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How on earth has another year passed already?

You know what is the biggest difference between last year and this year?
Reading his own birthday card!

My child, my amazing child, is READING HIS OWN BIRTHDAY CARDS!!

Obviously that’s not the only difference this last year has made, but I’d say that’s a pretty exciting difference. Wouldn’t you?

Other changes include:
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A gorgeous niece added to the family.

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A newly developed sense of…ahem…style*.

*Who am I kidding, I wish I was half as stylish as this kid!

And about 4 inches of vertical growth! I think I may have to keep up this feeding him thing…

By the way, I really need to thank Alton Brown for the most amazing Angel Food Cake recipe ever. The birthday boy was especially pleased.

A few notes about the recipe:

1. I didn’t have cake flour, so I made my own by measuring a cup of all purpose flour, and then taking two tablespoons out. I then added two tablespoons of cornstarch and mixed well.
2. I didn’t really wait for the egg whites to reach room temperature. I forgot. But it was just fine!
3. I used vanilla extract because that’s what I had. But it was just fine!
4. I used my new oven. This has no bearing on the recipe, per se, I’m just really excited about it still.
5. I served this cake with home made whipped cream, sliced strawberries, and homemade caramel sauce. Yeah mama!

Then I don’t know what is.
New Oven!

I know I haven’t posted anything in awhile. And while I’m kind of sorry about that, I also really enjoyed the downtime.

I took some time to take photos just for fun. And because I wasn’t trying to get any kind of photo in particular, it helped me improve my skills a little.
Hellooooooo F stop!
Dandelions
Exhibit A

My Bubble
Exhibit B

And to be quite honest with you, I was feeling a bit uninspired in the kitchen. I know, right? Kind of lame for a food blogger to stop having fun in the kitchen.

I don’t want to post fluff just so I can say I posted something. I write when I’m inspired. Or when I’ve had a success.

Or an epic failure.

And there were so many other things happening in my life–all for the good!–that what we were eating for dinner just kind of went on the back burner. (Kitchen pun! It’s ok, I know I’m hilarious.)

But let’s get back to that gorgeous photo at the top.

Dude, we got a new oven!

New Oven!
It bakes! (And doesn’t take 40 minutes to preheat)

New Oven!
It cooks! (Well, I guess technically I cook, but that’s beside the point)

I’m in love.

Between the new oven and my dreamboat, I’m kind of in heaven. And! I’m ready to get back in the kitchen.

Watch out world!

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you My KitchenAid Stand Mixer:
Homemade Raviolis
(The folks at KitchenAid have no idea I exist, and I’m not getting paid or perked in any way. I’m just seriously in love with my mixer, and my amazing husband who gave it to me. This is a total gush post.)

Remember last Christmas when I yelled at family? This year was stunned silence. Speechless awe.

Yeah, Nick gets me. He knows what’s what.

And this mixer is what, let me tell you!

‘Cause it has attachments, you see.
Homemade Raviolis
Like pasta rollers.

And my talented husband knows how to work that roller.

Sure, the filling tasted amazing. And balsamic brown butter sauce is epic. But paper thin pasta rolled to perfection just can’t be beaten. Or competed with, really.

And making cookies with this mixer? No sweat.

Literally! I don’t have to mix the chocolate chips in by hand anymore!

You know how some people choose a certain car or shoe designer to fall head over heels for?

For me, it’s this mixer. And I anticipate we’ll spend many happy years together.

Now it just needs a name…

There’s this thing that happens to me when the sun shines.

Suddenly, things that were so stressful and worrisome become not such a big deal.

Where I would have found myself saying no before, I now find myself enthusiastically saying yes.

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I find that making dinner can wait, because there’s something amazing happening in the back yard.
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Dinner planning is a little more exciting when I think about picking vegetables from my garden in a few weeks/months.
Basil
Last summer’s basil

I get excited about being outside again, and I don’t even have to be bribed!

When these guys start talking about sleeping in a tent, I don’t shudder like I would have even two weeks ago.
Easter Egg Hunt

And even though there have been a few setbacks,
Easter Egg Hunt
Snow. Again.

I think it’s safe to say, I’m seeing the signs that winter is over.
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Finally.

Missoula loves to celebrate. Especially when it comes to beer.

So twice a year we have a Brew Fest to celebrate all the local and regional brews we have access to.

Beer

Unfortunately, I don’t like beer.

