Our National Zoo Adventure

One of the first dates that my husband and I went on was a trip to the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington, so when we moved to Maryland I knew that at one point I would want to make a day of going to the National Zoo. With the east coast quickly heating up we knew that we would want to make a day of it while it was still “spring” and not yet summer, so we decided to go this last Saturday.

To get there we drove down to the Shady Grove metro station because driving into Washington DC is pretty much out of the question. Now, the metro has a station that is dedicated to the National Zoo, but the Zoo is really just about equal distance between the Cleveland Park and Woodley Park stop. IF you were coming from the south the Woodley Park stop would obviously be the stop for you, but since we were coming from the north we decided that we would get off at Cleveland Park to save a few dollars on our metro fare. From Cleveland Park it is a flat walk to the Zoo with only a few streets to cross so this is a great option for anyone taking the Red Line from the north so I think more people should consider this option!

Once we made it to the National Zoo it was time to explore! Unlike most Zoo’s you may have been to in the past there are no ticket booths or kiosks because the great thing about the National Zoo is that it is FREE! This is a great thing for families who want to take their children for a fun day of seeing the animals, or like us, a couple who likes to explore the budget options for adventures where we live. If you have never been before you can pick up a Zoo map for $3, or download the interactive app that the Zoo has available in the Apple Store or Google Play for $1.99. Or, if you don’t mind just wandering aimlessly and following signs you can take the completely free route!

Here are my tips for the National Zoo:

Check the Events Page! There is a Daily and Upcoming Events page that can help you decide what day you will want to go to the Zoo as well as what time you will need to be there by! Checking these pages will help you see all the fun that the Zoo has to offer while being able to customize your trip.

Wear appropriate footwear. You are going to be doing a lot of walking and the National Zoo has hills. I can’t even begin to describe the number of people I saw ditching their footwear and walking barefoot around the park. The zoo is not a place to be walking barefoot!

Bring water. There are food kiosks around the park and a fair number of vending machines, but since you can bring your own food and water into the park save a few dollars and bring your own.

Be patient, understanding, and aware of your surroundings. This zoo is FREE to the public and that can translate into crowds on the weekends and weekdays as summer breaks are about to begin. You may need to wait a few minutes at each exhibit to get to a spot where you can see the animals. With that being said, also try to be aware of where you are standing and do your best to not block walkways especially inside any of the exhibits inside buildings. Your fellow zoo goers will really appreciate you if you keep these items in mind!

I hope you are able to enjoy the Zoo wherever you live!

The Toothpaste Cap Saga

I am letting you in to my shame, my not so clean secret…

If there was a ranking of the worst people at capping their toothpaste, at the top it would be me.

This drives my clean and standards exceeding Gent insane. Since we never lived together before our marriage I was able to keep this little imperfect detail a not so intentional secret. It’s not like I was purposefully hiding this flaw, just when you don’t live together it is amazing the little quirks that don’t really show up. I have quirks, he has quirks, some we might try to change, others we may just say are not worth even trying to change.

…I now just buy toothpaste with a flip cap not a twist on.

Goodbye Twenty-Eight

Entering the last year of my twenties is somewhat bittersweet. I can still remember being a teenager and thinking thirty is so old! Now I stand on the doorstep of thirty and while I may be older, I am far from old.

My twenties were full of triumphs and mistakes, as many good moments as there probably were regrettable, but I wouldn’t take back one of them. There is no way to know if one decision had been different that I would be where I am today. Right now I am sitting in our apartment in Maryland with my husband next to me on our couch, our kitty crew around us, and I haven’t felt more blessed and loved in my entire life.

Life is still far from perfect. I still have awkward moments where I stumble over my words and what I am saying comes out wrong. I still have a fear failure like I always have, not wanting to be a burden to anyone when I need help, and a fear of accidentally offending someone by mistake, but at the end of the day for all of those quirks to my personality my life is still very blessed. I wish I had known when I was younger that being quirky and imperfect was okay. It has taken me twenty-nine years to figure out that I am pretty awesome the way that I am even if someone doesn’t like me! Oh, the horror!

Now with 30 knocking on my door I am going to embrace these next 365 days with every fiber of my being. I will push myself out of my comfort zone and embrace every moment I have to the absolute fullest potential. Not only will I chase my goals of a healthier entrance into my fourth decade, but I will give back to the community in which I am and seek a more spiritually fulfilling lifestyle.

Most importantly….

I will be me.

with love and acceptance,

Stephanie

Birthday Celebration Begins!

