2014

2014, it’s been real.

What did you do in 2014 that you’ve never done before?

In February, we went to San Francisco together; we met Jeff’s cousins there and his sister came, too. Together, we scouted out snobby craft beers, attended the release of Pliny the Younger at Russian River Brewing and went to the San Francisco Beer Week Opening Night Gala. It was a really quick weekend (and it rained the entire time we were there), but we had a blast. Trips with friends and/or family are totally the way to go.

Then, late in the summer, kind of on a whim, Jeff applied for grad school. He’s had the itch “for more” for awhile now, and he thought maybe a master’s degree was the key. Within weeks, he was accepted, admitted and began a very aggressive 16-month, accelerated program for business leaders. I’ve already learned many lessons about giving never-ending support, even when it seems too hard or like too much work this year. And already, it feels like we’re in the homestretch; he has less than one year until graduation. I am so proud; I have spent a good part of the second half of this year being more proud of someone–my husband–than I’ve ever been of anyone in my entire life.

Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more next year?

You know, I need something good for 2015. It wasn’t really a new year’s resolution, but it was a goal when I joined Weight Watchers in the last week of June. I lost about 20 pounds–and probably gained 5 back during the holidays–this year. In 2015, I plan to keep plugging away at Weight Watchers. I love, love, love the app. When I did the program years ago, you had to figure out everything on your own and I think the app makes it so easy and doable.

Did anyone close to you give birth?

This year brought a new baby to our family. My husband’s niece had the most precious little boy at the beginning of September. Being an only child, I’m not–and never will be–a biological aunt to anyone. But this little guy, which i guess is our great or second nephew, oh my gosh do I love him. I’m embracing every second as “an aunt.”

Did anyone close to you die?

Thankfully, no. But we did have a friend lose his dad right before the holidays. It was unexpected and heartbreaking, of course. It brought this weird realization to us–between my husband and I we have four (plus a step dad) intact, healthy and alive parents. We definitely thought a lot about this as our families joined us in our home for Christmas and we are forever thankful for every opportunity we get to have them all in one place at one time.

What countries did you visit?

This was not my year for countries. That said, my husband was recently named the next president of his Rotary club, something we are both very proud he was selected for. With that, we’re planning a trip to South Korea in for the international conference during the year of his presidency. That’s going to be awesome.

What would you like to have in 2015 that you did not have in 2014?

We bought our house at the end of 2013 and we’ve made some progress in “getting stuff done,” but not enough. When we aren’t in the kitchen, we spend a good chunk of our time in our den/TV room, which does not have appropriate furniture, is not painted (there is a section of one wall where the old owner’s TV hung that is in fact NOT PAINTED at all), and is just not a pretty space. I want to make our den into something beautiful this year. With a more than 100 year old home, it’s pretty much classic with a lot of wood in most rooms of our house. In the den, I want to do something a little bright and fun.

What was your biggest achievement of the year?

I kind of feel like it was the year of Jeff around here, and that’s really OK; we all shine and stumble at different times in life. A few months after Jeff started grad school, he lost his job–disagreements about his future, other opportunities that came to the surface, etc., etc., etc. We were devastated, in the way people are devastated when half of your income is ripped away in one not well though out second by someone you thought you trusted. Within days, he/WE (yes we, these things strike marriages hard, not just individuals) were back on our feet–doing, changing, making plans. As 2014 closes, we have landed in a pretty good spot–with jobs and opportunities and a great sense of “yeah, we’re just fine.” I feel like we overcame and achieved; I’m proud of us.

What was your biggest failure?

I should probably write more for fun–people ask me about it all the time. However, being a writer/content producer/creative-type for a living sometimes makes “writing for fun” a challenge. It’s usually the last thing I want to do after coming home from my professional life, which has be surrounded by words and thought processes. This year, I also took on some additional freelance assignments, making the task seem even harder. But, I’m also making a lot of excuses. I get that.

Did you suffer illness or injury?

No. But it was the year of glasses at our house. I laugh because we’re like the couple who had to get glasses or something.

What was the best thing you bought?

Many bottles of beer and (too many) meals out. DINKS jokes continued throughout 2014 and were strong.

We also did a little getaway to South Dakota a few weeks ago–so technically we bought car rentals, hotel rooms and a few fancy outfits–to be in one of my best friend’s weddings. It was a beautiful wedding–like nothing I could have planned or afforded. I felt honored to get to be a part of her day. Plus, it’s awesome to watch your friends get married once you have done it yourself.

Whose behavior merited celebration?

When my husband lost his job, there were simply people who stood up and out. There were friends and members of our community who called, picked up the phone to call someone on my husband’s behalf, who made things move and shake. We have kind of an unwritten “what makes you good at life” in our house and what it comes down to more times than not is showing up. If you show up–in whatever sense–you can usually make “it” happen. We are so thankful to the people who showed up when it felt like our lives were going to unravel.

Whose behavior made you depressed and appalled?

If you know a true bully, you will agree. That person sucks.

Where did most of your money go?

I think we made some positive strides in rebuilding some of our saving since purchasing our house. Grad school, our favorite downtown beer/wine bar/food place. Booze, coffee–yeah, we all have vices, I guess.

