Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Twenty Fourteen

While part of me is ready to get into the new year and make things happen, I thought I should take a moment to reflect on all that has happened this year. 2014 was a time of incredible change. There were some struggles and a bit of hardships along the way, but lots of blessings, too.

This year I finished planning a wedding, got married to the love of my life (and officially became a military wife), honeymooned in Victoria, British Columbia (much-belated post to come one of these days!), celebrated my best friend's engagement and was able to be by her side when she said yes to the dress. Then my new hubs and I set off on a cross-country road trip (where we saw a lot, from the Grand Canyon to New Orleans) that ended in our new home of St. Petersburg, Florida, where we have set up our first house as a married couple in a humble apartment, welcomed a new fur baby into the family, made some new friends, done a lot of exploring (including a weekend getaway to Miami Beach) and a lot of cooking, eating and drinking, if I'm honest. Though I haven't posted much about it here, I picked up a new hobby this year (calligraphy) and so did G (guitar). We celebrated our first married Thanksgiving and Christmas, and tonight we'll have our first married New Year's kiss. 

And, of course, I launched this blog to try and chronicle it all. Thank you for reading, for commenting, and sharing in this crazy journey with me.

(Photos by heidi-o-photo)

Inspiration for the New Year

As we are on the precipice of a new year, I gathered together a collection of inspiring words that I'd like to stitch to my heart and carry with me, to motivate me, through 2015. If I had to choose one simple phrase as a theme of sorts for the coming year, it would be this: BE BOLD. I want to live boldly, laugh boldly, love boldly. I want to embrace the uncertain future and all its possibilities. I want to take risks, do what makes my heart sing and not fear failure. If anything, I want to welcome failure, learn from it, grow from it, and keep on going. I desire bravery, courageousness. I want to cultivate fierceness. As incredibly hard as it is for me, the one who hates change and feeling uncomfortable, I want to break out of the old habits weighing me down, live with intent and create magic.

Of course I'd like to be more organized, quit biting my nails (again!), make healthier food choices, exercise more, get my bank account on an upward swing... All those things I resolve to do every year. But I think that striving to live a more purpose-driven life will lead to a happier and more fulfilled me, and many of those things will just naturally fall into place.

Now, I know there is nothing magic about January 1. And I will need to remember that when I inevitably fumble in my grand (but doable, step-by-step) resolutions. Every day is a new day for a great day. Nevertheless, New Year's Eve does prompt reflection and the feeling that the slate is being wiped clean to start fresh and anew. So tonight, when the clock strikes twelve, I will toast to 2015 and welcome all that is to come and all that can be with open arms and a bold heart.

Do you make resolutions? If you had to pick a word, or a few words, to guide you through 2015, what would you choose?

(Image sources: Fierce, Be BraveStart TodayDo Things,

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Vanilla Rice Pudding with Raspberry Sauce

[ Rice pudding with raspberry sauce. ]

Christmas may be over, but I just have to share the recipe for a creamy, vanilla-infused, raspberry-topped dessert that my family eats every Christmas Eve. I promise it will still be just as good at your New Year's Eve dinner party tomorrow... or even another special night in the new year that calls for an out-of-the-ordinary treat. Because I understand if you just can't cook another. single. thing. But you're going to want to give this light-but-decadent dish a try eventually, if just for the raspberry sauce. (Light and decadent, you ask? How is that possible? I'm not sure, but it is certainly true with this airy and rich rice pudding.)

As evidenced by my (naturally) blonde (usually) hair, blue eyes and ultra pale skin, I am half-Danish, on my mother's side, and many of the holiday traditions I grew up with stem from those Scandinavian branches of the family tree. One tradition I have come to hold dear is having rice pudding for dessert on Christmas. Which is funny, because I actually didn't like it much as a kid. I only would eat it (or pretend to eat it) to play the game. Dessert with a game? Oh yeah. We Danes know how to party.

See, in Denmark, where the dessert is called Risalamande (French for rice with almonds), a whole blanched almond is dropped into the rice pudding and mixed in before the dessert is portioned out. Whoever finds the almond in their bowl wins a prize. In Denmark, the "almond present" is a marzipan pig but in my family the prize has always been chocolate, in one form or another. It's a fun game but we Danes, adults and kids alike, can get competitive (if memories from my childhood are correct). And if the almond splitswatch out! You might have two people fighting over the present.