I was so excited that I was able to spend last night celebrating my birthday with the Gent! Now, it wasn’t my actual birthday, but I like to lay claim on the entire weekend my birthday is closest too. The best part about a birthday weekend is getting to spoil yourself!

To get the birthday festivities off to a start we went out to dinner at Firestone’s in downtown Frederick. If you haven’t been to downtown Frederick it is worth exploring and has such an amazing charm that I have never had in a city I have lived in before. With Friday being a part of Restaurant Week the city was even more bustling than normal and you could just feel the energy. It’s like the snow storm that we had on Thursday that kept everyone at home pushed them to emerge from their cocoons on Friday!

I cannot say enough about how wonderful our dinner was or our service. The amuse bouche to start and between courses was a wonderful touch that I really enjoyed. Being the oyster aficionado that I am I started with oysters on the half shell with a really lovely mignonnette. Being from Seattle I am really used to knowing down to the inlet where the oysters I am eating come from and having a huge list to choose from, but even without that Firestone’s knows how to rock an oyster.
Now for the main course…I want to know how the make the rosemary potatoes! Seriously, my hanger steak was delicious, but its the potatoes I cannot forget! I think some experimentation will have to happen in our kitchen on creating a recipe to mimic those potatoes. Dinner ended with an even more amazing tiramisu that had me dreaming of Italy in my sleep. I love taking advantage of restaurant weeks since it prompts me to try more food than I ever would on a normal basis, to include dessert!

If there is a restaurant week in your town you should definitely try it out!

Image Dinner Party Dreams

When you live in a small apartment throwing dinner parties can be somewhat difficult, and when you live in an apartment the size that we currently live in it’s basically impossible.

Two bar stools does not a dinner party make.

Until the day I can throw a party in our home I will spend hours dreaming of how I will execute the perfect event. Personally, I love dinner parties because they are incredibly intimate and allow you as a host to throw an event that would be more difficult with a larger invite list.

One of my favorite dinner parties I draw for inspiration was the 30th birthday that Sally Balt, of la Happy had for her big day. Sally did the custom paper goods for our wedding and you can tell by the gorgeous work she did for her own celebration how incredibly talented she is.

La Happy Invitation

From the moment a guest received one of these amazing invitations in the mail how could they not feel like they were a part of an amazing event. Having an invitation hand-lettered in scrumptious calligraphy just sets the tone for the event from the second your guest takes their invitation out of their mail box. I am just a little envious at her amazing skill of taking an art form that for years many thought of as antiquated and adding a touch of whimsy that completely modernizes it.

Now, to what really makes me love the details of this dinner party…the napkins.

Yes, napkins. But these aren’t just any ordinary napkins, these napkins double as place cards with Sally having hand-lettered iron-on transfer paper with the guest’s name and applying it to the cloth napkins. I seriously cannot get enough of this and would never have thought of this fantastic idea on my own.

Place Card Napkin

Don’t you just love it!

All the calligraphy in the world would not look amazing if it was not set upon a gorgeous back drop, and for this event we have the amazing talents of Finch & Thistle Event Design to gush over.

Tablescape Pink and Gold

Rachel Bowes, of Finch & Thistle, probably has more design pizzaz in her little pinky than I have in my whole body and when we have an outdoor space where I can do my best to recreate a version of her magic. What I love best about the design is the juxtaposition of the black and white table runner with the lush florals in an array of pinks. And really, there is no such thing as too much pink when executed with gorgeous roses and peonies on a backdrop of dinner plate dahlias and natural elements like fresh hops.

Dinner Party Florals

So amazing!

Days like today I just dream of summer nights where I can pretend to be just as fabulous of a party thrower with as much talent as these amazing ladies.

This event was originally posted on 100 Layer Cake, a fabulous place to get inspiration for any occasion.

Floral, Event Design and Styling: Rachel Bowes of Finch & Thistle Event Design / Stationery, Invitations & Calligraphy: Sally Balt of La Happy / Photography: Scott and Ashlee of O’Malley Photographers

Freezer Clearing Dinner

You could say I took a small sabbatical from blogging, but I also never was the greatest at keeping up on sharing tidbits from our life these last few months. Between the holidays and flying home to see family in Seattle time just slipped away from me!

Another thing that seemed to slip away from me was buying a winter jacket, and with a forecast of -25 degrees for the District and surrounding areas I am really regretting that lack of planning. Going out now means layer upon layer and a mad dash for the store as I pray my eyes don’t freeze. It has been so cold I joke with my husband that Maryland will be the coldest place I hopefully ever live and it’s weird to think that by the summer it will also be the hottest place I have ever lived.

