A Weekend in South Haven Michigan

There’s something incredibly soothing about the faces of old friends. When life and career paths pull you so far away from those people you mesh with best, little can beat sweet reunions, where your paths cross once again, and where conversations ignite like no time has passed between you.

Two weekends ago, the hubs and I caught an early flight to Chicago, where we were greeted by Sam, the first friend we made upon moving to Boston. Coming from Michigan, Sam arrived bright an early, excited to show us around his home state. We drove north, chatting and laughing at his silly puns, as if we only saw each other just last week.

Our day started right with a delicious lunch and a pint at a southern Michigan brewery. After filling our bellies with delicacies and laughs, we continued our reunion with another round, in the beautiful, sunny 75 degree weather, playing cornhole and enjoying each other’s company. pup
The reunion quickly doubled as we welcomed friends from Wisconsin, and said hello to the newest member of their family. Cornhole and drinks continued, as we enjoyed the sun, running around in the grass with Francis, our friends Matt and Sophia’s adorably handsome son. And again, just like with Sam, it felt as nothing had changed. Our conversations still flowed just the same as they did in Boston at the local pub at 1:00 am, but this time, we just had another Von Rueden there to love.

 
That night, the last of our group made it to town, along with their pup who made me wish desperately  that our Heidi girl were small enough to fly. We sat outdoors wrapped in sweatshirts and blankets, chatting until late into the night. My heart was full, and the weekend had only just begun.

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Saturday morning we enjoyed coffee and donuts scrunched in on the living room couch, watching the pup and babe play. After a lazy morning, we walked to farmers market, where we picked up local treats and food for dinner that night. From there, we made our way into a little pizza shop near the water, where we ordered some pies to go, and enjoyed them together watching the boats in the marina sail by. We continued our day with naps and books on the beach, and splashed in the cool Lake Michigan waves. Time moved slow, but ever too quickly, as I savored those moments on our much needed weekend away.

That night we cooked together and ate blueberries by the handful and drank cocktails and local Michigan beer around the fire. We played games and shared stories and celebrated milestones and announcements. We reminisced about our time spent in Boston, and laughed about that things that happened that day. I cried a little when I went to bed, feeling exhausted but grateful for the weekend, and excited for the moments that were still ahead.

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Sunday was my birthday, and I celebrated the best way I knew how. I slept in and ate brunch and sipped spicy Bloody Marys as I watched the rain. We visited a cidery, and then another, and then ate a bagful of cider donuts to soak it all up. We ate Mexican food and drank margaritas and then watched the sunset from the pier. I ate birthday cake ice cream from Shermans and went to bed before midnight, feeling overwhelmed with love and grateful for such a wonderful day.

Monday, our last full day in town, we ventured into Grand Rapids where we visited Founders, a french bakery, and then had another round in a local micropub. We ate truffle frites and pickled vegetables, and again laughed until it hurt. We spent our last night together circled around the table, and then again around the fire. We stayed up way too late, enjoying the cold air, and the good company. I knew that tomorrow our trip would end, and I sure wasn’t ready.

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On Tuesday morning after saying our goodbyes, I spent the next two hours reflecting on our weekend on our drive back to Chicago. In her books, one of my favorite authors, Shauna Niequist (who ironically spends her summers in South Haven, a fact I knew but didn’t realize until long after booking our trip), discusses the importance of doing what you must to make your way to friends around the country when life spreads you far apart. Recently listening to her discuss this, I found myself in tears as I mourned over the fact that many of our closest friends are so far away. Though sad for that short moment, my pain quickly turned to joy, as I eagerly thought about how soon we’d be able to follow Shauna’s advice, and gather with dear friends in a place that she calls home. I thought about this on our drive to the airport, realizing what a beautiful time the weekend was to reconnect with familiar faces, igniting something in my soul, and satisfying my deepest longing for familiarity.

 
You may have noticed I’ve been absent from this blog for far to long. Part of that has been an issue with time, as I’ve struggled this year to balance work, fun, and settling into a new city. A greater reason though was inspiration. My traveler’s heart sat too still this year, and I found myself in a downward spiral. Every time I would sit to write, the words I wanted to say wouldn’t come. It wasn’t until two Saturday’s ago, when I sat with friends in Michigan around a table, that I realized that my desire was still there. I became a blogger among those friends, and it was them who reminded me that my passion for blogging never went away. It just took adventure and their familiar faces to get me there.

Until next time!

Shrove Tuesday, Pancakes, and a Very Special Birthday

Today is a special day for a couple of different reasons. For one, it’s Shrove Tuesday, meaning it’s a day for self-reflection, examination, and confession. Secondly, it’s my dear hub’s birthday, and boy, is he worth celebrating.

