penne with homemade marinara sauce

Here goes nothin’.

This is what I thought to myself when I started cooking on Monday.  If Chef Sam and Lauren can wing it, so can I!  I was super inspired by them after this past weekend.

I didn’t really ‘wing’ it though, I just attempted something I’ve never done before.  This is BIG for me since I’ve been sticking to leftovers and the same simple recipes for over a month.

So listen to this.

Instead of buying a jar of pasta sauce… I made my own.  I didn’t buy a can of tomatoes and then add spices, I used fresh tomatoes and made the whole dang thing.  Everything from scratch!

First I found these instructions and learned how to blanch my tomatoes for the sauce.

Blanching and braising are words I had heard on the Food Network but never really knew what they were.  This is sad yet true but now I’ve done one! I’m a little proud.

I had one big tomato leftover from the SOJ Chef Demo and a ton of cherry (?) tomatoes leftover from our CSA box.

I began the process by slicing an X on the top of each of the tomatoes.  This makes it easier to peel the skin off once they’ve been blanched.

Then I cooked them in boiling water for about 1 minute.

After that I immediately removed them from the pot and dumped them into a bowl filled with ice cold water to stop the cooking process.  Does anyone know why you need to stop the cooking?  Just wondering.

Then I peeled off the skin which took forever but I didn’t mind.  I find cooking to be quite relaxing!  And I know that next time when I use big tomatoes it won’t take me much time at all.

Once they were all peeled and very slimy, I roughly chopped them into bit size pieces.

Time to start the sauce.  I found this super simple recipe from Cooking Light.

I only had basil and garlic left to prep once the tomatoes were done.  I’m a dried herbs kinda gal but this fresh basil really made a difference!

Hi Roary!

Everything went into the pot (per the recipe) to cook for 25 minutes.  When it had about 10 minutes left, I cooked up the penne pasta for about 8 minutes.

After I was done, I ran off to yoga while Al came home to eat the dish by himself.  I came back to a positive review!  Often times he tells me a dish is good when really it’s not that great but this sauce was very tasty.  I added extra garlic and spices because we like it that way so there was a great kick to it.

So tasty, so healthy, so fresh.

Do you have a specialty that you make from scratch?

P.S. If you’re like my mom and don’t like chunky sauce, just use an immersion or regular blender to smooth it out!

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sprucing up photography prints

When you’re a fine arts major, you accumulate a LOT of your own artwork.

Until I buy someone else’s awesome art (which I want to do), I have to decorate the house with my own.

It’s been a few years now since I graduated from undergrad so I’m getting tired of the looking at the same old stuff.

Enter: new prints from grad school, scrapbooking paper, and spray paint.

These cheap, black frames have held the same textured prints from a gallery exhibition during my junior year of college. Let’s think -> that was SIX years ago. Time for an update.

I wanted these frames to live above the couch in the den so I bought muted pink paper to tie in with the rug and brownish spray paint to connect with the dark wood furniture.

To paint the frames, all I did was wipe them down and then give them two quick coats. The change in the frame color is subtle but it’s now a dark shimmery brown instead of matte black. It’s easier to see in person!

After about an hour I brought them back inside to figure out my plan of attack.

I bought the paper to be used as new matting for the prints.

After playing around with a couple choices I realized that the pink didn’t work when bordering the photos because prints were too dark. I needed to keep some white in between the two for contrast.

As you can see in the photos above, the image pops a lot more when the white is bordering.

I wanted about an inch border of white around the photo so I measured out my pink paper to leave that amount.

You know that saying ‘measure twice, cut once’? Yeah, here’s proof that you’ve got to do that. I had so many lines going on that I had to add arrows to remind myself of which were the correct ones to cut!

The pink paper wasn’t big enough to just cut to size and cut a whole out so I opted to use four pieces for the matting. I knew I wouldn’t mind the edges showing because it’d just add more interest/texture to the piece which I love.

I eyeballed most of my lines when cutting but If you aren’t a scissor lover, I would suggest heading over to Kinkos where you can use their paper cutter. It’d be a breeze!

Those zigzag pieces are my spacers. Unlike regular matting which is quite thick, my paper is really thin so if I were to place the photo directly on top of it, the image would be smashed up against the glass. Adding in the handmade spacers doesn’t give as much breathing room as the store-bought kind but hey, it’s cheaper!

Everything is held in place using double-sided tape by the way.

See? Nice contrast. Dark (frame) – Medium (pink paper) – Light (white matting) – Dark (print).

All the frames are spaced 2 inches apart. And I read at a couple places that you’re supposed to hang stuff 8-12 inches from the top of the couch. I went with 10 inches.

Now after all is said and done, I’m thinking the super dark prints might be too harsh for this airy room but until I find something a little more ‘fun’, it works! I also might change out some of the pink matting for tan or something. My brain never stops with the ideas, sheesh.

Don’t get me wrong, at 40 cents a piece of paper and one can of spray paint, I love the results!

Adding art and other final touches to the room is really making it feel more finished. SO FUN.

What do you think? What quick updates have you done to your house?

