I hope you all enjoyed your holiday season! Mine was great! However, just like the rest of 2012, it was so hectic and went by so fast! Drew and I visited our families in our hometown over the holidays and it was so nice to see them. We also got over 16 inches of snow while we were there! It was so fun and so pretty! I really miss that about winter when I’m in New Orleans!
Check out my Instagram to see more photos of our holiday vacation, including the snow, the scarves I crocheted, and our quick getaway trip to Saint Louis while we were home as well.
I know it is after Christmas now and I should have posted this sooner, but I wanted to share with you our first ever Rowland family Christmas card!
It was extra special this year being our first Christmas as a married couple! Drew’s birthday is also on Christmas, so it is always a special holiday around here.
I’m naturally a really self-reflective person, always re-evaluating my goals and how I’m meeting them, but I love how the holiday season gets everyone in a reflective mood — focusing on family and what is important, thinking over the past year and then making goals they want to meet in the upcoming one.
2012 was a really crazy year for me/us. A whole lot of wedding planning, Drew graduating from college, Drew starting work in a salary position, expanding our business, getting married, going on our honeymoon (to Boston, New Hampshire and Maine — I still need to blog about that!), working on making our apartment our home, and me getting closer and closer to graduating as well. It was a great year, but a really busy/crazy/hectic one, and I’m happy it is now over. School has gotten more and more intense as I’m getting closer to graduating and this past semester really seemed to take over my life. I was at school from early in the morning to really late at night (some of my classes didn’t get out until 9:30 at night!) and didn’t have time for a whole lot else (including blogging — that’s why I’ve been so MIA). I’ve really been stretched thin lately, and I don’t see it getting too much better (actually probably much worse) until this upcoming semester is over and I graduate.
However, even though 2013 will probably be a hectic year as well, I’ve got a lot to look forward to! I graduate this year! I could not be more excited for that day to come! I’m so over the whole college lifestyle and everything that comes with it. I’m also excited to see what job opportunities lie ahead and what I end up doing once I get out of school. So many exciting things to pursue!
I also have a lot of big changes in my life for 2013. As of the new year, Drew and I are now on Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover. This is such an important change for me this year. As a single woman, I had a older, used car paid for by my parents when I turned 16 and a scholarship that covered pretty much all my college expenses. I knew people lived in debt, but never really knew what that felt like. When I got married, I inherited from my husband a car that has monthly payments, a lot of money in student loans, and a small amount of credit card debt. Debt sucks, y’all. A couple months of that stress and I decided that is all I could take. Dave Ramsey’s book really is life-changing. It makes you think about money, spending and debt in a whole new way. We have re-evaluated our budget and are doing all we can to diminish our debts as quickly as possible. Our goal for 2013 is to pay off all credit card debt and Drew’s car by the end of the year. Hopefully in the two years following that we can get all of Drew’s student loans paid off. Those payments are not something I want to live with for any longer than humanly possible. Even if that means sacrificing a lot of other things along the way (like eating out, spending money on things for our house we don’t need, extra television stations, extras on phone plans and bigger things like waiting to buy a house or start a family). So hopefully we can get that over with and get on with our lives! Really, I know we are just starting this, but if you have any debt or need tips on managing your money, saving for retirement, saving for college for your kids, or just want to live in financial peace, read Dave’s books. I really think everyone needs to read them. Your life will be changed. I’m warning you.
If that wasn’t a big enough goal to start out 2013 with, I also have big lifestyle changes in the health department. Over this past summer I found out that I have hypothyroidism. That basically means that my thyroid doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone and in turn causes a whole slew of other problems — exhaustion/tiredness, lack of concentration, impaired memory, depression, headaches, acne, digestive problems, problems being able to stand cold temperatures, problems with metabolism, weakness, muscle aches, etc. I’ve been experiencing different levels of these problems for the past several years and didn’t know what was wrong with me. Being in college and therefore working late nights, being stressed out and not getting enough sleep also tended to exaggerate these problems. I was so thankful to finally figure out what was causing the symptoms though. Hypothyroidism can be treated — but that means I have to take thyroid hormone supplements every day and likely will have to for the rest of my life. After I started taking the thyroid supplements and got my levels in the right place, I was feeling much better, but still not perfect. So I didn’t stop there.
