Family, Friends, Loved Ones, and Strangers,
2015 has been a pretty good year. We turned the corner on several aspects of our lives as a family, and it feels good. I’m so thankful for our health, family and friends, great jobs, doggies, home, and life in general. I’m excited about what 2016 will hold, but I’m entering this year a little more chill, taking it easy and honoring what I have and who I am…
I turned 30 this year…can you tell? Mr. J threw me a fantastic party to celebrate. It was great to be surrounded by friends on this special day! All aspects of the night were perfectly me, and everyone (especially Mr. J) was so thoughtful. This year, I made flowers (mostly peonies from crepe paper) and arranged flowers, spiralized all the things, created veggie sushi at home, and made lots of craft cocktails (a new hobby for Mr. J, including his favorite – bitters). We brunched at Actual Brunch, Homestead Manor, Flipside, and Marche. I fell in love with kale and making juice in the Vitamix. I started doing running intervals in the spring and tracking my sleep and steps (another age thing?). I also did aerial yoga…it was…yeah.
I have the best group of friends a girl could ask for. Whether it’s weekly, monthly, once in a blue moon, standing dates or fitting it in where we can, I love these ladies. We share our lives and push each other to grow, and it really fills up my cup. I joined a new group of friends in January at a grown-up tea party and continued to love Vegan Supper Clubs. I really enjoy coming up with a vegan, gluten-free dish for these events. It’s always amazingly delicious, and you always feel great when you leave no matter how high you heap your plate. Sneak peek here and here.
I changed jobs in July, and time has been in warp speed ever since. I’m now a Sr. Business Process Manager for Optum (under the Unitedhealth Group umbrella). I work with clients in program and project management and do internal communications and employee engagement stuff. I miss all of my friends at Journal and all of the special projects I did there (food photography shoots and events, especially). I’m proud of my 4 years there and all that I learned, and I’m excited about the new opportunities and challenges ahead.
We traveled about quite a bit in 2015. In April, we rented a cabin in the north Georgia mountains and got away in nature for a long weekend. J did some fishing, and we took in Amicalola Falls, which I grew up visiting with family. We hit up the Chattanooga Aquarium on the way back north.
For our 7th anniversary, we trekked down to New Orleans…such a fun (and warm) city. We stayed at Hotel Mazarin, listened to lots of lovely music, saw the sites on the trolley, took in the Mardi Gras museum, walked through a cemetery, took a driving tour of the city, and enjoyed a celebratory dinner. We left relaxed and pampered.
In July, J had a work trip in Portland, Maine, and I tagged along. I did two Maine Foodie Tours and ate TONS of lobster. We did a bus and boat tour, saw lots of lighthouses, had a dinner party on an island, shopped at LL Bean’s headquarters, and did a scavenger hunt with J’s coworkers – I haven’t been able to track that many steps since that day!
Rounding out our entertainment segment, we went to the circus again in January with Nana and Poppy. In Murfreesboro, we hit up the farmers market and Adventure Science Center this June. We saw lots of animals at the Tennessee Safari Park on the 4th of July. In September, we rode on Thomas the Tank Engine and went to the Nashville zoo, and we saw Pentatonix again at Bridgestone Arena. Touch a Truck came to town in October, and Everett loved it! We saw Neil De Grasse Tyson at TPAC in November, and the movie Elf at the Franklin Theatre in December. It was a busy year!
Mr J. kept up most of his usual hobbies this year including disc golf and woodworking. He took the latter to the extreme this year with a nice garage build out, and he has a great setup out there now that allows for more efficient projects. He even built us a beautiful farm table for the dining room. In the spring, he and the boy got into building, painting, and shooting off model rockets. His new standout hobby of the year is bartending, which I hinted at above. We’ve imbibed in his tasty creations all year, but he really outdid himself by creating a stellar drink menu for my birthday. Two of his hobbies collided when we refinished a bar cabinet, which houses everything we need for drink making in one place. He still enjoys working remotely for a company out of Maine.
Everett turned 3 in September, and he is growing so tall and smart. He started at a new school in May, and he is really thriving there. He moved up to early preschool III in August. He loves Play Doh; building with Magnatiles, legos, and anything that will stack into a tower; firetrucks, trains, trucks, planes, etc. are also a standing favorite. He talks our ears off in a way that is well beyond his years. In 2015, he kicked the crib (moving up to his toddler bed), paci, and diapers and left baby-hood behind! This sweet boy is the center of our universe!
As for extended family, everyone seems to be doing well. It was nice to visit them (or have upcoming plans to visit them) around the holidays. My brother is in Japan for about 6 month, and then, he’ll be back in Hawaii to round out his final year in the Marines. We had two visits with him this year – around the 4th of July and Thanksgiving. Mr. J helped his parents with a building project – raising a garage/shop, nearly by themselves (crazy and cool).
