Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Nova Scotia

Back in July, my husband and I took a trip to Nova Scotia. When we found out I was expecting, we began brainstorming vacation ideas.  We wanted to go somewhere new and fun, but we also wanted it to be a trip truly centered around rest and relaxation. The more we researched, a trip to Nova Scotia to visit the quiet seaside sounded like just the right thing for us.  We also loved the idea of going somewhere a little milder during the sweltering Texas summer.

When we told people our travel plans, we received quite a few puzzled looks, as I don't think Nova Scotia is a particularly popular destination for Texas folks, but it should be!  During our years in Boston it was always a trip I longed to take (especially since one of my favorite literary heroines, Anne of Green Gables herself, grew up in Nova Scotia before moving to Green Gables on Prince Edward Island), and we had the most wonderful time during our week there!
We spent our first three days on the far western shore of the peninsula in the tiny fishing village of Middle West Pubnico where we rented the most amazing waterfront guest house on airbnb.  The owners lived in the main house next door and were so welcoming and friendly. We woke up to the sun rising over the water, seen through a wall of windows along the back of the house. We spent quiet mornings on our patio eating breakfast and enjoying the view. We explored the area during the day, visiting little museums, trying our hand at geocaching, taking scenic drives, and eating seafood directly off local fishing boats.  In the evenings, we pulled on a sweater and sat around the fire pit. It was just as beautiful and relaxing as we hoped it would be.
For our last three days, we rented a different apartment in Lunenburg, a slightly larger (and as it turned out, much more touristy) fishing village about halfway between Pubnico and the capital city of Halifax. On our way from Pubnico, we stopped in Shelburne, a lovely town on the water, for lunch and for a brewery visit (more on that later). Once in Lunenburg, we spent some time exploring the area, but we also took a couple great day trips while we were there: one to the post card worthy village of Mahone Bay and another to Peggy's Cove to visit the Peggy's Point Lighthouse.

Things We Ate:

We stumbled on to some truly wonderful food in Nova Scotia. Our most memorable meal was at a more upscale restaurant off the beaten tourist path in Lunenburg called Lincoln Street Food (#1). The menu was fresh and seasonal and boasted plenty of Atlantic seafood. We also loved trying a local favorite, haddock with creamed lobster, at the Red Cap Restaurant (#7) which was right down the street from where local fishing boats brought in their catch. Throughout the week we found  pizza with delicate seafood chowder (#2), hearty breakfast fare (#4), authentic (and fantastic!!) German schnitzel thanks to descendants of German settlers (#8), ice cream with a view (#5), loose leaf tea by the pot (#3), and mussels by the pound served on a patio overlooking the water (#9).
1: Lincoln Street Food in Lunenburg, 2: Rhubarb near Peggy's Cove, 3: The Tea Brewery in Mahone Bay, 4: The Savvy Sailor in Lunenburg, 5: La Creamy Treat in West Pubnico, 6: Charlotte Lane in Shelburne, 7: Red Cap Restaurant in Lower West Pubnico, 8: Old Black Forest Café in Lunenburg, 9: Salt Shaker Deli in Lunenburg

Other notable meals (not pictured above) were had at Dennispoint Café in Lower West Pubnico (get the fried clams and the poutine!), at Rebecca's Restaurant in Mahone Bay (I loved the vegetarian options here), and Brooklyn Warehouse in Halifax (you can't go wrong with their burger and with a pint of local craft beer).

Things We Did:

To stick with our relaxing vacation vibe, we limited ourselves to one or two activities per day (meals don't count, obviously). My favorite outings were geocaching around the Pubnicos and a visit to Peggy's Point Lighthouse in Peggy's Cove.  Geocaching led to some great scenic drives off the beaten path, and the lighthouse at Peggy's Cove was so incredibly beautiful. It was easy to see why it's one of the most photographed spots in this region of Canada. We made the drive from Lunenburg on a perfect sunny day. Once we walked up the rolling granite rocks to view the lighthouse, we found a perch on one of the rocks to soak up some sunshine and watch the waves come crashing in. I think I could have sat there for ages if only our stomachs hadn't started growling (if you visit, definitely visit Rhubarb for lunch afterward)!
We also paid visits to a couple Acadian museums in the Pubnicos (Acadians were French settlers that were eventually driven out by the English. Some eventually returned, but many ended up in Louisiana and are the ancestors of the Cajuns), a fantastic craft brewery called Boxing Rock, fishery and railway museums (including incredibly detailed model railroad recreations of historical regional rail stops), local scenic spots, a distillery, and even a UFO museum (touted as the Area 51 of Nova Scotia)!
1: Historical Acadian Village of Nova Scotia in Lower West Pubnico, 2: Boxing Rock Brewing Co in Shelburne, 3: Geocaching at Pubnico Harbor Lighthouse in Lower East Pubnico, 4: Halifax and Southwestern Railway Museum in Lunenburg, 5: The Three Churches of Mahone Bay, 6: Ironworks Distillery in Lunenburg, 7: Shag Harbor UFO Incident Museum in Shag Harbor, 8: Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic in Lunenburg, 9: Acadian Museum and Archives in West Pubnico

