Sunday Dinner

I didn’t grow up with many traditions.

Since I knew I’d marry my husband the night I met him (true story), I think I was instantly wishful for things that were “ours.” Things we could do or celebrate annually or on some certain schedule so that we could say we’ve always done them. Well, some of those things have come and gone over the years, some have stuck.

When we moved into our house a little more than five months ago, we instantly knew the first tradition we’d start. In fact, we’d talked about it for years leading up to the purchase of our first house.

Sunday Dinner.

Right now, Sunday Dinner pretty much consists of us. We make a good meal each weekend’s end and we sit at our kitchen table like real adults and make rules like no phones at the table; we make the time to take it all in, to enjoy each other’s company and to talk about real things. Someday, I think we’re hopeful to have a busy house each Sunday–filled with friends and family and people who need a table to gather around. But for now, mostly just us.

My favorite thing about Sunday Dinner, after cooking each meal, is the notebook we keep with a list of our Sunday Dinners.

10/27/13 FIRST Sunday Dinner at our new home
Dijon and soy grilled salmon, wild rice and bread with Lakefront pumpkin beer

Each week has a little story, the meal and sometimes what we drank.

11/11/13 Mandy in Boston
Ordered gyros with a friend

11/24/13 Garage and basement cleaning
Slow-cooked Dr. Pepper pork tacos with yellow rice and corn (Pioneer Woman’s Dr. Pepper Pork is seriously amazing, a go-to in our house)

1/12/14 The weekend of the impossible puzzle (which we never did finish)
A pot of chili. (Add a can of chipolte and adobo sauce. Do it)

2/9/14 Last night in San Francisco
Mandy – Pork belly grilled cheese with a Trumer Pills
Jeff – Angus sliders and fries with Evil Twin
@ Jasper’s Corner Tap

Every Sunday, it’s so fun to write each meal down. It’s like a mini journal of the moments of our lives. We even get sad when we make a dynamic meal on a night other than Sunday because it won’t “make” the book.

Sunday Dinner isn’t really designed to be fancy, though; instead, just worth it. And so far, each Sunday in the house has been pretty worth it. We’re still so happy here.

My new kitchen

The most important room in my home is undeniably my kitchen.

This became front and center while we were house shopping late last year. Finally, at the end of October–after a year and half of having our condo on the market, after selling and then not selling and the reselling and then after putting in an offer on a house we loved and not getting it and then after looking at the very last house in our price range and fighting with all we had for it to be ours and not the people’s who we were up against–we moved into our new house.

A place, just two and half months later that I definitely call “home.”

And one of the very best parts of our new home, like I hoped and hoped it would be, is our kithcen.

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I have much more work space than I ever did in the condo, I have natural light and beautiful 100-year-old wood floors. I love how the kitchen looks out into our dining room, a feature you don’t always find in these old character homes. I also love the little bar area right at the edge of the kitchen, which has already become a natural gathering place when we have guests over; the bar area sometimes makes me feel like we were lucky enough to bring a little piece of the condo with us, as we had the same type of gathering space there.

imageAfter the kitchen, I love our dining room. For most of my cooking life, I have dreamed of such a room. A place to invite people, serve good food, laugh and hang out. This Christmas, I was lucky enough to seat a couple of big groups around our table (gosh, I cannot wait for a house appropriate dining table–it’s on the list with a million other things!) and serve food from my soul.

In some ways, I feel this house is the start of our marriage. We wished and prayed so hard for a beautiful, old, charming character house to be ours long before we knew exactly what the kitchen or dining room would look like. The journey to our house was long and challenging and included so much hope, so many sleepless nights and some of our hardest decision-making we have so-far faced as a couple.

The past couple of months in the house have been busy. As of yesterday, three of our ten rooms have been painted by me. I’m so anxious to pick out a series of three colors for our living, dining and kitchen spaces. Each of those spaces opens to the next, so I feel I must pick the colors as a series and that is honestly still a tad overwhelming. It takes awhile to get to know your house and how you feel in each of the spaces.

imageWe don’t know all of our visions here for our future, but we know the importance of planning for it now. My seven-year dream plan is to knock out a closet and expand my kitchen and my husband wants to fence in the last section of our back yard and do a little landscaping. I want a big, beautiful dining room table worthy of each and every guest that will sit at it and Jeff wants a grill to feed 43 people. We both want a million memories, good health and the financial ability to keep this old house in a state that we always love it this much.

Most nights, when we’re tired and finally sitting down to chill, one of us will say to the other: “Our house is so nice. I hope we always love it this much.”

Long overdue: Reflections on my New Year’s resolution

My 2013 New Year’s resolution was to give up deep-fried foods for an entire year.

With the exception of two very tiny cheats (once on vacation and once at a coursed beer dinner) I succeeded.

