Heaven & Hell - Our Halloween Party

Monday, October 31, 2011 - 
Hubs and I had a great time entertaining friends this past weekend by hosting our annual Halloween party.  This year's theme, as you may remember, was Heaven & Hell.

The hosts for the evening!
Our second floor (living room, kitchen, and dining room) was Heaven.  Complete with candle light, cloud seating, and heavenly treats.  Champagne punch had people sipping sparkles while holy water kept others in high spirits. 

You may recognize the nun?  Of course, she is my mother!  Yup, mom and dad came and surprised us with two of their good friend, Pete & Debbi.  When I say surprised us, that means they drove from Wisconsin for the evening!  Thanks for coming mom and dad!  You definitely surprised us!

Our first floor and garage was hell for the evening.  Spicy treats included jalapeno poppers, buffalo dip, spicy shrimp and other hot candies.  In addition, hubs home brewed pumpkin ale and my hard cider were flowing.  I have to post photos of hubs pumpkin tap later - it is a treat you won't want to miss!

We have some great friends who came out.  Sad to see others didn't make it, but a good time was surely had by all those who did!

Happy Halloween!

Stuckey's Apple Farm

Monday, October 24, 2011 - 
As you probably know by now, Autumn is my favorite season.  I love the crisp air, the flavors of the season, the sounds of the leaves crunching beneath my feet, the colors of the leaves and the smell of the fresh air.  Everything about the season makes me want to do whatever I can to take it all in.  Hubs and I went to an apple orchard, Stuckey Farms, last weekend and tried to pick our pumpkins and apples.  Unfortunately, most of the apples had already fallen and the pumpkins had been picked over.  But we still had a great time together enjoying the weather and each other.

Beauty & the Beast the Musical

Wednesday, October 19, 2011 - 
Hubs is awesome.  Why you may ask?  Well, lots of reasons.  One is because he goes to musicals with me.  From 101 Dalmatians to Legally Blonde, he is awesome.  But note, he'd be lying to you if he said he didn't like him.  He'll admit to liking them - I think.

This past weekend, we went and saw Beauty & the Beast at Clowes Hall.  I was really excited for it, but kind of let down.  Belle's costume just wasn't right.  Both the blue dress and the gold dress, it just wasn't what I expected.  And there seemed to be a lot of production in other areas which left me confused.  How could you not get a classic dress right, but have an extravagant stage floor?

However, the classic Be Our Guest had me singing along with enthusiasm (and the little girl in front waving enthusiastically) and Lumiere was by far my favorite actor of the evening.  So comical and extravagant in his gestures made a human as a candlestick believable.  The Beast was a slightly lackluster, more comedic in areas than I expected, but the audience seemed to eat this up.  Belle was beautiful and her acting good, as were all the other characters, but nothing that shined over the top for me.  But the child who played Chip - adorable.

Besides the show, we did learn that Clowes (which is on Butler's campus) now has these ingenious sippy cups for adults. 

You can take your drink into the theatre and sip your beer or wine throughout the show.  Lovely, just lovely.

Lots of hugs to hubs - you are the best!

Butternut Squash Risotto

Friday, October 14, 2011 - 
I think I'm on a risotto kick.  I made a spring like risotto last week, a pumpkin risotto the week before, and now a butternut squash risotto.  They have all been very different to say the least, but still, risotto.

The pumpkin risotto was roasted pumpkin served on top of the risotto.  My spring type risotto was made with barley and had some shrimp.  But this risotto, I decided to change it up a bit by having my broth be where I add the squash.  I had made a gratin with half of the squash this past Sunday (post to come soon), so I had half of it left.  With a little bit of rice, I added squash risotto to the menu as our vegetarian dish for the week (kind of - you'll see why).  I was very pleased with the results.  Maybe the best risotto I've made yet (I thought my mushroom risotto was good, but this one tops it) - creamy, earthy, and delicious.

