Random Friday #8

feliciaandamber

  • I’m taking a half day from work today to head up to VA Beach for Amber’s wedding!  The above pic is us during grad week, roughly TEN WHOLE YEARS AGO (how does that happen?).  Terrible highlights (mine anyway) aside, I’m really looking forward to spending some time with friends and celebrating Amber and Matt.
  • I had a cold this week, which spun me into a brief panic of needing to get better before above mentioned wedding this weekend.  I have been taking a lot of cold medicine and felt delirious while trying to run last minute errands and picking up my bridesmaids dress from alterations yesterday.  The alterations lady was giving me some major side eye as I was trying to hold in my coughs to keep from hacking all over her shop.  She basically stood in one corner of the shop and threw the dress at me and told me to leave the money on the counter.  The plus side to this is I’ve barely had an appetite all week, so I should look AMAZING in my dress.

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  • Because of said cold, I have been doing a LOT of lying on the couch “resting” and watching TV.  I started watching Outlander on Starz as mentioned last week, and predictably, I’m totally hooked.  I’m also reading A Fiery Cross, as if the simple time travel confusion wasn’t enough, I’ve added the confusion of keeping track of TWO instances of time travel.

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  • Next week is THANKSGIVING.  We don’t have any particular plans except that we are staying home since we have been traveling fiends lately.  Nick has mentioned that it would be a good time to tackle the popcorn ceiling in our kitchen, but I’m blissfully ignoring that possibility for now.  If I agree to it, I will dread it all week.  But if I don’t commit until the last minute and surprise myself, I don’t have time to dread it or change my mind.  Makes total sense.
  • People have started asking for gift ideas and I’m in a weird spot this year where there is nothing major that I really want…? (WHO AM I)  I put together an Amazon wishlist, but it’s pretty lame stuff, to be honest.  Two of the items are a kettlebell and protein powder (I know wtf.  I’m judging myself hardcore for that one).  I remember when I was younger and my family would exchange lists, I would be so befuddled by the adult’s lists with stuff like “socks” and “towels” on them (but…those things aren’t fun AT ALL).  But I’m almost to that point.  Also, in re-reading this bullet, I am aware that it comes off VERY #firstworldproblems.  Wah wahhh, poor me, I don’t know what to ask people to buy me.

What are your Thanksgiving plans?  What are you hoping to get for Christmas this year (help me with fun ideas!)?

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 New York City: February 2015 Trip Recap

Is there anything better than a girls trip? (No there is not.)

I was scheduled to fly in and out of LaGuardia in February of this year for work, and I could NOT waste that opportunity to see some more of beautiful NYC.  I had been there once before in college, as part of a career fair trip.  That trip was quick and we really only had time to hit Times Square and didn’t eat at any place that wasn’t a chain.  I was also missing my Pittsburgh girls (we moved from Pittsburgh to Wilmington, NC in July of 2013) and thought this would be a great opportunity to see them and enjoy a fun place together.  Luckily, they were totally on board (good friends right there, to agree to meet you in a frigid, potentially snowy city in February) and we started the planning!

Picking a hotel was relatively easy, we knew we wanted to see things all throughout the island, so we decided to stay in Midtown (for info on the Manhattan neighborhoods, see here).  Megan is a planning MASTER and found a hotel for a great price in approximately 5.2 minutes (Our Facebook group message from putting this trip together is seriously the most efficient thing I’ve ever been a part of.  Quick and easy decision on EVERYTHING.).  We also tentatively put together a list of things we wanted to do:

  • Eat at Morimoto’s (Megan’s sister had been here before and recommended it)
  • Go to the top of the Empire State Building
  • Visit 9/11 Museum
  • Find some New York pizza
  • Walk on the Brooklyn Bridge
  • See Times Square
  • Go to Serendipity’s for frozen hot chocolate

We all arrived in the city around 2pm on Friday and decided to just do some general exploring and walking around.  We headed to Times Square and had some fun looking at all the signs and buildings.  We went into the M&M shop and ogled all of the columns of different colors and flavors (dark chocolate almond <3).  We each walked out with a giant sack of M&Ms (originally intended to be gifts for others, but which ended up being excellent snacks for US for the rest of the weekend.  sorrynotsorry).