Now with the freezing cold weather the hubby has been driving my car since it has 4-wheel drive versus his more sportier, but not so practical muscle car. I am sure he could get to work just fine in the Charger, but for my sanity he is taking the SUV. Super happy he is safely getting to work, but that has also meant I am digging deep into the freezer , which  in an apartment is not so deep, to come up with dinner options.

Luckily when we first moved I realized that getting fresh Alaskan salmon here was out of the question and started purchasing the individually packaged salmon from the conveniently not too far Costco. For some reason I never saw these at the Costco back home in Seattle, but than again I was never searching the freezer aisle for salmon either. Working with frozen fish has never been a great skill of mine, the last few times I cooked it I have to admit I so overcooked it so this time I have a secret weapon. What is my secret weapon you ask? Why the Sansaire sous vide that I received from my mother at my bridal shower that I have NEVER used.

So there are many cheat ways to sous vide, but I would not be the person to tell you how to jerry rig anything that involves food because I freely admit I am paranoid when it comes to cooking foods to the proper temperature.

Here is the creation I am attempting that will decide whether or not I use the sous vide on a normal rotation in the future.

Ingredients:

2 salmon filets (previously frozen)

1/4 tsp. freshly grated lemon peel

1 tsp. minced garlic

salt and pepper

Step One

I feel like I shouldn’t have to say this, but thaw your fish! Most of the vacuum sealed packaging you get frozen fish in is not the same as what you want to cook in.

Step Two

Once thawed, give your salmon a little rub a dub dub with the garlic and lemon. How much you put on is really up to you and what your flavor loves are.

Step Three

Vacuum seal the salmon and your yummy seasonings with your FoodSaver (or whatever other method you are using for packaging)

Step Four

Set your sous vide between 52C  and 60C. You can expect to set the sous vide to 126F/52C for medium rare or 140F/60C for medium.

Put your salmon in for approximately minutes. Given the forgiving nature of sous vide this can be inexact, but you still don’t want to sous vide for hours a food that is meant to be sous vide for minutes. Max I would have the salmon in for 30 minutes so it doesn’t get mushy.

Step Five

Once the sous vide process is complete sear the skin side of the salmon filet and serve immediately.

 

CM-Ahmazing Awards

CMA Hosts Carrie Underwood & Brad Paisley
Carrie Underwood & Brad Paisley host the CMA Awards for the seventh consecutive year. Photo credit: Bob D’Amico/ABC

It’s Country’s Biggest Night!!! Absolutely loving the CMA awards. Like to the point I hope when you are reading this and the award show is over you can feel my love!!

Meghan and Miranda immediately after Kenny was like an amazing cherry to the ice cream sundae of opening sequences. Love country music, but for a girl with a few curves Meghan’s song ‘All About That Bass’ was my summer anthem and I can’t help but sing along. We might have also played it at our wedding while I danced and sang along! So yeah it’s pop, but I love that song so…shhhhh! I see why they included the song in the broadcast even if it is a wee bit controversial to most country fans.

Country music gets it. You don’t have to be from the country, just a country boy or girl at heart.

And, as usual Brad and Carrie are perfect award show hosts. When something isn’t broke you just don’t try to “fix it.”

Plus, love the little dialogue that was scripted for them to include up to date news, both serious and not so much. Ebola, Taylor Swift, and Election Day result jabs all in one? They do it in such a light hearted and amazing way!

…Plus the baby secret? Is it really a boy? Or was that a great decoy?! #bradblewthat

Now, if I could only keep my husband in the room during the CMAs…I lost him at Steven Tyler. #notmyproblem #hisloss

Miranda Lambert, Single of the Year for ‘Automatic’ and also one of my favorite songs of the year since it reminded me so much of growing up. Not that I didn’t also love the other nominees but something about Miranda always just hits close to home.

Now, I am happily married and at 8 o’clock on a Friday night you will find me at home snuggled close to my hubs, but I loved the next song with Lady Antebellum ‘Bartender’ since it’s a really catchy song and let’s be honest at one time or another almost all of us have been there.

Lady A was perfectly followed up by Florida Georgia Line (omg swoon, don’t tell Pete). Can’t wait to build a white picket fence around a house in our future. Keith Urban would make my mother swoon (his hair weirdly reminds me of Jon Bon Jovi) and as always a great singer and performer.

Now for song of the year, Automatic obviously felt like a favorite since Miranda won single of the year, but I was partial to I don’t Dance by Lee Brice since my husband and I danced to that song at our wedding…but the winner was….Kasey Musgraves! An amazing artist and newer to the industry with winning new artist of the year last year!

