Saturday, January 28, 2012

Zuppa!

It's a two-posts-in-one-day kind of weekend, folks! :) Let's jump right in. I don't know about all of you, but I'm a huge fan of the Olive Garden's Zuppa Toscana soup. Never fails, whenever I get the 'soup or salad' question, I will 100% always respond with, "I'll have the Zuppa please!" Something about it just makes my mouth water, and you can't forget the fact that it goes perfectly with those delicious breadsticks! Anyway, through my periodic Pinterest browsing (I say periodic because I've kept my obsession in check over the past few weeks), I ran across a recipe that is suppose to be a clone of OG's version. Being the skeptic I am, I thought to myself that a recipe couldn't possibly get it exactly right. However, just because I was skeptical didn't mean I wasn't curious. I finally decided to give it a whirl last night because I have one of those RARE free, relaxing weekends to do whatever the heck I want! Got a few groceries from the store after work and then got down to business. Overall, the process to make it was incredibly easy. And rather than make you wait until after the photos to give you my verdict, I've got one word: AMAZING. Seriously, such a delightfully delicious soup! I will undoubtedly be making this again. And probably very soon. :)

You can certainly check out the recipe here, but for ease, I thought I'd include it right in this blog post as well. Trust me when I say you need to try this recipe immediately! Take note in the ingredients that when you see a *, it means that I included a note below about what "I" did when I made this recipe. Lastly, please forgive me for my less than stellar food photography. Blame my phone camera!

All the ingredients!

All prepped! (Onions, garlic, potatoes, and kale)

Fry up the bacon. Sizzle, sizzle. :)

Add in the Italian sausage.
Drain once browned.
(It was VERY hard for me to buy non-Smith Bros. meat.)

Push the meat to the outside and saute the onions and garlic!

Add in the chicken stock.

And the potatoes...
(Let simmer for 20 minutes.)

Now add in the kale.

And the heavy whipping cream.

And voila!! All done already!
I paired it with some crispy French bread. Heavenly!!
(Seriously, go make this. NOW;).

INGREDIENTS:
  • 4 slices bacon, cut into a small dice
  • 1 pound hot Italian sausage (I think the hot is key! I've tried regular & it wasn't the same.)
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 cups (32 ounces) chicken broth or stock
  • 3 cups Russet potatoes, cubed
  • 3/4 tsp sea or kosher salt and 1/4 tsp fresh black pepper
  • 2 loose packed cups kale, in bite size pieces
  • 1 cup heavy cream or 14 ounce can evaporated milk (I used heavy cream.)
  • Parmesan cheese, grated, for serving
Now for the fun part... The PROCESS.

DIRECTIONS
  • In a large soup pot or sauce pan, cook bacon over medium until crispy. Add sausage and break it apart as it cooks. Once sausage is browned and crumbled, drain off the grease, leaving a tablespoon or two to saute onion.
  • Push the sausage to the edges of the pot and add onion to center; saute until translucent; add garlic; saute until fragrant.
  • Stir in broth and potatoes, season with 3/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper; simmer for about 20 minute or until potatoes are tender.
  • Add kale and heavy cream or evaporated milk. Bring to a simmer. Serve with Parmesan cheese (and crusty bread, optional).
SO GOOD!!!

You Can Call Me Shooter.

A couple weeks ago, I was up in La Crosse (big surprise, huh;) for an extended weekend. It had been quite awhile since I'd seen L, and even longer since I'd been up to La Crosse, so it seemed like a good time to go since he'd just gotten back from Hawaii and since we both had that Monday off for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Anyway, we didn't have much for plans, just basically wanted to chill. Friday night, we just relaxed, Saturday was lazy until we went to his friend Lisa's birthday party that night, Sunday was spent primarily in a bar watching playoff football (no, we don't need to talk about that horrifically painful Packers loss), and on Monday, we went with a couple of our friends to shoot some guns. Yes, you read that right. We went to shoot some guns. For whatever reason, L has been on a major gun kick lately. Not for protection, more for sport. He recently got a new gun and has been VERY excited about it. Couple that with the fact that our friend Hammer is a huge outdoors-y guy, and you have quite the combo. ;) Hammer lives in a cabin out in the middle of nowhere, so L and I went with Hammer and his girlfriend (my good friend, Kayleigh) to shoot a few different guns. Let me tell ya, I was nervous as hell. I've never really handled a gun before, well, besides a bee bee gun, so this was scary for me! Thankfully, L and Hammer are good teachers and made me feel very at ease! It was a bit of a chilly day, and I wasn't really dressed properly, but overall, I had a blast! I'm not sure I'd ever be a full-on gunslinger, but I wouldn't mind going to the range and shooting once in awhile. In fact, L seems to think I need this gun so I can join the club, so to speak! At this point, I'm not THAT into it, but maybe someday I'll invest. Until then, I'll just hang with the boys and shoot theirs. ;) See some pictures below, and take special note of mine and Kayleigh's awesome stances. Ha!