[ Individual rice puddings, a chocolate snowman prize and G's snickerdoodles. ]

I can't remember even one time that I won the prize, but over the years, as my palate matured, I started enjoying the dessert more and more. Thought it is not very sweet at all, it is the type of thing I only need a few bites of, it's so creamy and rich. My dad and brother on the other hand, they generously fill up their bowls and pour the beautiful red raspberry sauce on thick.

Being far from home for the holidays this year, I found myself looking forward to the rice pudding even more than usual, if just for the nostalgia's sake. So I asked my mom to email me the recipe, her mother's recipe. Initially I assumed I'd just be making it for myself and the hubs, but I ended up being able to share this close-to-my-heart traditional Danish dessert with friends on Christmas Day. They absolutely loved the raspberry sauce, and I think they got a kick out of learning about a new-to-them cultural tradition, complete with silly game and almost-too-cute-to-eat chocolate snowman, serving as the almond present.

A quick note: My mom's mom's recipe suggested rinsing the rice and tossing any off-color (black) rice, but that is not necessary nowadays with most types of rice, including arborio rice, which is what I used. The pearl-like, high-starch Italian white rice is the kind employed to make creamy risottos, so it seemed perfect for this rice pudding, even though my grandmother's recipe called for MJB (now Farmhouse) regular rice, a long-grain white rice. I'm confident most any white rice will do.

Creamy Vanilla Rice Pudding with Raspberry Sauce
A traditional Danish Christmas dessert | Servings: 10 to 12

Rice Pudding
1 cup arborio rice (or other short-grained white rice; not instant)
1 to 1 1/2 quarts whole milk
1 tablespoon sugar
2 whole vanilla beans (alternatively, 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract)
1 to 2 pints heavy whipping cream

Raspberry Sauce
2 bags frozen raspberries
1 cup sugar

Sliced almonds, toasted, for garnish
One whole blanched almond, to play game

For rice pudding: Put rice in a large heavy pot and add water to about 1 inch above the rice. Bring to a boil. Add 1 quart of milk and turn heat to low. Stir rice. Put lid on and cook for at least 30 to 45 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent rice from sticking to the bottom and burning. If rice is stuck, try not to scrape it upyou don't want ugly burnt bits mucking up your pristine white rice pudding! (Note: I used 1 1/2 quarts of milk and it took almost an hour and a half for the rice to absorb all that milk. One quart should be plenty, and the rice will be done quicker.) Cook rice until it is the consistency of thick oatmeal. The rice should be soft and not look like rice. It should have exploded, it is so full of creamy goodness. Give it a taste—careful, it's hot!—to make sure the rice is not hard. You do not want al dente rice pudding.

Move pot off heat. Stir in the sugar. Scrape the "caviar" or seeds from the vanilla bean pods (click link for tutorial) and stir in, making sure those lovely black dots distribute evenly. Let rice cool completely.

Once rice is cool, fluff with a fork and add a little milk if it appears too sticky. Using a hand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip heavy whipping cream until firm peaks form. (Feel free to add a little sugar, to taste, since the rice pudding isn't very sweet.) Carefully fold whipped cream into rice, making sure not to deflate all that light airiness you just whipped in. Add whipped cream in batches, to desired consistency. (I needed just 1 cup heavy whipping cream.)

Keep rice pudding covered in fridge until ready to serve.

For raspberry sauce: Pour frozen raspberries (no need to thaw) in medium pot. Add about 2 cups of water and sugar to taste. (I started with half a cup and added a few tablespoons more.) Cook over medium-high heat until raspberries fall apart. 

In a small bowl, mix equal parts cornstarch and cold water to make a slurry. Stir slurry into simmering sauce to thicken. (A slurry virgin, I had to do this several times; I used about 4 tablespoons of cornstarch total.) Continue to simmer sauce to cook out cornstarch taste but once the sauce reaches desired consistency, take off heat as cooking too long can undo the slurry's power.

To serve: Scoop rice pudding into bowls or individual ramekins. Top with raspberry sauce, which can be served warm or at room temperature. Optional: Garnish with toasted sliced almonds.