Tail in action
We added a 7 month old blonde lab named Skyler to the family in September. She’s definitely still a puppy, but she adds lots of energy to the household. She LOVES to chew (mostly on approved rawhides), and there is lots more dog hair to Swiffer up these days. We call her Skyler Weenie (it’s a family name, after all), and after a brief adjustment period, Tucker and Everett consider her a friend. Tucker is an old man these days, but he’s doing great. He’s very spritely and has a distinguished gray scruff forming at the end of his nose.
Things We Love
Google Fi (cell service)
Lenny Letter | Brain Pickings | NPR
Things that are legal that should have been all along
Target and Amazon
Instagram | Facebook | Feedly
I have a new favorite restaurant – Nick’s Italian Deli in Franklin. I make a pilgrimage every weekend that I possibly can. I love their eggplant parmesan and the pizza is to die for. Cannoli and salad and alfredo tortellini and and and everything is superb!
The blog got a facelift thanks to Mr. J and my friend KP, whose beautiful handlettering design graces the top of the page ^). I actually posted more than I realized – this post will make the 10th or so. There’s some good stuff in drafts, but you’ll notice a distinct lacking in the second part of the year when I was adjusting to a new position. I have a few ideas for ye old blog in 2016. We’ll see how it goes, and if I’m sitting here saying the same thing next year, so be it 😉
On behalf of all of us at Chez Ary, I hope that everyone in your household is happy and well. Best of wishes for a wonderful holiday season!
Betty Becca, Mr. J, & E
The tradition lives on: Holiday update from 2014, 2013, 2012, and 2011.
Feeding a Llama at Tennessee Safari Park
I’m the world’s most infrequent blogger, but I’m proud to be to #10 of my link round-ups. See them all here. I’m planning a meta link round-up of all of my favorite link round-up sources…which will mean you can just stop reading mine and go to theirs 🙂
I love this idea of a compliment club. You think you’re being nice to the other person, but it’s a really positive measure for yourself, too. You look for the best in people and might get a happiness bump yourself.
Speaking of that, I made a worksheet to keep up with these recommendations from The Washington Post for boosting happiness with a few 2 minute exercises each day.
Take 21 day happiness challenge: Print them out or keep them digitally to follow along.
I’ve talked about this before...I found and love these tips for raising adventurous eaters.
Hello, lover – Miso-Butter Tofu (including more tips for tots). Sign me up! My hubs is traveling this week for work, and I’m all vegetarian all the time while he’s away.
I’ve been into following my horoscope lately, and it’s been really fun. I use Astrolis. Scorpios, UNITE!
We’re a little bit biscuit crazy here in Nashville (Exhibit A and B), and these Angel Biscuits sound divine!
The reactions to the Pea-gate had me rolling! Go Straight to Hell, New York Times and I Made the Pea Guac and…
Above: Dill curry tuna salad on whole wheat bread with mixed greens
I LOVE a happy work lunch! One of my favorite tricks is to make one big central component on the weekend or shop for tasty ingredients specifically for work lunch – then store and prepare everything AT work to streamline mornings at home. Sometimes my work-friends and I will spend a lunch break shopping for work food, and we know we’ll have quality options on hand for the week. Shopping and preparing food together is just as much fun as going out (maybe?).
I’m obsessed with these two posts from bon appetit. I’m inspired to hosting a cheese plate lunch at work. Everyone would bring their favorite cheese (or even some charcuterie) and some fruit or hearty crackers – all to share. How fun would that be? (I have no doubt that it would look exactly like this.)
I’m no longer packing lunch for my son (Hallelujer! due to a change of schools with a tremendous menu upgrade), but 100 Days of Real Food (I won this cookbook – which is also a great resource since it features a lunchbox section!) and Wendolonia were some of the best sites for inspiration.
How refreshing does this Sparkling Lemon Herb Tea look??? And these lunch ideas sound delish! (I helped with prop styling and sourcing on these shoots! So fun!)
I love the idea of this Citrus Boost dressing. I usually whip up a similar dressing for my salads and bowls, but this one sounds extra zingy. If you’re short on time, this trick would probably go a long way to brighten up your midday meal.
Deb from The Smitten Kitchen might hate packing lunch, but she’s fabulous at it.
Really a post about breakfast, but I still love the placemat at your desk tip.
I posted the picture above this week, and I got a love of insta-love. So I thought I’d share the recipe for this yummy Southwestern Sweet Potato Hashbrowns. I’m pretty sure it’s compliant with the major whole foods diets that are popular these days, if you’re into that kind of thing, but it’s still quite tasty, if you’re not.