Sadly, the only picture I got of Hammer shooting!

L firing his new baby. :)

Not sure why, but I love this picture. I look tough holding L's gun. ;)

L onto a new gun!
(Kayleigh and I didn't shoot this one. Too powerful!)

Kayleigh shooting the .22!

My turn with the .22!

Hammer teaching me how to hold the muzzleloader!

Apparently my face was hilarious when I shot this one. It's LOUD!

Kayleigh shooting the muzzleloader while Hammer observes!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

It's A Rare Condition...

I'm not sure how many of you get excited about American Idol, but I watch pretty much every season. Not sure what it is, but I really enjoy it. The fact that I have a DVR makes it SO much easier to watch, too, because I don't have to commit to so much time in front of the TV as it's actually on the air. Anyway, I'm not nearly as crazy about the horrible auditions as some people are. In fact, that part of the show always drives me insane. The good singers, on the other hand? L.O.V.E. It's always so exciting and entertaining to hear people with such amazing voices. I often wonder how there are still that many people in the world who can sing so well! That brings me to the point of this entry. The new seasons starts tonight, and guess what?! I know someone on the commercial previews! Say what?!?! Well... I guess I shouldn't say I know him, but I went to UW-L with him and we've interacted a few times, so it kinda counts. :) Anyway, he's in a local band called Shoeless Revolution, and while I was in college, I saw them perform on a number of occasions. An interesting style, but I always really enjoyed seeing them. I actually even have one of their CDs. Since he had such a unique Idol audition, which I happen to think is quite entertaining and good, he was in a couple commercials (see below). Judges really seem to enjoy him, so how fun would that be if he makes it a long way?! Stay tuned, because even if YOU don't watch, rest assured, I will, and I will keep you up to speed! And if you do watch, his name is Reed Grimm so you can follow along. :)

As Days Go By (Family Matters Theme Song)



If I Only Had A Brain

Monday, January 9, 2012

I Resolve...

Inspired by my sister-in-law's recent post about New Year's resolutions, I have decided that it might be a good idea to just document some of the things I hope to accomplish in the year 2012. I don't necessarily want to call them resolutions or commit to all of them since I may "fail," and I don't like to admit failure, but I don't think it hurts to have a few goals and aspirations to reach for, no matter what time of year it is...

1. Budget, Budget, BUDGET.
Wow, that word looks weirder the more you type it. Anyway, it's no secret that my financial situation pretty much ruled my life in 2011. Because of that, I sacrificed a few things I love (i.e., cable) and made some difficult decisions about my future (i.e., leaving my wonderful job at MIAD). That being said, I guess it's pretty fitting that I'd have some sort of resolution involving money management. Believe it or not, while it's not the most exciting topic, this is actually a resolution I'm really looking forward to, at least right now. I have buckled down SO much over the past year and really taught myself a lot about my finances, managing debt, saving for the future, etc. Recently, I opened a book that's been sitting on my bookshelf for quite some time. The book is called, "The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous, and Broke" by Suze Orman. Yep, that's me. Anyway, while it doesn't address the most stimulating topics, I literally read almost the entire book in one sitting. It made some really foreign financial concepts actually make sense to me, and I think that's a big part of the reason why I'm so excited about attempting to get my life together! I've actually established a plan of attack and have made some good strides in the right direction already. I guess this isn't necessarily a "new" resolution then, but I definitely want to stick with it and make sure that I can actually take advantage of my bigger paychecks and my ability to be more financially stable in the future! This means I can still live without cable... and without internet on my phone... and without 10 new dresses for Spring... Things I want, but don't need. I've proved I can do it, so why not stick to it?! Not to say I won't "reward" myself with any of these things in the future, but for right now, I know I'll thank myself in the long run!