-Do-ahead: Rice pudding can be made a day in advance and stored in the fridge. For best results, fold in whipping cream just before you are ready to serve. The raspberry sauce also keeps well when stored in an air-tight container in the fridge. Use leftovers on ice cream or even your morning yogurt.

-Blanching the almond: To remove brown skin, soak raw almond in very hot water for a minute or two. Remove and rub with fingers or paper towel. Skin should peel right off.

If you try this recipe, I'd love to hear how you like it! Also, do you have any holiday food traditions?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Our First Married Christmas

[ Christmas Eve service in Tampa. ]

Have you fully recovered from Christmas? I'm not sure I have! These last few days were just a flurry of activity. Much more than I had expected, especially since I had initially thought we'd be spending our first married Christmas alone, as just us two. Instead, we were surrounded by people.

On Christmas Eve, the hubs and I went to an afternoon service at Grace Family Church in Tampa before heading over to Jen (of Letters & Pearls) and Matthew's house for dinner. I made an heirloom tomato bruschetta to share (we finally made use of one of the wood appetizer platters we received as a wedding gift!), G baked up a batch of cinnamon-y snickerdoodle cookies, and the Fricks put together a delicious meal of herb stuffed pork, green beans, and red velvet cake. Oh, and I can't forget to mention the incredible bacon-wrapped dates we noshed on before. I'm not even a big bacon lover, but those little morsels were so good. Jen's tablescape was lovely, too. 

[ Christmas Eve dinner. ]

But of course, even more wonderful was the company. While I had not yet met Matthew, and G didn't know the Fricks at all, we had an awesome time chatting about life, love, work, the military. It was a night of great conversation and lots of laughs. I couldn't have asked for a better way to spend Christmas Eve.

[ Christmas Eve at the Fricks. ]

Christmas Day was even busier. Not long after waking, I got to work making blueberry muffins (using this easy recipe) and slicing kiwi. When breakfast was ready, we settled in on the couch with glasses of bubbly (Amour de L'Orange from Wiens, our favorite Temecula winery) and opened gifts. First, our gifts to each other (the biggies: G got me a Kindle Fire and I got him a white Eric Weddle Chargers jersey), then the gifts from the hubs' parents, who we called to thank later. I FaceTime'd my bestie in California so we could open our gifts to each other together, and it was so nice to be able to see her face-to-face! Technology is amazing, isn't it? I wanted to Skype with my family but, alas, they don't have a webcam. So we settled for opening gifts while talking on the phone. Not as easy as it sounds but it was still nice to be able to hear their reactions as they opened their gifts. Because that's the best part about gift giving, right? Experiencing the receivers joy and surprise.

[ Christmas breakfast. ]

After all the gifts were open, the wrapping paper mess thrown away, I was back in the kitchen cooking rice pudding with raspberry sauce, the traditional Danish dessert I grew up eating every Christmas (stay tuned for the recipe!). For my first time making the dish, it turned out great, just like my mom's. We took it over in individual ramekins to Laura and Jeremy's house, who like Jen and Matthew had graciously invited us over for dinner. Again, it was such a treat to be able to spend the holiday with friends. We ate good food, had great conversation, and I even learned a new card game.

[ Christmas Day selfie, taken at Laura & Jeremy's house. ]

Friday we decided to give the pups some dedicated attention and play time. We took them with us to lunch at Cassis in downtown St. Pete, where they got much love and affection from strangers passing by, and then we spent some time walking around the waterfront parks.

[ The dogs exploring downtown St. Pete. In typical dog fashion, Cali chased a squirrel. ]

Sunday was, of course, dedicated to football, but we don't want to talk about that. (Long story short: the Chargers lost and kissed their playoff chances goodbye.) We did take Cali and Jasper with us again though, and they were mostly good as we hung out at World of Beer and then next door, at the Avenue. We looked like quite the Chargers familyG in his new jersey, me in my girly Chargers shirt, and the dogs in their Bolts bandanas (handmade by G's mom for Christmas). If only all our paraphernalia had brought the team a little luck. Hopefully we'll be better next season... In 2015!