This morning we enjoyed banana pancakes together because they’re his favorite, and because it’s Fat Tuesday, and I will take any excuse to eat pancakes. After breakfast, I wrapped his gift and got an early start prepping for dinner. Tonight, we won’t be out for a crazy Mardi Gras/birthday celebration, but instead, we will enjoy a nice dinner together at home, relaxing, finding rest and peace, because during this lenten season, that’s just what we need.

The last six months have consisted of many changes. It was a season of transition and of adaptation. It was an exhilarating, emotional, exciting, and exhausting season. This year, for me, lent is serving as a fresh start. A beginning to the next season, a start to something new. Life finally feels a bit settled here in Austin, a little more routine, and not quite so exhausting.

I’m not sure exactly what I will be giving up this year, or if I will actually be giving up anything at all. I am still trying to figure out what I expect from this season, and am still working on my desires and goals. I long for rest, both physically and mentally, and I desire to be really intentional with my actions. I do know that much. So today, instead of of exhausting myself with worry about how I will go about that, I am choosing to find peace and rest and celebrate the man that I love. Happy birthday, my dear hubs, I am so very glad that you were born!

The-Daily-Doss---Banana-Pancakes
Banana-Walnut, Sour Cream Pancakes

yields eight 4-inch pancakes

1 large egg

1 cup sour cream

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon table salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

pinch of ground nutmeg

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

butter, for pan

1 large, ripe banana, chopped

1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted

In a large bowl, whisk together the egg, sour cream, vanilla, and sugar. In a separate bowl, whisk together the salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Fold dry ingredients into wet ingredients, mixing until just combined.

Melt a pat of butter in the bottom of a large, heavy pan over medium-low heat. Ladle in 1/4 cup batter at a time, leaving 2 inches between each pancake. Sprinkle each pancake with a heaping tablespoon of chopped banana, and a heaping tablespoon of walnuts.

When the pancakes are dry around the edges and you can see bubbles forming on the top, flip each pancake and allow to cook for another 3-5 minutes on the second side. Once cooked through, remove from pan, add another pat of butter, and cook remaining batter.

Serve with powdered sugar, additional walnuts, and pure maple syrup, if desired.

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s Peach and Sour Cream Pancakes

Back to the Basics: Homemade Whipped Cream and Pie Dough

There is no dessert more classic at Thanksgiving than a pie, and no better topping for a pie than whipped cream. As many of us will soon be indulging in our favorite holiday desserts, I thought I would share a couple of recipes to help put your pies over the top.

It never fails to surprise me how many people can’t (or don’t…or won’t) make their own whipped cream. It’s one of the easiest recipes I’ve ever made and only requires ONE ingredient. It tastes much better than store bought whipped cream, and though I haven’t compared the prices, a container of heavy whipping cream is pretty cheap. If you can make a pie, I promise you, you can make homemade whipped cream.

While really, all that’s necessary is heavy whipping cream, it’s common to sprinkle in a little sugar to sweeten up the taste. Sometimes, I switch it up a bit and use maple syrup instead of sugar, or maybe add some vanilla or a splash of bourbon, but really, a classic sugar/cream whipped cream is hard to beat.

If you have a stand mixer, this is seriously the easiest recipe in the world. Just put your cream and sugar in your mixing bowl, turn your mixer on high, and in about two to three minutes, you’ll have yourself a glorious bowl of whipped cream. If you don’t have a stand mixer, a hand mixer works great as well. It might take a few minutes longer, and it’ll help if you freeze your bowl and beaters for about 15 minutes before you start, but that is still a pretty simple recipe if you ask me.

If you are whipping by hand, you rock! You deserve a big spoonful of cream (and maybe a shot of bourbon) once you are done. If you choose this route, you’ll certainly want to stick your bowl and beaters in the freezer for a few minutes before you start. It’ll help you out and cool you down while you work.

whipped-cream


Homemade Whipped Cream

yields 1 1/2 – 2 cups whipped cream

Ingredients 

2 tbsp sugar

1 c heavy whipping cream

Directions

Whisk together cream and sugar in a mixing bowl until soft peaks form.


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Though slightly harder and a little more work, homemade pie dough is another simple recipe that every cook should know how to make. You have to plan a bit ahead on this one as your dough needs time to chill, but if truly in a hurry, a freezer usually helps to do the trick. Most recipes will ask you to chill your dough in the refrigerator for a minimum of one hour (I recommend this as well), but I’ve been in a cinch a time or two where chilling my dough in the freezer for 30 minutes worked.

Unlike whipped cream, there’s a bit of a deeper science to creating a great pie dough, so I will let the professionals walk you through this one. For galettes and tarts, I enjoy Bon Appétit’s Basic Tart Dough, and for flaky pies, I favor Smitten Kitchen’s All Butter, Really Flaky Pie Dough all the way. If you are into graham cracker crusts, ole Deb Perelman also has a great recipe for that. It’s my favorite for cheesecakes and pumpkin pies!