2. Get rid of some shit.
I don't know if this is true for everyone, but for me, it seems the longer I live in one place, the more shit I accumulate. I've only been in my apartment for 14 months (well, when I say it like that, it seems like a long time!), but man, I just have so much stuff! This free weekend allowed me sift through some things and realize the amount of junk I have that I don't even need (or use). Makes me feel kinda bad about myself! For the record, when I say 'get rid of some shit,' I'm not talking in any one particular area. Anything is fair game. Clothes. Mismatched Dishes. Old papers. Yeah, anything. I did get rid of a few things this weekend, and that alone made me feel good, so I think keeping this up will be a good thing. And while I know I won't be this committed to the idea, I did find a 2012 Declutter Calendar on Pinterest that could serve as inspiration and provide some ideas for how to tackle a little at a time. That is the key to success! If I tried to tackle it all in one day, I'd give up in an hour.

3. Organize.
This is an extension of the last goal. When I say organize, I'm thinking primarily for my apartment, but I could stand to organize my life in general and my schedule more too. But for now, the apartment. This weekend, I went to Target for a few things and stumbled across these lovely little containers (they look much cooler in person), and for some reason, I felt the need to own a few. My kitchen counters have been a little cluttered and disorganized lately, so I used these containers to add a fresh look to store some of my miscellaneous food items (candy, rice, pasta, etc). It's amazing how these containers on my counters make me feel like I have more room. How does that work?! Anyway, I figured since I can't get rid of absolutely everything as I declutter, I at least want the stuff I do have to look good. :)

4. Exercise.
Since this one is often overused and abused, I'll try to keep it short. As you may or may not remember, I had a big goal last year of training for and ultimately running a 5K race. Unfortunately, due to some health issues and to an eventual lack of initiative, I never completed that goal. I'm not sure if it will happen this year either, but I would certainly love to try. Maybe I'll just sign up for a race to make myself more committed to the idea. Either way, one thing I am really excited about is that I signed up for a Zumba class! I've been really wanting to get out and do more in Milwaukee (hmmm, another goal?), and I always get this Recreation Guide in the mail at the start of each season. It includes a bunch of classes for everything from computers to exercise to cooking. I finally bit the bullet and actually signed up for the Zumba class (I've been wanting to sign up for some sort of class since I moved here), and I couldn't be more excited! Not only will it be good for me, but I think it'll be fun, and maybe I'll even make some friends, ha!

5. Travel.
Yay, here's a fun one!! :) Unfortunately, I have had pretty limited opportunities over the past couple years to travel or take any sort of vacation. It's been something I've been dying to do (even though I don't necessarily have a set destination in mind), but the ability and funds haven't really been there. The last trips I went on were both in 2009, one time to Vegas, and one time to New York. Both amazing. But also both places I've been before. Provided I can get "resolution" number one in order in terms of my finances, I would really love to go somewhere this year, and I'd like it to be somewhere I've never been. It doesn't have to be a super long trip, or to somewhere super exotic, but I just kind of feel like I'm at a point in my life where I can do it and that I've earned it. I know it kinda goes against what I was saying about saving money, but really, I feel like this is a perfect time in my life (not married, no kids, etc.) to really be able to explore and see places I haven't gotten a chance to see yet. Perhaps with my brother and sister-in-law doing their honeymoon in Spain, and with L spending a good chunk of time in Hawaii recently, this desire is heightened, but I think the desire's always been there. My guess is that the news of 22 vacation days per year in my new job could have a little something to do with it...ha! Either way, I'm just really hoping to be able to set aside some funds and go somewhere awesome. Who's going with me?! ;)

Okay, a longer entry than I'd intended, but these are a few hopefully do-able things I really want to focus on this year and beyond. There are several more items I could put on this list, but at this point, I wanted to start "small" and to have a list that involves me building on some things I've already been trying to do. Wish me luck, and I'll do my best to keep you updated on my progress. Happy (late) New Year!

Friday, January 6, 2012

HBD, Tayt (and Me)!

