGING? 
(We should be angry at them for being given an excess amount of talent, except they're so stinkin' cute, we just wouldn't even be able to stay mad.)

The whole story wrapped up beautifully, there was redemption and courage and love, which made it all the more incredible to me. I honestly have not experienced music written and sung in such an electrifying way since Moulin Rouge. (And not enduring the heartbreak of a deathly-ill woman who was being sexually trafficked was a plus.)

Since I watched it, I have been listening to the soundtrack NON-STOP. I can't get enough of it and I talk with as many people as I can about it. I even recommended it to my dentist while he was gassing me with nitrous oxide and I'm pretty sure I had talked him into getting it right before he said "you really need to stop talking and take deep breaths for this to work."  Or something like that. Who knows.

Unfortunately, it's gotten to the point where my husband is almost ready to pack his bags and move out. He's over it. And I have sympathy for that, I do, but I just really don't see an end to this obsession in sight. 
(Honey, if you're reading this... please don't leave. I promise to watch more John Wayne movies with you and make apple pie more often. I just really need you to accept me for the crazy fan-girl I am right now. xoxo Love, Elise)

You have to see the movie first (because you really won't feel the depth of the story in every song unless you do) but then you haaaaaave to buy the soundtrack.

You can buy it HERE on Amazon. 
(Consumer Warning: It does NOT come with free Marriage Counseling. Purchase at your own risk.)




2.) Magnolia Table


My Mom came from Colorado for a visit for my daughter's birthday, and we both had gotten each other early Mother's Day gifts (I'll give you a hint what I got for her: It has incredible music and it's ruining my marriage. Any guesses?) and what she got me was Joanna's new amazing cookbook.

Like every other woman in America, I wanted this cookbook from the second it was released.
Let's face it, Chip and Jo could come out with a line of jewelry made out of foil-wrapped dog turds, and they would be flying off the shelves in seconds. But the cookbook really is gorgeous, even its canvas binding is so expressive of her style. It feels like you're holding a piece of sacred shiplap.
 Although I'm not gonna lie, I had no idea what I would be getting into as far as her cooking style.
I mean...What does our magnificent, ethnically-ambiguous goddess EVEN EAT?
Is everything going to require truffle oil and quail eggs and saffron-infused ghee?!

Answer: No. She eats normal food.

*Whew*









I've already made the Havarti, Tomato, and Basil Sandwiches (Shown above. And yes, they do taste as heavenly as they look.) and her Grilled Raspberry Chipotle Pork Tenderloin (also amazing) and I'm super excited to try the rest of her recipes.

I love her really balanced take on cooking.
It's a lot like her way of doing things on Fixer Upper. You know how she mostly has a reasonably high standard for quality of material and decor she uses, but then at some point during every episode she walks into an old antique store, picks out the ugliest piece of crap, usually a hideous lamp or moldy piece of driftwood, slaps it somewhere in their newly renovated house, and it has somehow magically transformed the room into the image of elegance and charm?
Leaving us all shaking our heads at our TV's with baffled expressions... "How do you even do this?"

Anyway I find her cooking to be a similar eclectic mix, of both quality, homemade ingredients AND store-bought/convenience foods. She knows the value of making things from scratch, but she is also not above using boxed rice mixes or crescent roll dough to get the job done.
 Which makes for a cookbook filled with delicious, creative, but low-maintenance recipes that we can all actually use and our families will love.
Just when we thought we couldn't love you any more, Jojo.

Buy Magnolia Table at pretty much any store or on Amazon HERE.



3.) Food: A Love Story


I'm not gonna to lie to you, this is one of my favorite books of all time.

I just read it for the second time, the first time was on an airplane on the way to my brother's wedding a couple years ago. I was traveling by myself, excited for this opportunity to have some dignified alone time, and ended up curled up in my window seat, silently but uncontrollably laughing with tears streaming down my face.
Multiple people actually asked me if I was ok.

Dignified, indeed.

I enjoy Jim Gaffigan as a comedian because you can watch his stuff, get a good laugh at his self-deprecating humor (usually about food or parenting), and not feel like you have to go pray and shower and call your mom crying afterwards. Clean Comedy, if you will.
And then he wrote a book about my favorite thing in the world, so of course I was in.