  • Arborio rice, about 1/2 cup
  • Chicken broth, about 5-6 cups
  • Butternut squash, cubed (about 2 cups, half of a squash)
  • Small onion, finely chopped
  • Garlic clove, finely chopped
  • White wine, about 1/2 a cup
  • Sage, 4-6 fresh leaves
  • Olive oil
  • Few slices of cooked bacon (optional of course)
Begin by prepping your broth. Whether you use homemade, the bouilon paste (like I do if I don't have homemade on hand), or the boxed/canned, it all works pending on how you want to get it.  I always watch out for lower sodium though, things can get too salty if you don't.  Once you get your broth into a pan, add the cubed squash and allow it to come to a boil.  I cooked the squash in the broth hoping to give it even more flavor for about 15 minutes or until the squash was fork tender.

Remove from heat and grab that hand held blender of yours.  What, you don't have one?  Well, no worries, a regular blender works just as fine.  Blend until the squash is incorporated into the broth, giving you a very attractive orange liquid that is a bit thicker than what the broth would normally be.  Put it back on the stove and simmer (do not boil) as you prepare the rice.  Be careful not to burn yourself as you blend, no matter which way you blend.

Heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a large pan.  Saute the onion and garlic until fragrant and the onion is translucent in color.  Add the rice and saute a bit for some color, stirring frequently to ensure it doesn't burn.  Once you have a little color, add the white wine and stir until all the white wine is dissolved and cooked into the rice.

At this point, start adding your simmering broth.  Add one cup to the rice mixture and stir until the liquid is completely dissolved.  Then, add some more and repeat.  Keep stirring and you'll notice as you work through the liquid, for about 20 minutes, your rice will release all the starches and becoming creamy.  That is what you are looking for my friends, creamy and delicious rice.  Nom.

When the rice is done taking in liquid and you are just about done with your broth (you may or may not use all of it, I think I had about 1/2 a cup left out of the 4 or 5 cups I started with), you'll have a creamy rice dish you'll be dying to eat.  How do you know if it is done?  Well, try it.  If the rice isn't crunch, it is done.

Remember that sage?  Chop that up and add at this point.  But wait, add a little cheese if you have it too.  I had some parmigiano reggiano on hand and I grated about 1/4 of cup into the rice.  Stirred that together and plated.

And of course, bacon.  I had made some bacon as we were also going to have BLT sandwiches (we didn't end up having them I might add).  As I took a bite of the risotto, I turned to hubs and said, "mmm, wouldn't pork just be great with this?"  Well, hello bacon that was sitting on the counter.  How convenient.  I crunched that up and put it on top - sorry for the lack of photo - but you get the idea.  Delish, and optional for my veggie friends.

I may be completely wrong here, but I don't think risotto should be intimidating to anyone in the kitchen.  As long as you have a little patience, you'll be rewarded.  Enjoy!

'Fun'draising for a Cause

Thursday, October 13, 2011 - 
I think volunteering and giving back are important things to do.  For the past 11 years, I've participated in fundraising for the Alzheimer's Association.  As you saw from my BrewMile event, not only do I fundraise, but I 'fun'draise.  I like to have a good time while making people aware of the cause we are supporting, the disease we are fighting.

At work, it is no different.  We are all closely linked to the Association because nationally, it is a philanthropic endeavor of ours.  So, we've had a variety of events that helped us raise over $1,000 for our Walk to End Alzheimer's team as a staff.  Here is a breakdown of the events with a few photos:

Casual for a Cause - staff donate so they can dress down at work.  Once a week, it is a popular event.

Silent Auction - with donations from staff and local business, this is always a great way to raise some money for any cause.

Bucks for Bagels, Dollars for Donuts, Loot for Latte, Pennies for Pie - all food themed events, staff members donate for breakfast delivered to their desk, a morning latte in the office, or for a pizza luncheon.  With my deep love (some say obsession) with all things pumpkin, you know that I had a pumpkin bagel with pumpkin cream cheese, a pumpkin donut, and a pumpkin latte.  Just sayin'...

Brain Activities - trying to keep the mind healthy, we had a variety of brain activities including MENGO (mind bingo), Memory (in shape of the Alz. logo), and SK Survivor.  'Survivor' was the most intense as staff members had to race through the office, memorize a picture, then race back to recreate the shapes in the correct order.  We have some intense competition in this office.