As you prepare your desserts this holiday season, I encourage you to give your own whipped cream and pie crust a try. Intimated by the dough? Start small with the cream. It’ll put your dish over the top and leave your guests hungry for more. If you feel a bit nervous about making your own pie dough, Christmas is still a month away. That leaves you plenty of time to practice!

Bon appétit and happy Thanksgiving!

Mexican Meatball Soup

When we lived in Boston, good Mexican food was hard to come by. It took over a year for us to find anywhere worth driving to (it was a ways out from the city center) and it wasn’t until the night before we left town that we finally found an authentic taco joint. We craved it often and were so rarely satisfied. We missed pitchers of beer and spicy salsa with bottomless baskets of chips. We longed for Mexican white cheese dip and I always failed miserably at making my own. Each time we would head home to Arkansas, barbecue and Mexican food were always on the top of our list. We’d eat until we were miserable, but it was worth it every time.

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Now that we are in Texas, we have access to more Mexican restaurants than we could ever try in a lifetime. There are probably at least 10 trucks and restaurants just on our block, and a thousand more scattered about the city. The grocery store located just down the street greets you with colorful aguas frescas, and there are peppers there that I dare not try to identify. I love the Mexican culture that’s prominent across Texas and the delicious culinary inspiration that it brings.

This recipe comes from a new friend of mine who can cook Mexican food with the best of them. As we chatted about the weather turning cooler she made mention of one of her favorite Mexican soups. “I’d love for you to teach me how to make it,” I told her, and that is just what she did.

soup

Silvia, who was born in Mexico, has been eating this soup for her entire life. Her grandmother would make it when she would visit her in Tijuana, and she grew up eating her mother’s rendition in her home in Los Angeles where she grew up. Now that she’s in Texas, she cooks it for her fiancé and for lucky friends like me.

It’s a simple soup, and really, the ingredients are rather basic. Feeling a bit surprised by this, I had to ask what exactly made it Mexican. “It’s just a soup that we eat in Mexican homes,” I was told. At first, I was a little let down by this answer. I was secretly waiting for that “special ingredient,” the exotic flavor that made it truly Mexican, but as we sat down for dinner, I realized that her answer couldn’t have been anymore perfect. It’s not just the ingredients in a recipe that make it regionally authentic, it’s how you eat it and how you share it that’s important. Happy for the reminder, I finished off my last meatball, feeling glad for new friendships, and full and comforted from this tasty soup.

Like any good cook preparing a family recipe, Silvia did not measure anything out. I jotted notes as we went along, but really, they are only guesstimates. Take these notes for what they’re worth, and have fun using your imagination along the way!

¡Buen provecho!

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Mexican Meatball Soup

Serves 4

5 cups water

4 Roma tomatoes

2 garlic cloves

1 lb ground beef

2 tbsp rice

1 egg

2 tbsp fresh mint, chopped

1 tsp cumin

1 quarter of a large white or yellow onion, chopped

4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

2 zucchinis, cut into 1-inch chunks

1 large potato, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 tbsp olive oil

s&p

lime

tapatío hot sauce

In a large pot or dutch oven, sauté onion in olive oil until soft. Meanwhile, blend tomatoes, garlic, water, and a good pinch of salt until smooth. Poor broth into pot, add carrots, zucchini, and potatoes, and bring to a low simmer.

While your broth simmers, mix together ground beef, cumin, mint, egg, rice and salt and pepper in a large bowl. With your hands,  pack meat into 1-inch balls. Gently place into your broth.

Cover pot and simmer soup until vegetables are tender and the meat is cooked through, about 25-35 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste and more cumin if desired. Serve with lime wedges, Tapatío hot sauce, and a side of charred tortillas.

 

Blueberry-Lemon Drop Biscuits

Though the first day of autumn falls on Tuesday of next week, here in Texas the air is still warm and wet. I see pictures from friends scattered around the country, sipping warm beverages and baking pumpkin treats. My friends in Boston are pulling out their sweaters, while I am here in Austin wearing shorts and a tank.

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Early last week the temps reached 100, but to my great surprise, Saturday was a chilly, 66 degrees. Imagine the joy for this girl who loves fall, as I got to wear pants AND long sleeves, and snuggle on the couch with open windows, and a cool, crisp breeze. I baked pumpkin-pecan muffins and simmered a pot of French onion soup, and though it was grey and dreary outdoors, I declared the weather to be perfect, a tease of fall and a break from the heat. Though Sunday wasn’t as cool, it only reached a humid 78. It wasn’t perfect, but still a welcome change from the high temps we had experienced all week.

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While I am longing for the weather to consistently be a little more reminiscent of fall, I am accepting it for what it is and learning to make due. Instead of baking with squashes and spices and whipping up hearty comfort foods, I am celebrating a few more weeks of summer with berries, and citrus and light, refreshing bites.