The Band Perry followed up with Gentle on My Mind. This song is one of my recent favorites since it has a balance of old school country with new. Not many songs mix that old school twang in anymore and when you hear it, it just makes you miss what once was!

After The Band Perry, Kasey Musgrave performed with the highlight of her performance being the Queen of Country Loretta Lynne performing with her. That was quite the juxtaposition, both visually and vocally!

As usual, the new artist of the year was announced next and went to Brett Eldredge! It was super cute how he mentioned that 3 years ago he was the most eager person at the award show and was sitting in an almost empty stadium just imagining being on stage and now he was and that all the hard work was worth it!

I seriously am in love with country music and the heart that they all have for what they do. Major props to all of them!

Now for a few minutes of my just being amazed by Carrie Underwood and her amazing clothing changes while looking like one healthy, fabulous momma to be. I have to admit Carrie preggo is probably in better shape than non preggo me, but you know what she rocks it and I am so happy for her!

…and of course as I typed that our cable went out for the second time tonight…but luckily I got it back because I want to see all of Carrie’s outfits!

Glad I got it back too…what was with the Glow Stick Ariana Grande and Little Big Town performance? Just seemed a little forced and a little too George Jetson/ Futurama and that is giving those outfits more credit than they were worth. Yikes!

Thank goodness for Tim McGraw to bring it back to a little more country! Honestly, most of us know country music now straddles the pop world, but there is a limit of how much pop before it is no longer recognizable as country music.

Cole Swindell, you are such a cutie and hearing bites of Chillin’ It just make me want summer festival season to be hear because that song screams summer. Just wish we had been able to hear all of it!

Drunk on a Plane by Dierks Bentley is soo catchy. I am currently planning our honeymoon and while we will be traveling together we may end up slightly buzzed on a plane and having just moved from where the 737’s are built I might have a partiality to that little line in the song too.  It’s too funny that he got his pilots license this last year too!

Album of the Year will be the last award I stay up for tonight and I will catch up on the rest of the awards and outfits tomorrow morning. Another huge congrats to Miranda Lambert and tots amazeballs on that sexy black number! I need to find out who makes that lace top!

And now, I hate to admit it, I want to stay up and watch the rest of the awards. That is one thing I loved about being on the west coast before. I could watch all of my must watches and be in bed before 10…east coast your killing me with this watching until 11/12 business. I want to love you, but I just can’t stay up that late!

xoxo,

Steph

Home is where the Heart is!

Transitioning to a new neighborhood is fricking hard. Like semi impossible to do even under the most perfect of circumstances.

Our move has had a few less than perfect circumstances, but we’ve rolled with it. There have been ups and downs and moments where I have questioned what we have done as I compare our new home to the old.  With my questioning I have learned one super valuable lesson… I need to stop saying/thinking “but in Seattle.”

Just like Dorothy was no longer in Kansas when she was in the wonderland of Oz I am no longer in Seattle and nothing in western Maryland is going to be like Seattle.

My comparing the two is definitely not going to make things easier and can lead to unintentional negativity.

So my mantra going forward is super corny and super awesome at the same time because it is so true.

Home really is where the heart is, and my heart is in western Maryland.

 

Month-a-versary!

I can’t believe it has been a month (and a day) since our wedding at Salish Lodge! So much has happened since then that it almost feels like another lifetime! My life had been nonstop wedding and moving planning, and now Pete and I are able to start settling into our house in Frederick. When you move it feels like the first few weeks after you have finally arrived are just filled with cleaning and unpacking boxes almost to the point of not wanting to ever see a piece of cardboard again.

Last night we took a minute away from the boxes and celebrated our month-a-versary at home with some delicious home made and modified beef stroganoff. Stroganoff is one of the few meals that just gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling inside and definitely reminds me of home. Both my Mom and Dad made it for us growing up (now really only Dad), but given my new husbands picky eating habits there were a few modifications that I had to make.