I don’t have results to share in terms of “I lost 12 pounds,” but I also don’t think–after now having fries and a fish fry a few times since the turn over of the year–that I will go back to eating deep-fried foods on a frequent basis.

Throughout the year, the biggest challenge was eating out. In general, in any casual dining experience, your side dish choice is something fried. At home, we don’t fry things, so it was a nonissue.

Because of the eating-out challenges, this year I really did eat a lot more ethnic food, a food category I was hit or miss on before. Additionally, I learned to unlove greasy bar snacks and learned to embrace the side salad or “healthy” option. In fairness, so many restaurants these days are trying to offer options that aren’t just boring steamed broccoli as their healthy option and I can probably tell you where all the best sides are served in my city.

In the future, I mostly plan to eat deep-fried foods in two scenarios: On vacation and in group or planned meal settings (like the beer dinner, which wonderfully had one of its courses paired with beer battered cheese curds).

All in all, I enjoyed this New Year’s resolution. It challenged me to practice self control while everyone was eating onion rings and fries and it made me think about sides at restaurants in a different way, many times challenging me to really pick the healthiest thing I could or just skip a side all together.

I realize I will never be the girl to give up bad-for-you-foods entirely–food is my life and I love cooking and eating and dining way too much–but I don’t need the crapiest of the crap to be satisfied, either. A greasy burger is just fine with a salad.

All of that said, I do live in Wisconsin so I’d better be able to find a group to go out with for a fish fry with a few times per year. See what I did there? Planned group outing.

Our trip to Charlotte, NC

I don’t really know the future of this blog in 2013 – or really, in general. But I do know I’m not quite willing to give up on A Serving of Life as a documentation of my life through food. Yet.

So, we went on a trip for New Year’s. It was our way to celebrate one year of marriage. We had a blast. And here’s the rundown:

In general, Charlotte was a wonderful city. It was clean, progressive, lots of art and transplants, great food options and a phenomenal developing craft beer scene. We went over the New Year holiday and as far as weather goes, it was OK. It wasn’t Wisconsin cold, but we did wear winter coats. The public transportation–a train system developed in ’04, I believe–was really convenient; we stayed just a couple of stops from downtown and rode in every day.

One of our favorite parts of the trip was ice skating. They set up a little rink near one of the convention center’s downtown and we took full advantage. We both haven’t ice skated in years and years, but we truly did feel like kids out there on the ice. And no one fell!

One of the first gem’s we stumbled upon was Harvest Moon Grille. On our first full day in the city, we were simply wandering, stopping to read menus in windows. Of course we wanted a good choice, it was our first real meal there. A very nice man stopped us and pointed us in the direction of Harvest Moon Grille, where I had a pulled pork eggs Benedict and Jeff had biscuits and gravy.

A farm-to-table restaurant, Harvest Moon boasted using all local farms within 100 miles of the restaurant. Newspaper articles hung on their walls show big write-ups from the recent DNC National Convention held there and many others.

Needless to say, we did a lot of walking. Walking to see the next block, the next set of restaurants and bars, walking to get to our dinner destination.

It was funny to us that in the midst of all the walking we learned two things: A brewery was very close to our hotel (Mecklenburg) AND there was a smokehouse with the most amazing food every just across the street from our hotel.

 

McKoy’s not only offered a place to sit and eat after a long day of walking, they also offered much southern hospitality and great food. We shared the smoked pot roast, pork and chicken platter complete with greens and black-eyed peas and mac and cheese. It was so, so, so awesome!

Also on the top of our deliciousness list (no pictured) was the restaurant we ate at for our anniversary, which was Good Food on Montford.

On one day, we decided to head a little bit out of town to the NoDa District. Of course, we hit up both the NoDa brewery, which was very small and family-style COMPLETE WITH two brewery dogs!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also while in the NoDa area, we stopped at a beer shop Jeff had long been following on Twitter, the Salud Beer Shop. He was in his tiny version of Heaven in that shop. He bonded with the locals while we drank on-tap brews. He had the guys at the store send us a couple of boxes of beers he’d selected while we were there. From the beer shop, we headed to Cabo Fish Taco for a late lunch, after which we learned it was a restaurant featured on Diners Drive-ins and Dives.  We shared the BBQ Mahi tacos and the Wahoo Tacos.

One of my true favorites of being in “the south,” although we decided we’d argue that Charlotte doesn’t feel entirely southern, was the deep fried pickles you could order at nearly every restaurant. The Liberty advertised the best burger in town. Jeff ordered it (and loved it) while I had the brisket sandwich, which was very good.

All in all, it was a great trip; we had so much fun. And, of course, it reminded us again why vacations are great and why we should keep taking them. I cannot wait for the next trip!