With chapters like Bacon: The Candy of Meat, Doughnuts: The Circle of Life, Nobody Really Likes Fruit, Even Fewer People Like Vegetables, and Breakfast: A Reason To Get Out of Bed you will laugh until your sides hurt and you've been humiliated in front of an airplane full of strangers.
(Even if you do like fruit.)

Get it on Amazon HERE.




4.) Cupcake Chardonnay


With the weather becoming beautiful, we are spending more time outside and that sometimes will call for a refreshing beverage to go with. Cupcake Chardonnay has been one of my favorite whites for years. Not too sweet, not too dry, it's full and buttery and bright and I love it.

It's sold at most liquor stores and costs anywhere from $8-$12, depending on where you live, making it a great middle-of-the-road wine whether you are giving it as a gift or just staying in.

Have a glass along with a bowl of Fettuccine Alfredo or Strawberry Angel Food Cake with whipped cream. (like I had on Mother's Day. Yum.)



That's all for now. Happy Wednesday, friends!

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Family-Style Mac and Cheese


You guys, this is the best mac and cheese EVER.
This recipe comes from Ina Garden, out of her Barefoot Contessa Family Style cookbook, and while I've tried handfuls of other homemade mac and cheese recipes over the years, this one remains superior over all others. (Much like the beloved Contessa herself.)

I absolutely adore Ina Garten. She creates gorgeous and flavorful dishes and is a culinary smartypants. I've read all of her cookbooks and have learned so much about food and cooking technique from her. 
And the other thing I love about her is how over-the-top and unrelatable her life is.
She never requires less than the highest quality of ingredients for her extravagant meals and swanky dinner parties in the Hamptons, and has the most endearing aloofness that the rest of us are all living with the exact same style and comforts. She's almost like a really mellow Lucille Bluth ("How much could a frozen banana cost? Ten dollars?!")


I can't get enough of it, you guys.




Having said that, even though I am her disciple who worships at her feet, I still have to pair her recipes with basic common sense, knowing that unlike her I don't have unlimited time and money and a housekeeping staff, and instead what I do have is CHILDREN.
So I've adapted this recipe just a tiny bit, but only to make it a less expensive and high maintenance. You're welcome.

But feel free to use my alterations or just her exact recipe if you'd like. Either way, you will love this heavenly dish and so will everyone you're feeding it to.



One of the main ways I tweeked Ina's recipe is the cheese.
She calls for 2 cups of sharp cheddar and 4 cups of gruyere.
Instead of gruyere, which can be less common in grocery stores and a little pricier, I use swiss cheese and the swap the amounts of white and yellow cheeses.
So I use 4 cups sharp cheddar and 2 cups of swiss, both freshly grated, because even though I believe there are plenty of good uses for pre-shredded cheese, I wouldn't use it in this because the starch that it comes covered in might make the sauce gluey. But you know, do whatever you want. Follow your heart!
What I've also done in the past is substituted 1 or 2 cups of the cheddar for a smoked cheese, like smoked gouda. And oh boy, it is soooo good. 
(Just be careful overdoing it with smoked cheeses, some of them can be really heavy.)
Check out your local deli or Trader Joe's for fun cheeses to use in this. 
The world is your cheese oyster!

But not literally, because that would be gross. 
Ok, let's get started!

1.) Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

2.) Boil water, cook your pasta, and drain it. 



3.) Heat up a quart of milk, either in a saucepan or in a glass dish in the microwave. 
Get it hot, but not boiling.




4.) In a large pot, melt 6 Tablespoons of butter over medium heat.

(Make sure it's good butter.)




(Just kidding.)



5.) Add 1/2 cup flour and whisk, whisk, whisk.



6.) Let your roux ("ROO", as in Kanga) cook over medium-low heat for 2 minutes, whisking frequently.
I've messed up rouxs before by not giving the flour and butter enough time to fall in love and get married (you know..the full TWO MINUTES IT TAKES) and they just ended up angry and fighting, so be patient with it.

Or you will ROUX THE DAY you ruined your roux!

(I'll stop now.)



7.) Gradually add the milk, whisking constantly as you pour.

If you haven't worked out your dominant bicep recently, you are in for a treat!
Expect your arm to look gorgeously chiseled tomorrow. (But just the one.)



8.) Let your pretty cream sauce ("Bechamel"!) cook for another minute, while you whisk it until its thickened and smooth.




9.) Take it off the heat, and add your magnificent cheeses.
I usually do this in one cup increments, and stir in between so that they will melt well and clump together less.