After the endocrinologist didn’t say much different, I headed to my dad’s nutritionist to see what was the cause of the hypothyroidism and how to better combat it. I never believe that medication is the only right and final answer to anything! I want to get to the source of these problems and treat that. So I met with this nutritionist and although we are still working through my hair analysis to figure out what nutrient deficiencies I have and what vitamin supplements I need to take, I’m as of 2013 on a much stricter diet to maintain optimal health. I found out that I have sensitivities to wheat and milk (I had suspected this before), so although I’m not necessary “allergic” and I’m not going to break out in hives when I eat/drink them, I can’t digest them as well as I should be able to and they are therefore not helping me or adding any needed nutrients to my diet. I also have sensitivities to soy as well, so I’m staying away from that. Soy has a lot of hormones, and my levels of estrogen are already really high, so soy isn’t good for me because of that. In addition, my diet suggests I cut out corn products, they are so genetically modified these days that there isn’t much good left in them and white rice as well (starchy, carbohydrate-rich foods aren’t really so great for anyone). So this year (and for likely the rest of my life), I will be doing my best to not eat wheat, white rice, corn, soy or milk. Yikes! I also need to up my meat intake and my vegetable intake. I can still have other less-genetically modified and more nutrient rich carbs like red and white potatoes, beans, peas, lentils, quinoa, oats, sprouted grains, wild rice and limited amounts of brown rice. I also need to limit my sugar intake (as does everyone) to practically zero, so I’m trying to use only honey, agave nectar, and very limited amounts of turbinado sugar as a sweetener and limiting my fruit intake (again most fruits today have been so genetically modified that they contain so much sugar and not as many nutrients anymore — but I can still have it all, just a limit on my daily intake). I also am limiting my salt intake and only using Celtic sea salt (pure salt, no additives). The diet only lets you drink water as well (along with herbal teas), but I already only drink water, so that really isn’t a change. There are some other rules as well about what to eat with what (eat meat and veggies together and then eat starches like potatoes, peas, beans, lentils with vegetables, but don’t eat meat with potatoes/beans/lentils, etc. One is acidic, one is alkaline, so eating them together limits nutrient absorption) and the doctor also told me a lot of really great health information, but I’ll leave it at that. I would recommend everyone see a good nutritionist and start eating right for themselves!
I’ve been at it for the last week or so, and really so far, it isn’t that hard. You just have to change your mindset from eating for comfort to eating for health. There are also a lot of really great recipes out there that are gluten/rice/corn/soy free. I really didn’t eat that much corn or soy before anyway, and not enough white rice to make it that hard to cut out (plus it is easy enough to sub for brown rice or wild rice). Wheat is the big one (pasta, bread, baked goods, etc.) but there are lots of gluten-free options and lots of other flours to bake with (almond flour, coconut flour, quinoa flour, oat flour, etc.), so it really isn’t that difficult either. I haven’t missed milk yet, but I can always sub that with almond milk or small amounts of raw milk if it becomes a problem. I’m excited to start feeling better and being healthier!
So here’s to a healthier year this 2013 in many ways!
Do you have any goals for the new year?
These seriously are the best fried chicken strips. I came across this recipe from Christy Jordan‘s cookbook Southern Plate a couple years ago when the New Orleans Borders Bookstore was closing. Drew and I were checking out the good deals on books and I started looking through and reading her cookbook and I was hooked! They are pretty much all her family recipes and are great Southern staples. Everything just looks so tasty in there!
If you like yourself a good home-cooked Southern meal, well then go buy this cookbook and get to cooking!