New York City Things To Do

We walked a good ways north before deciding to cross over to 5th Avenue and browse all of the fun stores on our way back to the hotel.  Some highlights include looking at engagement rings at Tiffany’s (we are all happily married, but ya know.  Tiffany’s!) and picking out makeup at the giant Sephora.  We were basically a salesperson’s dream in Sephora.  Any time one of us picked anything up, the other two were like “OOH what’s that??  A sponge in the shape of a cone?  I DEFINITELY NEED THAT, hand me one!”  I think we all three walked out a significant number of literally the same products.

We had reservations for that night at Morimoto’s NYC.  We made a reservation in advance of our trip so we had plenty of time to anticipate and browse their online menu in excitement.  Morimoto’s definitely has a sleek, modern and upscale vibe.  The bathrooms especially were the most luxurious and complex that I’ve ever had the honor of using.

Pretty much everything on this menu looked fantastic, Japanese and sushi are in my top 3 favorite types of foods and we had a really hard time choosing.  We conferred with our waiter and ended up getting the Shrimp Tempura appetizer and the Sea Bass, Braised Black Cod and Ishi Yaki Buri Bop for our meals.  And a bottle o’ wine, natch.

Please stop taking photos of me.
“Please stop taking photos of me.”  Molly was such a good camera sport all weekend.
New York City Things To Do
Shrimp Tempura

New York City Things To Do

New York City Things To Do
Ishi Yaki Buri Bop. Say that three times fast.  Unfortuntaely I didn’t get any pics of the other girl’s meals, they were beautiful and delicious!
Hot Mess Express. Woot wooot.
Hot Mess Express, woot woooot. Nothing better than making a loud mess in a restaurant where you already feel out-fancied.

New York City Things To Do

After dinner, we went to a bar that was nearish to our hotel and had a couple of glasses of wine.  Wine and girl talk and listening to T. Swift was pretty perfect.  After we were a few several glasses in, we started talking about what to do the next day and realized while googling that the Empire State Building stayed open until 3 am!  Soo…we should just go NOW (approx. 1 am) and then we have more time for other stuff tomorrow!  Great idea!  We aren’t buzzed at all!  We teetered and zig-zagged our way over to the Empire State Building and made instant friends with the guard.

It was one of those situations where in our heads and recollection, Brock (the guard, first name basis) loved us and was totally entertained by our life stories and toootally agreed that it was CRAZY how late the ESB stayed open!  Can you even believe it!  But in reality he was probably like omfg get these drunk girls away from me, I’m just trying to do my damn job in this 10 degree weather.

We made our long trek up, and lo and behold, on level 86 (I think…things are rather fuzzy), there was Brock again!  OMG BROCK ARE YOU A MAGICIAN?!  HOW DID YOU GET HERE SO FAST??  IT’S US!!!!  He was considerably less thrilled to be reunited and tried to quickly usher us through (that’s the last we ever saw of him 😦  I hope Brock is happy, wherever he is right now).

When we made it to the top, the wind was whipping around and it was even more freezing than it had been down on the ground (soberingly so).  But the views were really amazing and so worth it!  It was really cool to see all of Manhattan and beyond all lit up.  I always forget how small NYC actually is, it’s crazy to think that there is so much (art, food, culture, history) packed into one little island.  We were also basically the only people up there at this time of night.  If you find yourself with some time late night in NYC, I would definitely say tackle the Empire State Building.  The lights were so cool to see, and it took us much less time overall than if we gone during the day with crowds.

Yes it was a little chilly. Why do you ask?
Yes it was a little chilly. Why do you ask?

