Wednesday, March 31, 2010

start spreading the news.

I'm leavin' today (or more like two weeks ago). I wanna be a part of it - New York, New York.

Most of you know I actually lived in the city that never sleeps (or is that Vegas?) when I attended college there several years ago, but when I go back and visit, it all seems like that was in another lifetime. Granted, I still know my way around the city and can navigate the streets and avenues (mostly successfully), but sometimes even I have to laugh at the fact that this blond from the Bible belt decided to shun the popular state universities, pack it up and head north.

Reminiscing aside, I decided it was high time to visit my old home (and my friends), so I took a long weekend trip up to the big apple and had a grand old time. Now I'm sure you're imagining Broadway shows, Chinatown knock-offs, five-star dining and crazy nights out, but in all honesty, nothing could be further from the truth and for that, I am exceedingly grateful.

What my time did consist of was a glorious day in Central Park, a trip to Chelsea Market (home of Food Network studios), a couple free wine tastings, some serious catch-up time with my friends, a little champagne and a WHOLE lot of walking.

Here is my time as captured in pictures:

My first day I spent with me, myself and I just strolling along the streets, exploring the Central Park Zoo (for the very 1st time), people watching by the pond and perusing some of my favorite stores on 5th Avenue.

Since we wanted to take advantage of the uncharacteristically superb weather, Heidi and I headed to a rooftop bar that night for a lovely glass of vino and a couple complimentary glasses of bubbly champagne. The view was spectacular and the beverages were equally enjoyable. We also hit up one of my favorite eateries from my NYU days for a late night dinner.

The next day called for a lovely brunch at Philip Marie in the West Village, a walk across the Hi-Line Park, a tour of Chelsea Market complete with an impromptu wine tasting and a little shopping. I am proud to say I finally made it to the "mother ship," AKA the Food Network Studios. Obviously, they gave their biggest fan a grand tour and a special Q&A session with Bobby Flay, Rachael Ray and Tyler Florence...or wait, I guess that part was just in my dreams. Well, pish posh. It was still so fun to flit around the market and check out all the famous NYC food vendors.

Saturday night I headed to the Upper East Side to spend the second part of my trip with one of my old roomies from my senior year. After hitting up the second random wine tasting of the day, we had a lovely and leisurely dinner in her neighborhood and chatted for probably three hours over a delightful glass of wine. The next day was spent much in the same way as the previous. We had a champagne-filled brunch at Blue Water Grill in Union Square (our old neighborhood) and did an incredible amount of walking. Considering the picture-perfect weather, there was simply no reason not to.

We capped off my last night in the city with night service at Redeemer, a bottle of wine and a late-night Greek dinner. I also got to hear all about Katherine's nine-month work assignment in Africa. All I can say is what a woman and what an inspiration! It was a very eye-opening conversation to say the least.

All in all, twas a lovely trip and so great to visit my old home and my old friends. It truly is a magical city, but I think I like it best when I'm not living there...and it's not winter!!!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tasty Tuesdays: the 41st edition

With Easter just around the corner, I am sure many of you have already put together your Easter menus and have began the prep necessary to orchestrate a delectable feast. However, for those of you who have procrastinated and haven't given it much thought, you're in luck. Today's post will not feature a new recipe, but will direct you to some past recipes to serve as suggestions or inspiration for your menu.

I absolutely adore serving a brunch-esque meal on Easter Sunday. For starters, it means I get to enjoy a couple bubbly mimosas, but it also means no dishes are off limits. I am able to combine sweet and savory, breakfast and lunch. Putting together a menu for Easter brunch is especially easy when you divvy up the responsibilities and stick to the basics.

Here's a peak inside our Easter kitchen this year. My family always does a ham as the main protein of the meal. I will then typically do my easy garden bake as the accompanying egg dish. We will round out our meal with a fresh fruit salad (strawberries, bananas, grapes and whatever else looks good) a spinach, pear and Gorgonzola salad and my corn pudding. Throw in mimosas made with fresh grapefruit juice and champagne and you have a fresh, easy and flavorful Easter spread.