Fried Chicken Strips (also known in her cookbook as Fried Chicken Planks)
makes 4 servings
-4 or 5 Boneless Chicken Breasts
-1 to 2 sleeves saltine crackers
-salt & pepper
1. Pour cooking oil into large skillet to a depth of 1/4 inch. Heat over medium heat while you prepare the chicken.
2. Beat chicken breasts until flattened, between 1/2 inch and 1/4 inch thick.
3. Cut each flattened chicken breast into three strips.
4. Crack eggs into bowl and beat with a fork.
5. Crush the saltine crackers and place in another bowl. Lightly salt and pepper the cracker crumbs.
6. Dip each chicken strip first into the egg mixture, then coat with cracker crumbs. Make sure to coat each piece completely.
7. Drop chicken strips into oil and cook over medium to medium-high heat, turning once, until browned on both sides. (If needed, cut a small slit into the first couple strips to make sure the insides are cooking correctly.)
8. Place on a paper towel lined plate to absorb extra oil.
I often serve this chicken with my Mamaw’s mashed potatoes and gravy, but it is also really great with another of Christy Jordan’s recipes in this cookbook — Comeback Sauce. Comeback Sauce is a Southern classic and is great dip for chicken, fries, etc. (If you are from Louisiana and like Raising Cane’s sauce, this is pretty much exactly the same thing!)
makes 1 cup
-1/2 cup mayonnaise
-1/2 cup ketchup
-1 1/2 Tablespoons ground pepper
1. Stir all ingredients together in a bowl until well blended.
2. Can serve immediately, but is best if refrigerated several hours.
This is one of our favorite dinners actually. It is a recipe that both Drew and I really love (which is pretty rare, since usually we both have very different favorite foods). I really love that is is both delicious and also a relatively well balanced meal. It is a good way to get a lot of veggies into one dish. I posted a picture of this on Instagram & Facebook and several people asked for the recipe, so here it is:
Chicken & Vegetable Fried Rice
serves about 4 people as an entree
-1 cup uncooked white rice (makes about 2 cups cooked)
-Water, for cooking rice
-2 Chicken Breasts, cut into small cubes
-6 cups uncooked fresh vegetables, cut into small pieces (they cook down quite a bit) I usually use onion, green bell pepper, broccoli, carrots, celery, and whatever else I already have in the fridge.
-6 Tablespoons butter* (see note below)
-ground powdered ginger
*The butter really adds a wonderful flavor to this recipe, so don’t substitute it with olive or other cooking oil. I use stainless steel pans that have a tendency to stick more than nonstick-coated pans would. This is the amount I usually have to use for this recipe to keep things from sticking. If you have nonstick pans, you might try using a little less butter and add more if needed.
1. Cook rice. I use a rice maker, that way it can cook all on its own while I’m preparing everything else. If you don’t have one, just cook rice on stove according to package directions.
2. In wok (or other large skillet), melt 3 Tablespoons butter. Once melted, add chicken and cook until done.
3. Once chicken is done, transfer it to bowl.
4. Place remaining 3 Tablespoons butter into wok/skillet and add veggies. Cook until soft. I usually put the lid on my wok and let them steam for a little bit.
5. Once veggies are done, scoot them over to the side, making a space on the bottom of your wok/skillet. Crack in 2 eggs, scramble, and cook until done.
6. Once eggs are done, mix eggs and veggies together, add chicken and cooked white rice. Stir.
7. In a liquid measuring cup, add soy sauce until just under the 1/3 cup line. Add in teriyaki sauce until just over 1/3 cup line. Add a pinch of ground powdered ginger and stir together.
8. Add sauce to rest of ingredients in wok/skillet and stir until all combined.
This is my favorite potato soup recipe — one my mom used to make all the time when I was a kid. It has an excellent buttery, creamy flavor, lots of big potato chunks, and the consistency is nice — not as thick and gravy-like as some other recipes I’ve tried. It is really easy to make and it is really great leftover!