These biscuits were the perfect treat earlier this week, when I longed to bake, but needed something light to eat. Though I was craving roasted squash and a creamy hot chocolate, it was 87 degrees outside, and slightly warm in our apartment. The cold flour and butter smashed between my fingertips was soothing and therapeutic. The sweet smell of lemon lingered in the air refreshing my senses, while the butter in the oven sizzled, oozing from the biscuits.

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This recipe is very similar to that of a scone, just minus the egg and a little less butter. While I love a good scone, sometimes it’s hard to get them just right. If the shape isn’t funky, the texture is all off. I like my scones to be crumbly, but some recipes make them way too dry, and then there are those recipes where you wonder if you accidentally made muffins, as your final product is much too moist. Biscuits, in my opinion, are usually much easier, and while I love a good flaky, perfectly rounded, buttery disc of dough, drop biscuits are a cinch and take very little work. They are incredibly versatile and are great both savory and sweet. I make buttered biscuits for dinner often, but sometimes like to add fruit and enjoy them as a breakfast treat. The hubs enjoys them with coffee, I like them with tea. Either way, eat them warm out of the oven, for breakfast, or in my case, as a tasty afternoon snack.

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Blueberry-Lemon Drop Biscuits 

yields 8 biscuits 

2 cups all-purpose flour

3 tbsp sugar, plus more for sprinkling

1 tbsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 cup cold butter

3/4 – 1 cup milk

1 cup blueberries

zest of 1 lemon

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. I like to use my fingers so that I can make sure the butter is well blended. If your butter isn’t blended well, the consistency of the biscuits will fall flat.

Mix in your lemon zest before slowly mixing in your milk. Use only 3/4 a cup for a dryer biscuit, or a full cup if you prefer a slightly moister biscuit. Gently fold in your blueberries.

Drop the dough by heaping tablespoons into 8 mounds on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until set and lightly brown. Sprinkle each mound with a pinch of sugar (preferably coarse or raw), and cool on a wire rack.

A Taco Recipe + A Fun Announcement

A little more than a year ago a dear friend of mine told me about a blog that she thought I might like. Always eager for new blogs to read, I clicked the link and starting navigating through the site. I read a few posts and clicked around through the archives–post after post, it was like they were all written for me. By the time I was done, I had happily clicked “follow.” I was delighted to have found a new blog to love, and grateful for the find. 

Doss, Coconut-Lime Chicken Tacos 1

The Graduate Wife is the name of that blog, and it is a wonderful resource for women (and sometimes men!) like myself who are supporting a husband or significant other during their academic career.  It’s full of great stories, recipes, and tips to help women through the journey. It has provided me with encouragement on some of my hardest days, and with joy on the happier ones. 

If you haven’t guessed my announcement just yet, here it is: I’ll be making an appearance on this wonderful site from time to time, offering a bit of advice that I have picked up along the way, and sharing stories from my journey thus far.  

Doss, Coconut-Lime Chicken Tacos 2

If you are a graduate wife, I encourage you to follow the blog, and even if you’re not, I suggest following it anyway, because really, who doesn’t love a good story? 

For the recipe and to learn more about the blog, please visit http://www.thegraduatewife.com

Hello From Texas

austin

It has been a busy and eventful summer and I have much to report, but for now, I wanted to drop a quick line from my new home state of Texas!

It has been six days since we rolled into Austin, but we’ve yet to explore much of this great city besides taking multiple trips to IKEA and Target. We’ve spent days rummaging through boxes, building furniture, and trying to add some flare to our cute new home. We are 70% there I would say, but it still feels like we have weeks of work to go.

Our apartment complex sits right on the Colorado River, or Ladybird Lake as it’s called around here, staring straight at the downtown skyline and offering us a river view that can’t be beat.  We are walking distance to some great restaurants and bars, and are just a short car or bike ride away from the city’s best parks and grocery stores. There are a couple of great food trucks parked right next door, one that even sells kale chips and local kombucha. I am grateful for the find as our pantry is pretty desolate and I am always in search for a good snack…

The hubs heads to campus today to nail down school logisitcs before classes start later this month. He’s excited and ready, though I know he is enjoying a few weeks off before his program begins.  Meanwhile, I’m decorating, writing, and actively looking for work. I’m browsing the web and flipping through photos in search for the perfect pictures and artwork to hang on our walls, and reading up on Texas crops learning the dos and don’ts of planting in this incredibly hot state.

We are eager to get out and explore, but I am proud with the amount of work we’ve accomplished thus far. It’s hot here, like 107 degrees at 7:00 at night hot, so I currently don’t have a lot of motivation to head outside. For now, I am enjoying the sunshine through our windows, staying cool with the breeze of a fan, decorating our new space, and making #101 feel more like home.

Until next time!