After we made it back down, late night pizza was extremely necessary.  We enjoyed a few slices, attacked our M&Ms, and then hit the hay.

Day 2

Day 2 started off a little slow.  We all slept in a little more than we probably would have liked, but didn’t feel bad about it since we were SO productive the night before.  BAGELS were on the agenda and we used Yelp to find Best Bagels & Coffee, which was a highly rated nearby bagel shop.

wtf is snow
wtf is snow.  On our walk to Best Bagels & Coffee.
Everything bagel, smoked salmon, and scallion cream cheese. YUM.
Everything bagel, smoked salmon, and scallion cream cheese. YUM.

We were all really anxious to check out the new 9/11 memorial and museum, so we headed south to the site of the former Twin Towers.  This was a very sombering and heavy activity, but so, so worth it.   It seems weird to say we enjoyed it or that it was “good”, but the museum is very well done and a worthwhile stop for anyone visiting.  The museum delved into so many aspects of the preceding days, the day of (initial news reports, physics and physical debris of the planes and attacks, rescue efforts, activity on the planes, etc) and the aftermath (continued rescue efforts, survivors, activity in the Middle East).  The museum also had a lot of the more disturbing videos, audio, and images in separate rooms with warnings, so that you (or young kids with you) can avoid, which I thought was a nice touch.

New York City Things To Do
Freedom Tower

New York City Things To Do New York City Things To Do

We were all a little emotional and disoriented (or maybe that was just me, as someone who is not emotional as a general rule…) after our morning.  We decided that food would be a good next step and headed back north through Soho and Little Italy to get some pizza from Lombardi’s.

New York City Things To Do

The pizza certainly lived up to its hype, what you see here is merely 1/3 of the pizza I put down.  Lombardi’s claim to fame is that it was the FIRST pizza place in New York to serve up the thin, Neopolitan style crust.  We decided to keep it simple with mozzarella, tomato and basil.  I think you would be hard-pressed to find a BAD piece of pizza in this area, but we were really happy with our restaurant choice.  We also had a good time walking and wandering through this part of the city,  we found several good shopping spots and picked up some fun stuff (my husband lucked into me buying myself an early bday gift from him)!

After our morning full of walking we decided to head back to our hotel so that we could drop off our stuff and rest our poor, poor feet for a hot second.  We also did a quick check of our “to-do” list, so that we could evaluate our next move.  The only two items yet to cross off were the Brooklyn Bridge and Serendipity’s.  We rallied ourselves for another walk and headed back south to the Brooklyn Bridge.

New York City Things To Do New York City Things To Do

The bridge was really beautiful and I was especially impressed by the overall size and the organization of the lanes and bikers/walkers.  Much different than the bridges in little ol’ Wilmington, NC.  More water, lights, buildings, etc surrounded us and we spent some time just looking around and enjoying the views!

We ended up catching a cab since back to our hotel, due to the fact that our feet were dead and it was cold af by this point.  Since we had a late lunch none of us were feeling particularly hungry. We briefly discussed heading to Serendipity’s for dinner and frozen hot chocolate, but we called and they had an hour+ wait, and we weren’t sure that their non-frozen hot chocolate items would even be all that special.  Also, with the weather, frozen anything wasn’t sounding especially good.  Next time, Serendipity’s.  Instead, we walked down the street and stumbled onto Parker and Quinn.  We decided to split a bottle of wine and just get some appetizers to share.  The food here was great, the meatball sampler was especially good (but doesn’t look like it’s on their menu anymore?).  It had several different kinds of meatballs with unique combinations of meats and spices.  There was a lamb/cilantro meatball that was my special favorite.

New York City Things To Do
The back left is a BBQ flatbread, middle is the meatball appetizer, and the front is hummus!  All great selections that I would recommend.

Early flights and general exhaustion from the day eventually got to us, and we headed back to our room around 11 pm.  I had such a great time this weekend, and I think the combination of traveling + girl time was good for the soul.  We spend the rest of the evening packing and talking about what US city we would take on next!