Creamy Potato Soup
-6-8 large potatoes (I prefer Yukon Gold, but any kind will work)
-1 stick of butter
-1 small can of evaporated milk
-salt & pepper to taste
1. Cut up potatoes into small chunks and place in large saucepan/soup pot.
2. Cut up onion and add to pot with potatoes.
3. Fill pot with water until water line is an inch or so above potatoes/onion.
4. Cut half a stick of butter into chunks and place in pot. Add salt and pepper.
5. Place the lid on the pot and cook on the stove until potatoes are tender.
6. Add other half a stick of butter and small can of evaporated milk. Add salt and pepper to taste.
7. Serve with grated cheddar cheese (and bacon), if you wish!
P.S. If you would like your soup to be a little thicker and have smaller bits of potato, you can take a potato masher and mash down into the soup a couple times, breaking down some of the potatoes to thicken the broth. Just be careful that you don’t turn the soup into mashed potatoes!
My husband’s mom and dad have been in New Orleans visiting us for the past week. We’ve been busy doing all kinds of things around the city and traveling to other places close-by (we took a day trip to Grand Isle and spent the 4th of July on the beach in Gulf Shores). Today was my mother-in-law’s birthday and also their last day here before they head home in the morning, so Drew and I decided that we would make them dinner and bake his mom a birthday cake.
I actually had never baked a cake from scratch before. I’ve always wanted to, but just never really had the chance. I’m not a huge cake baker (I’m more of a cookie and other dessert person– cake isn’t my dessert of choice). It is usually just Drew and I here, so baking an entire cake on any normal day would mean that the two of us have an entire cake to eat. I don’t like wasting food, so I usually stick to baking cookies, that way we can only cook how many we will eat then, and then freeze the rest to bake later. (I have helped my mom bake many cakes before though!)
So, I did some searching online to find the best cake recipe that sounded like something Susie would like. As soon as I stumbled across this cake with “praline” in the title, I knew I had found the right one. How perfect to make a chocolate praline cake for her birthday being celebrated in New Orleans?! (Which is famous for its pralines, in case you didn’t know.)
This cake turned out amazing. It was delicious! So very rich and the praline topping was fantastic! Susie said it tasted like a candy bar! I will definitely be making this cake again. New birthday cake tradition, perhaps?
Chocolate Praline Cake
original recipe from here.
1/2 cup Butter (1 stick)
1 cup Brown Sugar
1 can (14 ounces) Sweetened Condensed Milk
1 cup Chopped Pecans
2 cups All-Purpose Flour
3/4 cup Unsweetened Cocoa
2 cups Granulated Sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons Baking Powder
1 1/2 teaspoons Baking Soda
1 teaspoon Salt
2 large Eggs
1 cup Sour Cream
1/2 cup Canola Oil
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 teaspoon White Vinegar
1 cup hot Water
1/2 cup Fudge Topping
1/2 cup Chocolate Chips, melted
To make the cake:
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bottoms of two 9-inch round cake pans and fit a circle of parchment paper large enough to cover 1 inch up the side of each cake pan.
2. Heat the butter, brown sugar, and sweetened condensed milk in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat until the butter melts and the sugar is dissolved. Do not boil.
3. Divide the sugar mixture between the prepared pans. Sprinkle 3/4 cup pecans over sugar mixture and set aside to cool.
4. In a large bowl, combine together the flour, cocoa, granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
5. In a smaller bowl, combine the eggs, sour cream, oil, vanilla, vinegar, and hot water.
6. Mix wet ingredients into dry with a wooden spoon until batter is smooth.
7. Pour the batter into the cake pans — over sugar mixture — and bake until a wooden skewer inserted into the cake center comes out clean — 35 to 40 minutes.
8. Cool cakes in the pans for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pans and turn cakes out onto a cooling rack. Remove the paper and cool completely.