And would it be a vacation with this husband of mine if there weren't a few stops for beers along the way? I think not! He's drinking for two now, after all.
With that, I think I've managed to hit the high points of our trip. It was a great final long-distance get away before baby's arrival, and I know I'll treasure the memories we made. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Oh Boy!

I've been awfully remiss in updating this little corner of the internet, but given that my husband and I have some pretty big transitions coming up this year, I hope you'll forgive me. You see, come December 18th or so, things around our house are going to be a bit different. We'll be welcoming a baby boy into our family! Our little dog Charlie is pretty excited about it (and by excited, I mean that he has no idea what's coming), and my husband and I are thrilled!
Currently, we're scurrying around trying to get ready for the little guy. We finally got a full-sized dining room set along with a buffet for storing our china. After 5 years, our beautiful china, formal flatware, and crystal are finally out of boxes!  And once we get curtains and a few prints hung, our formal dining area will be complete. Though it's only a matter of time before a little boy's spaghetti-covered hands ruin those white chairs, isn't it?
We've been working on the nursery and tackling a few DIY projects along the way, including painting and staining a piece of family furniture to use as a chest of drawers and repairing a bookcase that I used in my own childhood bedroom. My fabulous in-laws repainted the nursery so that it's now a nice, soothing neutral instead of the horrible blue and khaki stripes that were present when we bought the house. The crib is assembled, and we have a refinished antique dresser that we're using for a changing table. We've ordered a comfy upholstered rocker, and my mom is repainting a wooden family rocker for us to use that originally belonged to my great-grandmother. I can't wait for it all to come together!
We're researching pediatricians, setting up baby registries, picking out freezer recipes to make and put away before baby's arrival, going to baby showers, and just having a great time (while trying not to panic about everything that we still need to do).

I'm pretty sure we have no idea what adventures lie ahead of us, but we're excited to find out!

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Balsamic Glaze and Pepitas

I typed up this recipe last winter and for some reason never got around to posting it. But now that there is an autumn chill back in the air and the heat of summer has passed, it feels like it's time for roasted vegetables again.  These brussels sprouts are roasted so that they get a good char on the outer leaves while remaining nice and tender in the center. Once they're out of the oven, they're tossed with a balsamic glaze for some sweetness and roasted pepitas for a little crunch. I used grapefruit white balsamic vinegar which I bought from one of those specialty olive oil and vinegar shops, but regular balsamic vinegar makes for a fabulous glaze as well. The glaze is also wonderful tossed with roasted carrots. This is a side dish custom-made for welcoming fall, so bring on the cooler weather!
Serves 4

1 lb brussels sprouts, ends trimmed and tough outer leaves removed
1 Tb olive oil
1/2 cup Grapefruit White Balsamic Vinegar (or regular Balsamic Vinegar)
1/4 cup sugar
~1/4 cup roasted pepitas

Preheat oven to 400F.

Slice the brussels sprouts in half, and spread on a baking sheet. Drizzle with about 1 Tb of olive oil, and sprinkle with salt. Toss to coat.

Roast the brussels sprouts for about 20 minutes, until slightly charred and tender.

While they roast, combine the vinegar and sugar in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, and then reduce heat to a simmer. Let the mixture simmer and reduce for about 15-20 minutes until it's thick and syrupy.

When the brussels sprouts are done, toss them with the balsamic vinegar reduction and a handful of roasted pepitas. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Hello, 30!

Well folks, it's official. I'm 30. And you know what? Not only am I ok with it, but I think my 30's are going to be really great! I was tempted to say that it's hard to believe that my 20's are already behind me, but that's not really true. I squeezed a lot of wonderful memories and adventures with really great people into my 20's. I was (and am) very blessed, and I feel like I have only enjoyed myself more as I get older. So when I say that it definitely feels like 10 years have passed since I turned 20, I mean that in the best way possible.