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P.S. This post is super late today because this little lady doesn’t feel well at all. I’ve been at the vet a couple times to check up on her. Cross your fingers for her please!!

homemade compost bin

Yesterday I made a compost bin. It took me like 5 seconds (equivalent to about 25 minutes in a non-exaggerator’s world). I can’t even get over how easy it was.

I searched the internet and found this video from About.com that I decided to copy.

I bought a new no-wheels trashcan from Lowe’s but if you have an old one that you can use for the project, it’d keep your cost down to zilch. Make sure it has a lid that works though! You’ll need it.

The photo above shows my supplies: trash can, drill, green and brown matter. I found this article that explains what the green and brown matter is for and how composting works if you’re curious.

Begin by drilling lots of holes all around the side of the can. The holes are necessary because the microbes that break down the matter need air to survive. It also reduces the smell among other things. I don’t know what size the drill bit was but it looked to be about 1/2 inch in diameter. It seems like a good size to help the air circulate.

Make sure you do the drilling on your driveway or a back porch (not on grass like me) so that it’s easy to sweep up the debris. I spent a good amount of time picking up these little plastic scraps. They were everywhere!

Here’s the bin in all it’s holey goodness. I just eyeballed the spacing by the way. No need to make it perfect.

After that, in went a layer of brown matter. Be sure to tear the paper products into small pieces, it’ll help them decompose quicker.

Orange Green Matter.

And another layer of brown matter in the form of leaves.

If the matter doesn’t stay moist the microbes that break down the material can’t survive so if you live in a super dry state, you might need to water your mixture about once a week. I probably won’t be watering again because I live in the humid South but I didn’t want you to miss a step!

Next, cover the can with your lid. Make sure it’s secure. You don’t want any critters getting into your ‘food’ and also when you roll the thing, you don’t want smelly compost everywhere.

One of the reasons to use a trash can is so that you can tip it over and mix the compost by rolling it about once a week. This will help speed up the process a ton. I’ve read in a couple places that in anywhere from 4 weeks to three months you’ll have fresh compost ready and waiting.

If you want to reduce a little carbon footprint, I’d say this is the way to do it. You’ll take out the garbage less, your trash can in the kitchen won’t stink to high heaven like it sometimes does and in a couple months you’ll get FREE compost to help your garden grow. You may not be a hippie who wants to save the earth but those are some awesome reasons to start a compost pile.

Do you have any green habits or projects? Feel free to share!

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On another note. The Grow Light that I mentioned in this post has come in! It looks like a crazy UFO but all the plants in the greenhouse have really perked up. The big test will be how much fruit everything produces. I’ll keep you posted!

homemade lemon-limeade

Al and I love us some lemonade. I don’t know about him but it reminds me of growing up in the hot, humid Florida summers. A glass of lemonade and lots of ice. I can just hear my mom say ‘Ah.’ when chugging a glass after working outside in the yard. I’ll bet she still does it!

These days Al and I stick to water to hydrate but with the summer temperatures creeping up quickly, I thought it’d be nice to find a more natural lemonade drink with a little less sugar that I can make at home.

I turned to one of my many ripped out magazine pages for help. This one happened to be from Yoga Journal.

Since I was only looking for an everyday drink and not a sports drink, I altered the recipe. I skipped the salt and added in some lime for kicks… oh and sugar. 🙂

In the mix:

3 quarts hot water
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 cup honey
4 tbs sugar

You won’t have a problem mixing it all together at one time as long as the water is hot. After the honey and sugar is dissolved, add a lot of ice and then enjoy it on the back porch!

It may seem like a lot of sweetener but it isn’t! Not compared to ‘real’ lemonade at least. Cups and cups of sugar go into those recipes.

Because of the smaller amount of sugar, the sweetness is subtle but I find that it’s a great healthier alternative to water. And if you’re training for a marathon (!!) or just exercising a good amount, you can easily add some salt into the mix to make it a sports drink that’ll help your recovery.

Now that I’ve attempted my first drink I’d love to experiment with different flavors. A little juice added or fresh muddled fruit perhaps?

Do you have any drink recipes up your sleeve? I’d love to hear them!

doggy treats

Growing up I used to love making cookie cutter cookies around the holidays. Rolling out the dough, choosing your shapes, it was just fun!

These days I make them for the girls in the form of dog treats. I found this recipe a while back and still use it although I often substitute one sweet potato for the pumpkin. To prep the sweet potato I just punch a couple fork holes into the skin and then cook it in the microwave until soft. I also mash it up with a fork to help it mix into the dough better. Also note that I usually add in 2 tablespoons of water. You’re supposed to add in enough to make the dough ‘workable’ and that amount has worked for me every time.

The dough is SUPER sticky so you’ll have to have flour handy to coat it, the rolling pin, and your hands frequently. Make sure you take your rings off!

I bought these cute bone-shaped cookie cutters from Martha Stewart last year and have been making the treats from scratch ever since. I would think it’s a bit cheaper than buying the more ‘natural’ treats that I usually get from the store so that’s a plus.

Whenever I make them, I bake a double batch to stock up the cookie jar. I even break the treats in half because my dogs aren’t that big so they last a long while.

You may see a couple burnt ones in the jar but I keep them anyways since the dogs don’t seem to care! They loooove them!

Is there anything special that you like to make from scratch?