To assemble the cake:
1. Place bottom cake layer on plate or cake stand with the praline sugar mixture side facing up.
2. Spread the fudge topping over the praline sugar mixture side of bottom cake layer.
3. Place the second layer over the first and drizzle the top with the melted chocolate and the remaining 1/4 cup pecans.
4. Frost the cake sides with your favorite chocolate icing.
P.S. — The chocolate cake this recipe makes is really excellent. I’ll definitely be using this recipe as my go-to chocolate cake recipe for when I’m making just a plain chocolate cake as well! :)
When I was 14, I moved to St. Louis, MO for the summer to live with my older sister and be a nanny to my baby niece, Evie. Often on Saturday mornings, we would get up and go walk around and get fresh produce from the Soulard farmers market. I have many fond memories of that summer, farmers market included.
Just a couple weekends ago, Drew and I tried out the Saturday farmers market in New Orleans. I had wanted to go for a while, we just hadn’t because it is downtown, not close to our house, and only open for a couple hours on Saturday morning. Saturday morning is Drew’s day to sleep in and then get fresh croissants from the Patisserie upon waking at 2 in the afternoon. ;) It was much smaller than I expected (not anything like I remember from St. Louis), but it was definitely worth waking up earlier for.
We ended up with a bouquet of fresh cut zinnias, creole tomatoes, fresh peaches, blueberries and several pots of fresh herbs to plant in our windowbox. Everything we bought was delicious. It so makes me miss living in the country and having a garden! For the city, it’s the next best thing.
With all the fresh blueberries we have, I’ve made blueberry walnut muffins with fresh lemon zest several times the last two weeks! So delicious! This muffin recipe is really great. My mom always uses this recipe too and it can easily be adapted for whatever kind of muffins you want to make.
blueberry walnut muffins with fresh lemon zest (or whatever kind you want to make)
-1 3/4 cup flour
-1/3 cup sugar
-2 tsp baking powder
-1/4 tsp salt
-3/4 cup milk
-1/4 cup oil
-1 beaten egg
-3/4 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
-1/2 cup chopped walnuts (I like nuts, so I usually use closer to 1 cup)
-fresh zest from 1 lemon (or less, according to taste)
-reduce milk above to 1/2 cup
-3/4 cup mashed bananas
-1/2 cup chopped walnuts or other nuts (again I use more like 1 cup)
-3/4 cup diced peaches
-1 tsp cinnamon
-1/2 tsp nutmeg (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease muffin cups.
2. Mix dry ingredients together.
3. Mix wet ingredients together in separate bowl.
4. Add wet ingredients into dry and add in fruit/nut mix-ins. Stir just until moistened. Batter should be lumpy.
**Important–do not overmix your muffin dough or your muffins won’t be as fluffy and will have a tougher texture.
5. Fill greased muffin cups 2/3 full.
6. Bake for 20 minutes at 400 degrees.
P.S. Don’t those peaches look fabulous in that yellow bowl? I love that bright sunny pop of yellow in the kitchen! That bowl, along with the rest of its set in different colors, was a wedding gift from my friend, Jessica. Love them! :)
This past weekend, Drew, my friend Jessica, and I were busy working on a craft project for the wedding. While we were working, I made these brownies for us to snack on. My mom used to make these and it had been so long since I had had them. They are delicious!
The Most Amazing Brownies
-one box fudge brownie mix (including oil & eggs, per package directions)
-1 jar marshmallow creme
-1 cup peanut butter
-1 1/2 cups chocolate chips (I prefer a mix of milk chocolate and semi-sweet, but whatever your preference is)
-1 Tbsp butter
-2 cups crisp rice cereal
1. Mix up your brownie mix according to the package directions. Bake as directed, using a 9×13 pan.
2. Let cool completely, then spread marshmallow creme on top of brownie layer.
3. In a saucepan, melt butter, peanut butter, and chocolate chips.
4. Add in crisp rice cereal and mix well.
5. Spread chocolate/peanut butter coated cereal on top of marshmallow creme layer.
6. Enjoy! (P.S. The brownies cut nicer if refrigerated until chilled before cutting.)
These really are the perfect mixture of gooey, soft and crunchy! So delicious!
P.S. In completely unrelated to brownie news, our wedding is exactly 2 months away today!!! It is getting so close! I’m so excited! :)