Thanksgiving teaser

We have a menu. Had a big, long grocery list (but purchased a big cart full of stuff today). We’re stocked up on to-go containers.

I’m starting to feel ready.

So, without further ado, here is our (sort of general so I don’t give away all the secrets) Thanksgiving menu for this year:

  • CSA curry squash soup with a tossed salad (topped with stuff like apples, dried fruit and our favorite fancy cheeses and homemade dressing)
  • The basics: Turkey, ham and I hear there will be a special appearance by Jeff’s dad’s polish sausage.
  • Wild rice stuffing
  • Sweet potato hash
  • Parmesan mashed potatoes
  • Gravy
  • Cranberries
  • Veggies
  • Bread and rolls

More importantly, I wanted to pass along a list of recipes that have been inspiring me for this year’s meal. Usually, I start in early November saving recipes into a folder on our computer. This year’s folder: Married Thanksgiving 2012! From there, I let my creative juices flow and give it the Mandy and Jeff touch. Here is that rundown:

  • The last time we made a turkey we followed Alton Brown’s cooking situation to a T. It worked perfectly and we’ll do the complete process, which includes brining, again this year.
  • This wild rice stuffing recipe was enough to make me switch from a bread-based stuffing to a rice-based. Plus, I don’t have a tried and true and marvelous bread-stuffing recipe.
  • Jeff’s Men Who Cook recipe was praline bacon, which made me dream up a sweet version of a sweet potato hash. Can’t wait for this one.
  • We desperately wanted to use up our CSA squash. Google lead us to many squash soup recipes, including one from Wolfgang Puck and another from Alton. We cooked down all of our squash last weekend to get that step out of the way. Every thing that can be made a little early helps on the morning of, we’ve learned.
  • And, you can’t serve mashed potatoes without good gravy.

The very best part about Thanksgiving at the condo is I DON’T HAVE TO DO DESSERT, which is awesome because I really don’t bake. Everyone else is bringing that!

Less than two weeks to go! Simply cannot wait.

Hostest with the mostest

We’re just two weeks out from our first Thanksgiving as married people.

This is a big deal to me.

And, again this year I get to host a family Thanksgiving. At our house.With our families. THEY ARE COMING TO US!

So, the turkey has been ordered (Jeffy is ready for Brine Fest 2012) menu planning is well underway (if you have a slight twist on traditional mashed potatoes, I would like to know your trick right now) and we’ve already started to pre-prep a few things (we roasted all of our CSA squash and froze it last weekend; we plan to make it into a soup!). These are the season of my life I planned for when I dreamed about marriage.

In reality, this Thanksgiving will be our seventh one together. That’s a lot of years to be thankful and eat turkey together. I feel so incredibly blessed and will live-up every single moment of this first married one. I just cannot wait for it to be here!

 

Lots and lots of chili

October 27 is Make a Difference Day. Lucky for us, the day meant cookin’ up four gallons of chili in a downtown Oshkosh park to benefit our warming shelter.

Jeff and I participated in our first-ever chili cook-off this weekend. It was absolutely awesome.

We were “allowed” to begin cooking at exactly 9 a.m. Not one second before. We couldn’t even slice an onion before start time. We knew we’d have exactly three hours to prepare and cook our big pot of chili. We also knew we needed at least four gallons.

I’m not going to lie, we did practice about half the quantity the weekend before because I was so nervous about failing in front of all the chili cook-off-goers.

In my head, when we make chili at home in our normal sized pot we probably make about a gallon. So, I knew I was somewhere around quadrupling the entire recipe.

It went a little something like this: 4 pounds of ground beef, 2 pounds of ground pork, five bottles of Octoberfest beer, a few cups of shredded carrots, 5 onions, 4 giant peppers, a yellow pepper, lots of spicy peppers, lots of black pepper and chili spices, garlic and more tomatoes than you ever want to try to do inventory on the night before. Secret ingredient: A couple of handfuls of golden raisins. (TRUST ME!)

To cook, we used a turkey fryer. I pretty much treated it like it was a giant gas burner and cooked the same way I would in my kitchen. I started with the veggies, and then the meat, beer, tomatoes, spices. And closer to the end of cooking time, I add a small amount of chili and kidney beans.

We served it up like we do at home: Topped with Fritos.

We did not win. We didn’t even place. We were the only team without a table cloth and decorations! Haha.

But we did have so much fun. So. Much. Fun. The morning started with lots of coffee drinking and chopping and food processing of the carrots and onions. The afternoon continued with pumpkin beers, stirring and staying warm over the giant pot of chili and serving and stops at our station from our great friends. It was a cool, sunny fall day. There is not one thing I would change.

And, I definitely think we’ll participate in a chili cook-off again some day. Perhaps the state competition is in our future!