What did you get really, really excited about?

San Francisco and Sioux Falls. Friends visiting us from out of state. Hosting Christmas at our house. The new fancy knife my husband bought me for Christmas; it’s a really, really nice knife!

What song will always remind you of 2014?

This almost makes me laugh. I feel like job loss is a lot like a break up and have a theme song of sorts from when I lost my job a few years ago. But this year, I coined Jeff’s job loss song–“Cool Kids.”

Compared to this time last year, are you: a) happier or sadder? b) thinner or fatter? c) richer or poorer?

I’m happy. Thinner. And not quite sure if we’re richer or poorer–by the numbers, we’re probably poorer, but in life experience, I think we’re pretty rich.

What do you wish you’d done more of?

Time with my family. Life comes and goes and happens, and I don’t always seen eye to eye with my family–there have been so many changes in the last couple of years. I’m admittedly lazy about making the relationships stronger, but especially as I get older, I value the family unit more. So yeah, that.

What do you wish you’d done less of?

I worry. A lot. I worry about things I can control, but more, I worry about things I have no ability to know, figure out or fix. I worry about things that affect other people–nearly as much as I worry about things that affect me. I think hard and I feel incredibly deeply. Now I know those aren’t necessarily bad qualities, but sometimes the amount of time I spend worrying gets the best of me. I don’t believe I can ever turn some huge corner and not worry, but I do think I could work on some tactics to learn how to turn it off sometimes–at the times when it’s really affecting my life and well-being in negative ways.

How did you spend Christmas?

After days and days of stressing and worrying (ha!) that everyone wouldn’t show and times wouldn’t jive, with our families at our house. I know we aren’t the only family out there who has a hard time getting it all together at the holidays, but I just wanted to put out a beautiful meal and have everyone sit down at the same time to eat it. And for some reason, that did not come easy this year. On Christmas, it all turned out fine, but I can’t keep doing the (lead up to the) holidays like this…that I know.

Did you fall in love in 2014?

As I lost a little weight, I felt more love for myself. Feeling good about the skin you are in does so much for self confidence, one’s smiles and the in general day to day. I didn’t lose a ton, but I did go down a size or two; I have not owned size six pants that have fit properly for a lot of years. It feels good to love yourself.

What was your favorite TV program?

Shark Tank.

Do you hate anyone one that you didn’t hate at this time last year?

Hate is not a productive thing, but we DID have a rough second half of he year and I find myself spewing out some hate sometimes. I will get over it.

What what was the best book you read?

I really liked Me Before You by JoJo Moyes and Otherhood by Melanie Notkin.

What was your greatest musical discovery?

I am not a good person for this question. I get caught up in the same playlists (see: our wedding playlist) I created years ago, I choose radio station themes that revolved around bands I already love and I (still) play many of my favorite songs on repeat while pretending I’m a rock star.

What did you want and get?

We spent our first summer in our house, which has a backyard. Since our house is truly the first house I’ve ever lived in IN MY LIFE, this yard thing was new to me. We spend so much time “out back” in the summer of 2014–tunes, food, cold beverages, our dog and friends. We bought and used more than 300 pounds of charcoal this summer–grilling up masterpieces, one of my very favorite activities.

What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

My birthday is on the same day as my in-law’s wedding anniversary. This year, we packed up and took a little road trip to IKEA for the day. Turns out, I didn’t buy very much, but the day was fun. We shopped and ate a fancy lunch and spent a lot of hours in the car chit-chatting. I turned 31.

What would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Is it bad to say money? As we get older, I totally wish we had more, worry about not having more, think about the future and what we’ll need, etc. Lots and lots of money, people!

How would you describe your personal fashion style in 2014?

2014 was a little bit my year. My wardrobe has grown immensely to not include all cotton items. I’ve become a fan of the skinny fitting pants, I like tunics and things with stripes. I wore a lot of dresses. 2014 might also be the year my shoe collection grew to include an overwhelming number of pairs of flats. And, glasses are my new accessory.

What kept you sane?

My husband and my dog. My three best friends. The people who showed up.

Who was the best new person you met?

My job allows me to meet a lot of people–people I write and tell stories about. It really is hard to pick just one.

Tell us a valuable lesson you learned in 2014.

How long do you have? Haha.

Sometimes people are going to let you down–your family, sometimes your friends, the people you have surrounded yourself with professionally–and it’s going to suck and it’s going to be hard. But it is the good people who are going to rally around to pick you up–you’ll get phone calls from people you didn’t even know cared in the middle of your work day that will make you cry, your best friend will know that the best thing she can say is, “Yes Manda, that f*&%ing sucks,” your husband’s guy friends will show up with beer and chocolates in the middle of a weekday afternoon to drink instead of make him talk about what he is going through, your downtown bar will slip you a free drink or two simply because when you walk in they know by the look on your face that you are sad, people all around you will remind you that there are just crappy people out there and you aren’t one of them. So, people are going to let you down–but on the flip side, the important ones in your life are going to blow you away when you know what is hitting the fan. It feels like we’ve surrounded ourselves with some pretty good people–I suggest doing the same. That is the most valuable life lesson I’ve learned–it’s about the people.

 

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!