What major US city is next on your list?  Help us with ideas for our next trip!

 

This post is part of the Travel Tuesday link-up!  Thanks for hosting, Courtney and Lauren!

traveltuesday

Simple Marinara Sauce for Canning

This is my third year of canning tomatoes.  Nick loves gardening and the first year that we had the garden, I was so excited to make my own tomato sauce.  I looked up a ton of recipes and ended up with a recipe that had a ton of ingredients (tomatoes, onions, carrots, celery, garlic, balsamic vinegar, red wine, etc.)  It was a lot of fun to do, but I had some ideas for improvement.  The sauce turned out pretty watery and I spent a LOT of time doing prep work.  I also didn’t feel like the added elements enhanced the sauce, I realized I prefer a simpler, more tomato-y tomato sauce.  The next year, we didn’t have a garden as we had just moved into our house in Wilmington but I bought about 20 lbs of tomatoes from a local CSA and canned whole tomatoes.  It was so much easier!  And the tomatoes made a great base to crush up and add some garlic/onions/basil to, to make an easy sauce for pasta.

This year I decided to meet in the middle of those two attempts.  I wanted a sauce that was simple and less time consuming, but also ready to use right out of the jar.

We planted about 6 San Marzano tomato plants this past year in the garden.  As the tomatoes ripened, I would just throw them into a bag in the freezer to can later.  We ended up with roughly 30 lbs of tomatoes

Overall this process has three phases:

  • Prep the tomatoes
  • Make the sauce
  • Can the sauce

You will need the following materials:

  • Lots of large bowls
  • Food scale (I suppose you could do without this and just play with the ratios of other ingredients)
  • At least two large pots
  • Immersion blender (you could use a regular blender but it will be a lot messier I think)
  • A boiling water canner and associated tools (we bought a kit from Walmart I think?  It came with tongs and stuff to pull the cans out)
  • Jars, bands and lids
  • Tomatoes
  • Olive Oil
  • Butter
  • Garlic
  • Basil
  • Tomato paste

If you are doing it all in one day like I did, the whole process takes about 4 hours (with a fair amount of inactive time in there where you could do other things).  So, get your space set up, get in some comfy clothes, put on some good music (maybe grab some wine 😉 ) and get to working.

Prep the tomatoes

If you are planning on canning the same day as making the sauce, you should decide now how you are going to sanitize all of your canning materials (I know.  The first step in prepping our tomatoes, and we aren’t even talking about freaking tomatoes).  My dishwasher has a high temperature, sanitize setting so I used that.  It takes about three hours to run, so I started that now so it could run while I was working.  You want the jars to be warm/hot when you fill them, so that the glass doesn’t crack or break.  Since the cycle would be ending right as I would be ready to can, they would still be warm from the cycle.  Another option to sanitize is to put the jars in simmering water.  If you take this approach, you can wait until you are closer to can to worry about your jars.  See this Ball post for more directions.

Now, on to the actual tomatoes!  We need to get these bad boys peeled.  To do this, we are going to get two pots of boiling water going and get all of our frozen tomatoes weighed out and in bowls, ready to go.  We are going to submerge the tomatoes in the boiling water for 30 seconds – 1 minute (however long it takes for the skin to start peeling away).


While waiting for the water to come to a boil, I did some other prep work and chopped up my onion.  I used 1.5 giant softball sized onions to yield 4 cups of chopped onion.

Once the water is boiling throw some tomatoes in.  You can see in the pic below how the skins start to peel back.  Once that happens, you can take the tomato out (I used a pasta scoop to rescue the peeling tomatoes) and finish peeling off the skin.  It should come off pretty easily, for most I just rubbed and they came off in one piece.  I also performed some quality control at this point and had a paring knife close by to cut out bad spots.  