1 medium sweet potato, spiralized on the smaller setting (if you don’t have a spiralizer, use a julienne peeler)
1/4 cup (approximately/to taste) red bell pepper, chopped
1/4 cup (approximately/to taste) sweet onion, chopped
A pinch each of chili powder and cumin*
Salt and pepper, to taste
*I used approximately a scant 1/8 teaspoon of each spice.
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Add all ingredients in a greased skillet on medium-high to high. Stir frequently and as you get a good brown on the veggies going, turn the heat down to medium and allow them to soften. Plate about 1/3 of the mixture per serving, top with your favorite style of egg (the one shown is skillet poached, technique here), salsa, and cilantro. I cannot describe how delicious this is! I got 3 weekday breakfasts out of this batch. It’s really easy to heat up on subsequent days.
I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m a part of a vegan supper club that meets bimonthly-ish. The food is superb (even if you’re not vegan), and the conversation is always stimulating. Last night, we had a dinner for the record books. First of all, our outdoor setting and weather were PERFECT (see photo below)! Secondly, the hostess and company were amazing as always. Finally, the food was light and fresh – the kind that leaves you feeling great no matter how much you stuff yourself. And that’s exactly what we did! I put my spiralizer to good use to create a spring “pasta” salad, and everyone seemed really into it!
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Zoodle Primavera Salad
3 large zucchini, spiralized or julienned (I used this a Paderno – I got it 50% off!!!)
2 carrots, julienned and chopped in one inch pieces (I used an OXO – the spiralizer cores the veggie, and I feel like you lose too much of the carrot.)
1 cup frozen peas (or fresh, if you have it)
1/2 small white onion, chopped
Small bunch of asparagus (I used part of a grocery store bunch – about 8 large stalks, bottoms trimmed and peeled, chopped into 1-inch pieces)
I cooked everything in batches on high heat for a layered effect. It also helps if everything has space to get browned nicely, because we all know brown food tastes good! But feel free to throw everything in there or even eat some of the ingredients raw, if you prefer.
In an oiled skillet on high heat, add zucchini and cook until nicely browned and tender. Stir regularly. Remove from skillet and add to serving bowl.
Add more oil if needed/desired, then add carrots, onions, and peas – brown/tender/stir/bowl. Same story with the asparagus for the top.
Add a vinaigrette of your choice – I made a simple one with olive oil, white balsamic, salt, pepper, fresh herbs, garlic, and mustard. Keep in mind that if you cooked with oil, you might want to pare back in your dressing recipe to keep everything balanced. I love to use a mason jar to shake, shake, shake, and then pour the dressing on top.
Refrigerate until ready to serve and lightly stir to incorporate dressing while keeping layers intact. Delish!
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Other recipes pictured:
Sun-dried Tomato, Mushroom, and Spinach Tofu Quiche from Oh She Glows
BBQ Lentil Lettuce Wraps with Tangy Slaw from Blissful Basil
Thai Quinoa Salad from Foodie Crush (Subbed chili sauce for fish sauce to make vegan.)
Triple Chocolate Ganache Vegan Cake was from Khan’s Desserts in Nashville, Tennessee. It was BEYOND!
Here’s our NEW Pinterest board with past favorites, ideas, and our favorite blogs for inspiration.
*This post is not sponsored, just sharing my personal equipment.
I’m officially on the spiralizer train (check out my zoodles – zucchini noodles above). I got one 50% off at the Williams Sonoma outlet in GA (a Paderno) on our weekend away about a month ago, and I’ve been using it constantly. I’ve been using the blog Inspiralized as inspiration, and I’m drooling over this salad.
Can I please be a professional grocery shopper (a la #6)? I love grocery shopping. I even “window shop” at grocery stores. I recently had a off and spent most of it perusing Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s with a friend buying cool products that I can’t get at Kroger. I’m a total sucker for great packaging. Grocery shopping fulfills the “retail therapy” need for me just like buying shoes does for other women. I hope my husband is thankful for this. Also, you all just found out I’m weird. Oops.
I need to make homemade marshmallows STAT! I’m not sure I can do the whole candy thermometer thing though. So much pressure! How cute is that mold though? It might be a must-have! (Please note the people in the comments asking what to do with leftovers – hello, eat them!)
Oh man…you know I love a good tamale.
I loved this post on arranging super market flowers. I could probably do a whole post of my own since this is one of my favorite weekly rituals (getting them on sale from the discount bin!). Until then, Cup of Jo has a great guide!
I loved this post about summer sympathy meals (a great follow up to my series on the topic). I recently prepped this vegan lentil tacos from Oh She Glows for a great friend in her final months of an intensive post-grad program. I did the lentil filling, peppers and onions, and the lettuce wraps, and it was an easy way to pull off a meal (easy to prepare and easy to transport).
Have a great week!