Fall Festival - this is our community event, where we invite other Greek organizations to come out for the afternoon and have some fun.  We had a bake-off, corn hole tournament, pie a staff member event, change collection competition, and sold some baked goods.  Leftover baked goods that didn't sell or weren't taken home by the contenders were donated to a local assisted living facility that has an Alzheimer's wing.  We had great weather and everyone seemed to have a good time as we raised over $350 towards our cause.

If you'd like to donate, would love the support.  I am personally working towards a goal of $1,000 for myself and I'm still a little shy.  Every dollar counts - if you can give, I would appreciate it!  Visit my page here and help me fight Alzheimer's so that one day, I won't have to fight anymore!

Just a note, these opinions are all my own not of my company.  And thank you to Bri for her assistance throughout this whole process.  Couldn't have done it without her!

Barley & Shrimp Risotto

Wednesday, October 5, 2011 - 
I have regressed back to Spring. You see, I made risotto for dinner.  Not saying risotto is a Spring dish by any means, but ingredients can definitely define the season.  I'm all about eating within the season, but this dinner was a Spring accident.  Delicious, but an accident.  All because of what I had on hand (or maybe I was thinking Spring because of the gorgeous flowers we had on the table, compliments of the wedding we were at this past weekend.)

I knew I had some shrimp on hand that we ended up not boilingin beer for our BrewMile, so I thought I would add that to the mix.  Grabbed a lemon for some brightness and the bottle of pinot grigio that we just bought.  This would all work out just fine. 

But this seemed awfully Spring like to me, especially after I added peas to the mix (note, they were frozen, but alas.)  Then, I saw we didn't have much rice left (maybe from the mushroom risotto I had previously made?) which meant that this risotto idea may be delayed.  I pushed the bag aside and saw quick cooking barley.

Autumn redemption.

I remembered reading somewhere that pearl barley was a great rice substitute.  But, I had quick cooking pearl barley.  Only a slight difference from the regular pearl barley, right?  I shrugged my shoulders and thought, "why not?" and put on my I'mdeterminedtomakerisotto face.  Let's do this barley.

I sauteed up an onion with garlic until fragrant and translucent.  I added the barley and crossed my fingers.  I was looking for it to toast up, soak up all that oil from sauteeing.  Well, it soaked up the oil, but I got a little impatient waiting for it to toast.  So, I turned to the bottle.  Not in an alcoholic sense, though I did pour myself a glass.  I added about 1/2 a cup to the pan so the barley could take it all in.

All while this was happening, I had some chicken broth simmering away.  I began adding that to the pan, one cup at a time, until the barley took it all in.  Then, I added more broth and stirred the pot some more.  A few rounds of this until I had a creamy barley mix.  I added the shrimp and maybe 1/2 a cup of peas (if you remember, I don't like peas, but I find that I keep trying anyway).  Once the shrimp was pink, I threw in a handful of Parmesan and finished it off with a squeeze of lemon and lemon zest.

Though I made way too much, the risotto was delish, light and refreshing. Perfect for this random 80 degree October day we are having here in Indy.  I enjoyed the twist of citrus at the end, it worked well with the shrimp and peas that were part of the dish.  And I was really happy with how creamy the barley became - barley truly is a great risotto substitute!

I love risotto.  It is so easy to transform by adding things here and there.  Are you a risotto lover?  What are your favorite ingredients to add into the rice (or barley) dish?

Introducing Mr. & Mrs. McFerron

Monday, October 3, 2011 - 
Weddings.  The season has about one month left in it, and I was happy to share in one this past weekend as a guest rather than the planner.  Two great friends, Brian & Nancy, became hubby and wife at Meridian Hills Country Club.  A great venue, perfect place to celebrate the beginning of this chapter together.

Brian and Nancy - they are both good people.  The kind of people that make you smile for being genuine and funny at the same time.  She was stunning, he was handsome, and the room smelled of roses and hydrangeas.  Beautiful florals - I can't explain how they were utterly amazing and impacted the whole event.  I couldn't be happier to take one home at the end of the night, thanks to the bride encouraging local residents to take them!

A few photos:


How was your weekend?