At all.

This wouldn’t be so bad if my husband weren’t a home brewer.
White Wine & Fruit
I like sangria. And wine soaked fruit when the sangria runs out.

Even still, I’d never miss a Brew Fest.

I like going for the people,
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the food,
Cajun Style
Alligator(!) bites, grit cakes, and beignets.

and the opportunity to bring the family.
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Brew Baby

And when the news crews show up,
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you know you’re in for a good time.

Thanks Missoula! Can’t wait for the summer Brew Fest!

It’s been pretty quiet around here lately.  Let me explain.

My laptop died.  You know, the one I’ve had since 2007?  My beloved, solid as a rock, ancient-but-still-totally-usable 2007 Mac Book?

One day it was totally fine, and the next, gone.  Just gone!  It was seriously upsetting, and I may have cried big crocodile tears every day for a week.

So, there I was with pictures in my camera, an exciting blog post to write, and no computer.  In a stroke of pure generosity, my husband wiped his iPad and handed it over to me so that I could at least feed my Pinterest addiction and upload photos.  Unfortunately, writing an entire blog post with photos on an iPad is a little bit more than difficult.  Probably doable, but more time consuming than I could manage.

Oh, did I mention that this was just before Nutcracker?

Yeah, I had a few things going on to distract me from my laptop woes.

So after the Nutcracker, when visions of Sugar Plums had cleared from my head, I started to really think about how I was going to make this work.  Sure, I could find a cheaper laptop than a Mac, but that’s what I wanted, and really, if I’m going to drop hundreds of dollars on something, it darn well better be exactly what I want.  Why spend $600 on a laptop if I’m going to have to do it again in a year or two?  I might as well make an extra investment and not have to do it again for a long, hopefully really long time. (By the way, I’m not trying to advertise for anyone here, I’m just a huge Apple fan-girl and can’t help but gush.  I’m certainly not getting paid or perked in any way.)

I did the calculations.  Even if I saved up $100 every month (ha!), it was still going to take me at least 10 months before I got a new laptop.  I’m no stranger to sacrifice and saving, but almost a year of borrowing someone’s computer to write blog posts was a bit daunting.

But on Christmas morning, Santa totally came through for me.
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I think I scared my in-laws when I made that first tear in the wrapping paper. I may have screamed something like “SHUT UP!!”  Sorry GG, I was more than a little surprised.

I don’t know how those elves managed, or how Santa pulled this off without even giving off the slightest hint! My Christmas spirit was strong to begin with, but this just put it over the top.

It was absolutely perfect timing, because tomorrow I have a giveaway to announce.  It’s not a laptop, but it will definitely make a difference for someone.  Let’s keep this spirit of giving alive, shall we?

By the way, I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas or Hanukkah.  Any other “SHUT UP” inducing gifts out there? Did you get to spend time with your loved ones?

See you tomorrow!

I have a recipe to share with you, I promise!!

But it needs just a little more tweaking. Which involves re-making it and taking new photos.

Trust me, this is a good thing. For me. Because I’ll get to eat it.

Eventually it will be a good thing for you, because you’ll get to eat it. Assuming, of course, that you make it. (You should!)

Anyway, until Saturday when I can re-cook and re-shoot, here’s a look at what I’ve been up to.

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Soaking up absolutely every last bit of sunshine. Fortunately, until this week we’ve actually had really amazing weather.

Secret Agent Machine
Marveling at how fast my son is growing up. He’s writing sentences! (It says “Secret Agent Machine,” in case you don’t read 1st grade)

Apple Canning
Canning! For the first time ever! It’s so fun, and I love love love eating homemade applesauce, apple butter and plum butter. I don’t know enough about canning yet to share with you, but I have lovely friends who are helping me learn.

Pinterest. If I need to tell you more, you are seriously missing out. I can pin like it’s my job, people.

I’ve also gotten us back on a weekly menu plan. I can’t believe how much time, energy, money and sanity this saves! It only takes us about 10 minutes to figure out what we want to eat that week, and then we just figure out what ingredients we need to buy and head to the store. And then I know that we won’t be eating the same things over and over, and we use up leftovers much more efficiently because it’s planned into the menu. Oh the little things that make me happy :)

What have you been up to?

I can’t admit how much it saddens me that summer is almost over.

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Hold on, yes I can. And I’ve been telling everyone for the last week.