To get you started, here is the recipe for my Easy Garden Bake (original post in July 2009). Lately, I have been adding crumbled goat cheese to the top just before baking it off in the oven.

Rachel's Easy Garden Bake

1/2 C sliced mushrooms
1/2 onion, chopped
1 pkg frozen broccoli florets, defrosted and chopped
1 can of artichoke hearts
1 can of Rotel, drained
1 C egg beaters (or 3 egg whites and 1 whole egg)
1 C milk (2%, 1% or skim all work)
salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray a 9" pie plate with non-stick cooking spray.

2. Saute mushrooms, onion, broccoli and artichoke until tender.

3. Spread vegetables into pie pan evenly.

4. Whisk together the egg beaters, milk, salt and pepper in a small bowl.

5. Pour over the vegetable mixture and bake for 30 minutes or until set.

Again, you can adapt this recipe to whatever suits your family's palate. If you don't like mushrooms, leave them out. Instead of broccoli, you could use chopped asparagus. Feel free to add some crumbled bacon, chopped ham or muenster cheese. The sky is the limit!

Some other recipe suggestions for your Easter meal from past Tasty Tuesday posts are:
Roasted asparagus
Baked sweet potatoes
SPG salad
Puff the Magic Pancake
Green bean bake revisited
Corn pudding
Monkey bread

Oh, and of course, you cannot forget dessert. I will be whipping up a raspberry cake with buttercream icing, but lemon bars or a fresh fruit pie would both be delightful additions to your Easter meal.

Whatever you make, I hope you get in the kitchen with your family and spend some quality time together. And above all else, may be truly take some time this week for reflection and meditation on Christ's sacrifice. I simply cannot write an Easter post without mentioning the cross. May we be ever mindful of His grace and mercy.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

don't just stand there, bust a move.

Okay, so it might not be the most appropriate title for a wedding post, but it got your attention, right?

A couple weekends ago, I was privileged to attend the wedding of my friends, Caleb and Ashley. Ashley was in my community group (post marriage) and several of us girls were in her house party, so earlier in the day, we help set up the reception site and served as greeters pre-ceremony.

The exchanging of the vows took place in Watermark's new wedding chapel and the natural lighting that came streaming through the windows made for a lovely setting. The bride was absolutely beautiful in a J.Crew dress customized with details from her mother's wedding gown. She also wore her mother's lace veil which was absolutely stunning.

What was even more beautiful than the bride was the actual ceremony. It was Christ-centered and served as a testimony of the couple's mutual love of our Father in Heaven.

After the couple said "I do," it was off to the Maple Manor for the cocktail hour, dinner and dancing. The tables, decor and venue were absolutely perfect for the bride and groom and truly reflected their tastes and personalities 100%. The table settings looked as though they were straight out of an Anthropologie catalog, which was quite fitting for a bride who registered at that very store. From the vintage nick-knacks to the casually laid flowers, it screamed of casual elegance and I absolutely loved it.

We enjoyed glasses of wine out in the central courtyard and then dined on an Italian buffet. The food was simple but fit the casual vibe.

In lieu of a traditional 6-tiered monstrosity of a wedding cake, the couple opted for a table of homemade desserts including spice cake, red velvet cake, key lime tarts, brownies, wedding cookies and cheesecakes, to name a few.

Once the eating was out of the way, it was high time for the main event: the dance party. The weather was perfect for the outside "dance floor" and I was more than ready to take advantage of the opportunity to shake my groove thing. The dance floor did not stop rockin' until we were forced to bid the couple adieu. If it's any indication how much I danced (or bounced), I could barely walk the next day due to the soreness in my calves. I would say that equates to a successful least in my book.

In other weekend happenings, we helped celebrate my dad's birthday with a little Mexican food and a very indulgent chocolate cake.

On his actual birthday, I prepared him a celebratory feast featuring maple-glazed salmon, roasted asparagus, baked sweet potatoes and buttery beer bread. We also toasted the birthday boy with a delightfully light pinot grigio.

It was a full weekend in the abundant life household, but certainly full of fun, joy, happiness and what else, abundant life!