10.) Add 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon(ish) freshly ground pepper, and 1/2 Tablespoon kosher salt (This is not a drill.) 

Ok, can we talk about the salt for a second though?
First of all, always taste your cheese sauce before adding the salt, especially depending on how adventurous you got with the cheeses you picked. (For instance, you'll need less salt with extra-sharp or smoked cheeses.)
Ina calls for 1 full Tablespoon of kosher salt (Whoa, Ina. Calm down.), but even though I use kosher salt as well and am a sodium fiend, I found this to be too much with the combinations of cheeses I use.
Secondly, it crucially depends on what kind of salt you're using. 
Theres an important difference in kosher salt vs. table salt.
Kosher salt is larger, lighter, and flakier, whereas regular table salt is small and fine, meaning you can't just interchange the same measurement of them, because their weight will be different.

So basically if you read Ina's recipe and added a whole tablespoon of table salt instead, your mac and cheese would taste like the Dead Sea. No bueno.

So bottom line, if you're using kosher salt, I would start with a 1/2 tablespoon.
If you're using table salt, start with 1 teaspoon.

Go from there and let me know how it pans out. Godspeed.




11.) Add your cooked pasta, mix it well, and then pour it all into a greased baking dish.
It'll seem a little soupy, but don't panic, it'll thicken in the oven.




12.) Slice up 4 to 6 tomatoes, depending on the size, in 1/4 inch slices.
Arrange them on top of the mac and cheese.





This is the other little adjustment I made to Ina's recipe.
She was like "All you need to do now is plant a field of wheat, harvest it, grind it into flour, bake your own bread, slice it up, toast it in the oven, then pulse it in the food processor, and voila! You have fresh bread crumbs! HOW EASY IS THAT?!"

*sigh* OK, Ina... ok.
BUT say you wanted to finish cooking dinner before, I don't know, the end of this calendar year, go ahead and BUY THE FLIPPING BREAD CRUMBS.

13.) Melt two tablespoons of butter and add 1.5 cups panko bread crumbs.



14.) Sprinkle the bread crumbs on top and stick this bad boy in the oven for 30-35 minutes, until the top is golden and the sauce is bubbly.



Ugh. What a beauty.



The way the cheesy sauce thickens around the pasta and the buttery panko that adds a subtle crunch make every bite of this divine.
The tomatoes give it a little punch of tangy flavor and of course just make it more colorful and glorious.



Now, my baking dish was a little deeper rather than wide, so I probably could have used a little less bread crumbs, but if you use a standard 13x9 baking pan, it should be perfect.
Also, I probably could have actually checked it when the oven timer went off instead of getting distracted for a few more minutes, but hey..you win some you lose some.

Have I mentioned yet that I love this mac and cheese?
Because I do!

It's so versatile in the sense that you can make it as a side dish (great to bring to a party or BBQ) and serve it along side chicken, bratwursts, steak, you name it.
Or you can just serve it as the main event next to a salad.
(Psst! Or just grab a fork and snuggle with it on the couch!)

I've also added bacon to the cheese sauce and you should too if you'd like to become EVERYONE'S HERO.

Have I talked you into it yet? Will you please make this soon?
Ok, good. Enjoy!



Family-Style Mac and Cheese
slightly adapted from Barefoot Contessa

Ingredients
1 pound large macaroni or penne pasta
8 Tablespoons (1 stick) butter, divided
1/2 cup flour
4 cups (1 quart) milk
4 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
2 cups grated swiss cheese
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 Tablespoon kosher salt or 1 teaspoon table salt
4-6 tomatoes, sliced
1 1/2 cups panko bread crumbs


Directions
-Preheat oven to 375 degrees
-Cook pasta in pot of boiling water, according to package directions; Drain.
-Meanwhile, heat milk in a saucepan or the microwave, getting it hot but not boiling.
-Over medium heat, melt 6 Tablespoons butter in large pot and add flour, stirring occasionally with whisk and cooking for 2 minutes.
-While whisking, gradually add the hot milk and let cook for another 1 minutes, until smooth and thick.
-Remove from heat and add the cheeses (stirring while adding), pepper, salt, and nutmeg.
-Add cooked pasta and mix well
-Pour into a 3-quart baking dish
-Arrange sliced tomatoes on top
-Melt 2 tablespoons of butter, mix in the bread crumbs, and sprinkle them on top.
-Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until golden on top and the sauce bubbles.