Pete hates mushrooms, but mushrooms are a staple of a stroganoff recipe and I love them. Mushrooms also help impart a nice earthy flavor to the dish that can’t really be replicated by anything else. So, as a little cheat I made the gravy for the meat with the mushrooms, let it cook down and thicken, but before adding the gravy to the crockpot I strained out the mushrooms and onions and he had no clue that they were ever even there! Win! Really, I think it is the consistency of mushrooms that drives him crazy so I didn’t feel too bad about my fake out move. Below is the recipe as I modified it based upon our flavor loves and our desire for leftovers, next go around I will make sure to take photos!

beef -not quite- stroganoff 

serves: 6

ingredients:

1 1/2 lbs sirloin roast, cubed with obvious fat and tough parts removed

1 c. all purpose flour

1 tbsp. ghee

1/2 tsp. paprika

1/2 tsp. garlic powder

1/2 tbsp. louisiana hot sauce

1 tbsp. french dijon mustard

1/2 tbsp. ground mustard

1/2 tbsp. worcestershire sauce

14 0z. beef stock

1 c. red wine

1 c. sour cream

8 oz. mushrooms

1 medium onion, chopped

salt and pepper, to taste

 

directions:

Prep workspace and pre measure all ingredients.

Clean and cube the sirloin roast. Make sure to remove as much of the gristle and fat as possible.

Lightly salt and pepper the cubed meat and dredge  in 1/4 c. of flour

In a large skillet quickly brown the meat in the ghee.  As the meat is finished browning, remove and add to your crock pot or dutch oven.

Once all the meat is finished browning, use the pan drippings to sauté the chopped onion and mushrooms.  The onion will caramelize in the drippings and once this process is complete add the cup of red wine  to deglaze the pan.

To the side, combine 2 tablespoons of the beef stock, and all of the worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, and french dijon mustard. This step also helps make it easier to incorporate the mustard mixture into the gravy mixture.

Slowly add the garlic, paprika, and ground mustard to your beef stock and mustard slurry.

Now add the remaining beef stock and your slurry to the pan, heating the mixture thoroughly.

At this point, if you have a picky husband you can, very carefully, strain the the gravy mixture to remove the onions and mushrooms. This makes for a smoother gravy, but there is something lovely about the rustic quality to having the mushroom and onions in your gravy.

With or without the onions and mushrooms add the gravy mixture to your crock pot, stirring to incorporate the meat.

Now, it’s a kind of set it and forget it time. This is the inexact science of cooking that you can get away with in cooking, but not baking. I typically aim to get to this point about an hour before Pete is home, or two but it can be prepared earlier in the day and the flavors can be allowed to develop in the crock pot for longer. I just like to be able to get dinner on the table, or in our current case the couch, without feeling rushed.

Right before you serve the delicious gravy you just made stir in, and incorporate the cup of sour cream. If you want to be more traditional serve the deliciousness over egg noodles, or serve it over my personal favorite baked mashed potatoes.

Hope you enjoy this dinner as much as we did on our anniversary!

Unpacking the boxes

Before this adventure to Maryland I had never really moved before. Now, I had moved a few times in the past 10 years, to include a short lived adventure in Spokane, Washington, but for the most part my moves have been within about a 20 mile radius of where I grew up.

Executing a 20 mile move that can involve many, many trips with the back seat of a car filled to a brim does not prepare you for a cross country trip…even one where movers are hired to pack everything you own up into boxes and are in charge of getting it from point A to point B.

Movers are such a blessing, but they still don’t get everything organized to be packed up, and they aren’t the ones making a gazillion runs to Goodwill so you don’t end up moving junk. In the weeks up to the move not only were we neck deep in wedding planning, we were going through drawers, closets, all the nooks and crannies to make sure that we were only moving what we needed from our houses. Pete and I didn’t live together before the wedding and together we had the stuff to prove it.

To make it even more complicated all of our stuff was going from two homes of 1700+ and 1100+ square feet respectively to an apartment across the country that was just over 1000 square feet. Even with all of the purging that we went through on the west coast, now that we are on the east coast and I am nearing the end of the first round of unpacking way more purging is going to happen just so we can peacefully exist in our new home with out feeling like things are just randomly stuffed into closets!

 

Yes, I have already shoved things into the closet in the second bedroom. Sorry, not sorry at all!

As I go through the boxes though, there are so many memories that hit me as I unwrap each item from the thick paper that everything was packaged in. There is the elephant carved from wood that I found in a market in Ghana, the masks that I picked up on vacation with my aunt and uncle following my graduation from college, and so many other little details that make up the life that I have lived the last 28 years.

There has also been a lot of china to wash by hand and lovingly put into specialized storage. Since moving in I have discovered that our apartment sized kitchen won’t hold the extensive collection that I have inherited from my grandmother and been gifted by my aunt. I didn’t even register for china we already have so much!

Keeping busy has also really helped my homesickness. I have always been really close to my family, usually seeing them at the very least once a week, more often though two. It’s hard to really cry when you are trying to tackle a mountain of a mess from unpacking.

On that note, back to the boxes.