I used a three bowl process.  Bowl 1 in the far back is holding the frozen tomatoes ready to go in.  Bowl 2 on the front left is where the tomatoes go after coming out of the water and to be peeled.  Bowl 3 on the right holds the naked, “prepped” tomatoes.

At first, I tried to do this with a constant, assembly line approach with a few tomatoes at a time for efficiency.  I was able to peel while the next batch of tomatoes were in the water.  But I found that this reduced the temperature of the water too much, since it was never able to come back up to boiling, and the skins weren’t bursting.  So I went to batches.  I would throw tomatoes in, let them start peeling, fish them back out, and then peel while the water was empty and coming back up to temperature.  Do this process over and over (and over…and over……) until all of your tomatoes are prepped.

All my finished naked tomatoes

Making the Sauce

Once all of your tomatoes are prepped, you are ready to start making your sauce!  I continued with two pots, if you had less tomatoes (15 lbs or so) you could work with just one.

I got some olive oil and butter going (about a tablespoon of each) and threw half of the onions in each pot.
  

While I had it melting, I remembered that I preserved some basil in olive oil (using muffin pans and freezing it) over the summer, so I threw some of that flavored olive oil in too.

DSC_0740After your onions are translucent (about 5 minutes), add all of your tomatoes and juice.

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I let these go for about 20 minutes, to ensure the tomatoes weren’t frozen any longer and had broken down some.  Then I busted out my handy dandy immersion blender.  You could also use a regular blender and blend it in batches, but this could be messy and you would have to be careful with the hot sauce.  If you are working with a smaller batch, this might be an ok approach though.  DSC_0746

You can see how watery the blended sauce is at this point.  Next, we want to reduce and thicken the sauce.  I also added three small cans (8 oz each) of tomato paste at this point to help move it along.  I like doing this because you save time spent reducing and end up with more final product, but you could leave it out and just let it cook off and reduce until you reach your intended thickness.

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I also chopped up my basil (I used one plastic clamshell, but in retrospect I wish I would have used two) and added it at this point.  DSC_0758DSC_0759

I let it cook about an hour, you can see below how the sauce has thickened.  This part is really personal preference, if you prefer a thicker sauce you can let it go even longer.DSC_0762

Canning the Sauce

Now for the fun part (sort of).  Gather all of your canning materials and fill up your boiling water canner and start heating.  Using a funnel (you want to keep the jars as clean as possible), start scooping in sauce, leaving about 1 inch of headspace.

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After your jars are filled, add about 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to each jar (to raise the acidity of the mixture, an important aspect of water bath canning).  Then add your lids and bands.  Hopefully by this part your water is boiling and you are ready to process them.

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Ready to take a dip

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Tomatoes and tomato sauce take approximately 35 minutes to boil, so put them in, slap on the lid and go relax for 35 minutes.  Or ya know, be efficient and do some laundry or something.

I actually ran out of lids (why didn’t I check that before starting?  I don’t know), so I decided to freeze our remaining sauce in ziploc bags.  To do this, I waited until the sauce was pretty cool and added about 4 cups of sauce to each gallon size freezer bag.  That random can on the right is sauce that I set aside for us to have this week, so it didn’t need a dip in the water bath.

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Our full bounty

After your jars are finished processing, move to a dark cool place and allow them to sit for 24 hours.  You will probably hear some popping as the cans seal.  You want to end up with lids that don’t have any give and you aren’t able to push down.  That’s the sign of a good seal!  I was happy that all of ours sealed.  If you end up with some that don’t, you can refrigerate and eat that week, or freeze instead.DSC_0771

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Shh…go to sleep little jars
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The unfortunate aftermath

Overall we ended up with 5 quart jars, 5 pint jars, 3 gallon sized bags, and one quart sized bag.  44 cups of sauce!  All of our Nick’s blood/sweat/tears from gardening this summer was totally worth it.

Here is some of the sauce we had this week on some campanelle pasta with a chicken sausage.  Delicious!

What is your favorite kind of tomato based sauce?  Have you ever canned before?