So rather than focusing on how dark it’s getting in the mornings/evenings, and how much I hate being cold, I’m trying to squeeze every last drop of summer onto my vitamin-D soaked skin.

I’m taking advantage of weekend festivals and farmer’s markets.
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We’re eating shave ice and watermelon for lunch.
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We got a dog!
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Because what says summer more than taking your dog to the river to make friends?
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We are totally in love with Britta! She was a stray, in line for euthanasia before an absolutely lovely woman introduced us. If you’re even thinking of adopting a dog, I’d highly recommend driving over to Corvalis and visiting the MT Companion Animal Network.

I know that fall can be lovely,
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but I’m just not ready to give this up!
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How are you feeling about the end of summer?

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You know how every family has a set of side salads that appear at functions? Like Grandma’s broccoli salad, or Auntie’s guacamole? We’ve got those too. But we have things like “Romance Jello” or “Frog Eye Salad.” We were hilarious as kids.

Those side dishes are wonderful, but this one is a little different. It has vegetables. It has noodles. It didn’t come from the back of a romance novel. (I think)

My mother in law brought this salad once, and was told in no uncertain terms that she was to bring this to all future functions, no matter the occasion. That’s how we roll. You bring good food, and you’re in for life. Whether you like it or not!

It is so easy, too! Technically, I consider this a “cheat” recipe because the “sauce” isn’t homemade, but sometimes cheating is essential for success (in the case of food, not life). My sister and I made up a recipe for the 4th of July because my mother in law was out of town, and I think it was darn near perfect. Maybe Anita can give us some pointers in the comments section ;)

Anita’s Pasta Salad
Not sure where she got this one, but I’m so glad she did!

1 box of pasta (your favorite kind, but we like the colorful noodles)
1 medium head of cauliflower, chopped
2 cups of olives, either sliced or halved
1 or 2 large cucumbers, diced
1 bottle of your favorite Italian Dressing

Prepare pasta according to package directions. Drain and rinse the pasta with cool water. Add chopped vegetables, and 3/4 to 1 bottle of Italian Dressing. Mix. Serve. No kidding!

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I don’t usually peel vegetables, but some people don’t like the skins. Do what you will.

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Thanks for doing the work, Amanda!

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Colorful noodles are really fun. And they totally taste better!

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For some added color, you could add sliced cherry tomatoes or chopped red pepper. We were kind of in a hurry though, and didn’t really think ahead. It happens.

So now you have another item to add to your family’s repertoire. What are your family staples?

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Tasty, easy, fast, and cheap! Plus, people seem to really enjoy it. I get requests for this recipe at just about every summer function with my family.

It’s macque choux! (Pronounced mock shoe) My sister and I cooked at her house on the 4th of July, and other than heating up the kitchen a bit, it was no sweat.

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I love your cutting board, Amanda!

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I can almost make Macque Choux in my sleep–heat up olive oil, saute onions,

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add red bell pepper,

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and garlic,

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and corn,

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add more tasty things like tomatoes,

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and green onions,

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then season,

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season,

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season!

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Am I dreaming about cayenne?

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Totally.

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I like to shovel it in my mouth before anyone notices. Then I pretend like it needs more salt or cayenne, and then I need to taste test it again.

Naturally.

Macque Choux
adapted from Eating Well. This recipe makes enough to feed an army. Feel free to modify as needed. But you might regret not making more…

sesame oil (or olive oil) for the pan
1 large onion, diced
2 red bell peppers, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 cans of fresh corn, some of the liquid reserved (if you have time to cut corn off the cob, you’re awesome)
1 tomato, diced
6 green onions, sliced thinly
1/2 tsp dried thyme (or 1 tsp freshly chopped)
1 1/4* tsp paprika
1* tsp salt
3/4* tsp cayenne
*Use less or more, depending on tastes

Heat sesame oil in a large pan. Add onion and saute until soft and opaque. Add red bell pepper and garlic, saute until the peppers are tender-crisp. Add the corn and some of the canning liquid to keep things moist (or water if you used corn from the cob), then saute the mixture for about 5-7 minutes more.
Remove from heat and add the remaining ingredients. Taste often to make sure everything’s just the way you like it.

Serve with chips, over barbecued chicken, as a side dish, or garnish to your burger. Basically, just get it in your mouth!
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More summer bbq recipes coming soon. Until then, I’ve got my mouth full.

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