To celebrate, we really turned it into a birthday week, which is my favorite way to go! There was a Paris celebration with my family the weekend before my birthday. We had a nice dinner at Perry's Off the Square with custom table decorations courtesy of Mom. There were lovely flowers and old pictures featuring me over the years with each family member. My in-laws also sent a GORGEOUS bouquet to the house. Talk about making a girl feel special!
After dinner, there were more presents than a girl deserves followed by my favorite dessert, my great-grandmother's peach cobbler recipe!
The grand finale was a fireworks show out at Dad's farm!  On the first explosion, we sent the cows running for the back of the pasture. Mom and I sat in the back of the truck toe enjoy the show while my husband and dad were on pyrotechnics duty. It was such a blast (literally)!
Back in McKinney on my actual birthday, there were balloons, a sparkly banner, and the cutest itty-bitty pinata that you ever did see (named Li'l Sebastian after Parks and Recreation). I couldn't bring myself to bust it open with the broom handle, so eventually I cut it open to retrieve the candy inside.
After dinner at a new restaurant in downtown McKinney called Sugarbacon (where the Wild Arugula Salad really stole the show), there was a dreamy Lemon Raspberry cake courtesy of Nothing Bundt Cakes and even more presents.
Finally, last but not least, the weekend after my birthday brought visitors to us! My in-laws and my husband's aunt drove up to join in the fun.
Saturday night we went to dinner at Patina Green, also in downtown McKinney.  It was an absolutely fabulous experience.  The chef does a multi-course blind tasting menu where he cooks whatever he is inspired to make based on what he found at the market that week. Seven courses went by all too quickly, each as good as (or better) than the last! It's a casual environment where fine-dining worthy dishes are brought out in cardboard boats, which was fun. The food was delicious, and even we learned some new (to us) ingredients like Papalo and pullet eggs. The chef didn't lead us astray once.
The weekend was also filled with more presents (talk about spoiling a girl) and all kinds of projects around the house. They were kind enough to help us paint one of our guest bedrooms (finally removing all evidence of the most horrid stripes), AND my husband and father-in-law went to some pretty great lengths to hang a porch swing for us. Does it get any more southern than that? Despite how hot it has been, I'm absolutely loving evenings spent in the swing.
After a birthday week full of fun memories with family and friends, this new decade is off to a fine start. I look forward to seeing what is in store for us!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Quinoa Bowl with Kale and Chickpeas

August is here, and the dead of summer is upon us!  While it's definitely my favorite time of year, the heat can be a bit de-motivating when it comes to the kitchen.  It's even too hot to grill (yesterday, it was 107)!  So tonight, I turned to a quick salad that only required cooking a batch of quinoa on the stove.  Everything else is just tossed into a bowl as-is! I loved the heartiness of the greens, grains, and chickpeas along with the crunch from the pepitas, the sweetness from the golden raisins, and the vibrancy of the vinaigrette and feta.  Now it's time to put my feet up and enjoy the AC for the rest of the evening.  Stay cool, everyone!
Serves 4

1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
3 Tb olive oil
1.5 Tb white balsamic vinegar
1/2 lemon, juiced (roughly)
1 bunch lacinato kale, ribs removed and roughly chopped
1 can chickpeas, drained
1/2 cup golden raisins (roughly)
1/2 cup pepitas (roughly)
2 oz feta, crumbled (roughly)
1 tsp salt

Add quinoa and water to a saucepan, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, cover and reduce the heat to a simmer. Let cook for 15 minutes, and then remove from the heat. The water should be absorbed, and the quinoa should be tender.

While the quinoa cooks, make your vinaigrette. Whisk together the vinegar, lemon juice, and salt until the salt is dissolved. Then slowly whisk in the olive oil until well combined. 

"Massage" the chopped kale a bit by squeezing it firmly with your fingers a few times, until you notice that the leaves are a bit more tender. Toss the kale, chickpeas, and golden raisins with the vinaigrette, and let sit until the quinoa is done. 

When the quinoa is finished, toss it immediately with the vinaigrette, kale, chickpeas, and golden raisins. Then toss in the feta cheese, and stir to combine. Taste, and add more salt or lemon juice if desired. 

Serve topped with a good handful of pepitas.