As you may or may not know, my nephew Tayt and I share the same birthday (New Year's Eve). That little darling entered the world on my 21st birthday, but late enough in the evening to not totallllly steal my thunder. ;) Anyway, I will definitely never pick a favorite niece or nephew, but I must admit, this little guy definitely has a hold of my heart. One moment I will never forget is when he was two years old and said, "Nae Nae, let's go in my room and talk..." That alone shocked me, but then I played along so we went in his room and he said, "So... What should we talk about?" as he put his chin in his hands and tapped his fingers on his cheeks. How hilarious is that from a two-year old?! Anyway, clearly it was pretty obvious from a very early age that there is something incredibly special about him. I can always count on excited hugs and thoughtful questions when I see him, and for that, I am so thankful. Love this little guy, so T, happy (late) fifth birthday to you, and happy (shhh!) 26th birthday to me!

(Photos in order from oldest to newest.)

Pay NO attention to me in this photo. Gross. ;)

After demolishing his first birthday cake. :)

Tayt's 1st birthday, my 22nd. Wow, we've changed! :)


Does it get any cuter?!



He seriously fell asleep JUST like this.


Christmas 2010

Birthday cake! (2010)

Took the picture once and he made me retake it because the first picture didn't show his Spiderman eyes clearly enough. ;)

Drew's Baptism


Happy 5th Birthday, T!

Birthday buddies!
(About to devour our delicious cake, courtesy of Court!)

Thursday, January 5, 2012

I Won't Give Up

Believe it or not, this will be my SECOND post in one day! (See my Christmas post below.) Anyway, this will be a short one, but I learned of a song last night that I think is too good not to share with you. It's called "I Won't Give Up" by Jason Mraz. I'm a fan of some of his music, but I don't necessarily listen to him regularly. However, when I heard this song, I was instantly hooked. It is just slow and simple and gorgeous, and for some reason, it gives me chills. Such a beautiful song, both vocally and lyrically. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I do. I've been listening to it on repeat all day. :)

Feliz Navidad!

As usual, I am way behind, but I wanted to be sure to do a post about my wonderful Christmas! Unfortunately, because I'm pretty new in my job, I wasn't able to take too much time off for Christmas, but I did get to spend a few days at home, and that's always a good thing! :) It was just a few solid days of hanging out with the fam and relaxing. There are a few pictures below that illustrate the fun that was had. Every year, my immediate family, the bros' wifeys (aka: my wonderful sisters-in-law), and the kiddos spend part of Christmas Eve together pigging out on goodies and opening gifts. This year was no different. My only regret is not getting a photo of all the warm goodies that we had to eat too! Well, I also regret just not taking more pictures in general, but here's a small sample!

Some of the snacks!

Chaos in the house!

Me and T.
He was pretty excited about his new sweatshirt!

And then I put it on. Yes, I fit in my 5-year old nephew's shirt.

Nash was passed out in this spot the ENTIRE time.

Me and the bros!

And then there came Christmas day. For my birthday, my mama took me to the Packer game on Christmas!!! :) How lucky am I?! (Thank you, mama!) Since our family typically doesn't do too much that day, it worked out perfectly. We got up and went out to visit my aunt Becky and my cousins since I had to miss the normal get together we always have, and that was a really nice time. My cousins all live out on the East Coast, so our visits are usually only once a year (unless we're lucky like this year because Jen had her baby shower back home). Anyway, after we visited with them for awhile, we headed to Green Bay to get ready for the game. It was a night game, which made me quite nervous considering it's the end of December...in Wisconsin...and that can mean COLD. However, we were ungodly lucky and the weather was very cooperative for us! I'm a wimp when it comes to the outdoors, and fortunately I had just the right amount of layers on. Overall, we had a fabulous time, especially because the Packers beat the Bears 35-21! :) Once we got up the next morning, I headed back to MKE and mama headed to Colby. I got back early and L came to visit since he'd been with his family in Madison for the holidays. As always, he and I had a lovely time, and it was great to see him for a bit considering our holidays plans were opposite and he was soon leaving for Hawaii for 10 days (he's still there). I was sad about not seeing him over my birthday, so this little visit helped make up for it! ;) Anyway, I had a great time at home with the family and with L when he visited, even though both were quite short-lived. I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas too! Stay tuned for a few more random posts. Peace out for now!

Me and mama!

Look who we found!
(Me, Gerdie, and mama!)

This guy's belt was as big as me!

The masses piling into the stadium!

Opening performance.

Goofing around!

What an amazing view from our seats!
I LOVE THIS PLACE! :)


G-Force! (Packers just scored.)

Check out this video of the wave. How awesome is that?!

video