[ G scored tons of Chargers gear for Christmas, in time for what would be the last game of the season. ]

I hope you had a wonderful, joy-full holiday as well! Can you believe the new year is almost here? Just a few days of 2014 left... let's make the most of it!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

[ Our Christmas card this year, created with Minted using our wedding photos. ]

Right now the hubs and I are cozy in our pjs, drinking coffee, munching on muffins and opening gifts. Is there anything better? I hope your day is just as lovely, and from our home to yours, we wish you much joy this Christmas, and all throughout the year to come. xoxo

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Wrapped Up in Love

Merry Christmas Eve! Part of me is feeling like I can't believe the holidays are really here, they seem like they came so quickly. (But isn't that always how it feels?) And yet, so much has happened this year, from planning a wedding, to getting married, to moving across the country. As much as I wish I could be home for Christmas, I'm so glad that I have G by my side to celebrate with; this, our first married Christmas. They say "all you need is love" and that seems especially true at the holidays. Of all the things we want and wish for, the best gift is to be surrounded by love. No matter where the Coast Guard takes us, no matter how far from "home" we are, my husband, my love, is my home, my heart, and the one I want to spend all my Christmases with. I hope that whatever you are doing, wherever you are, that you are wrapped up in love this Christmas.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

This Christmas

It's funny, I was sure we'd be spending our first married Christmas the same way we spent our first married Thanksgiving: as just us two. And I was (pretty much) fine with that. I accepted that we wouldn't be going to any holiday parties, that we wouldn't get to see our family and friends open their gifts, that we'd have a quiet Christmas Eve dinner. But in the span of just a couple days last week, our plans changed. The hubs and I don't have many friends here, but the ones we do graciously extended invitations for us to join them in their celebrations. So! Tomorrow's plan is to attend an afternoon service at this Tampa church before heading over to Jen (of Letters & Pearls) and Matthew's house for Christmas Eve dinner. (I'm still debating what dish we should bring.) On Christmas Day, we'll wake up, have breakfast (I'm thinking of making these easy blueberry muffins, since that's what my mom always makes), and do our own gift exchange. Then I will attempt to make Risalamande, a cold and creamy rice pudding dish served with a fruit sauce (raspberry for us) that is the quintessential Danish Christmas dessert that I grew up eating every year. My mom sent me her recipe, and I hope I don't mess up! Because we'll be taking it over to fellow Coast Guard couple Laura and Jeremy's house (Jeremy is G's current supervisor) to share with them and some of their family. While I had asked G weeks ago about what he wanted to make for dinner on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and we had planned out what we would do, I'm glad that our plans changed. It will be nice to spend the holidays outside of our cramped apartment, with other people, sharing the joy of the season and traditions old and new. And we'll definitely have less dishes to clean :)

While this doesn't seem to always be the case lately, I'm glad to know that, if you have an open heart, sometimes things do work out better than you imagined.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Weekend Recap : Christmas Sparkle

On Friday night, in lieu of attending Sector St. Pete's ugly sweater party at a neighborhood sports bar (sorrynotsorryI was hoping for something a little more glam), I slipped into my new cute holiday sweater (cheaper here), put on red booties and a bright red lip (this + this), and convinced the hubs to go look at Christmas lights. But first, coffee. To get that extra cozy wintertime feeling, we stopped at Starbucks and ordered up the new holiday drink, a chestnut praline latte (yum!), and then we were off, headed for south St. Petersburg. While having lunch at a local sandwich shop a week ago, I spied a flyer advertising the Oakdale Christmas House, considered one of the biggest and best light displays in the country, so I figured we just had to check it out. With about 1/2-million lights over a half-acre, it really was quite the sight to behold, almost blinding in its beauty. My eyes didn't know where to look! I was in awe at the sheer magnitude of the display and all the time, energy and money it must take to put it up each year. Free and open to the public, the Oakdale Christmas House had many other visitors that night, and a line formed to walk a path that winds around the house and the huge yard, giving adults and kids a closer look at all the quaint (and sometimes strange) decorations, which included illuminated figures, dolls, stuffed animals, inflatables, and even a miniature railroad. While the display definitely delivers Christmas cheer, I also felt the spirit of the season exuded from all the people, strangers, who gathered together in one place to marvel at the magical scene.

Here's a glimpse into our evening...

Have you visited any stellar Christmas displays this year?

Friday, December 19, 2014

Little Christmas Scenes

Like with Thanksgiving, our Christmas will be understated this year. Just us two, though we won't be doing nearly as much cooking as on turkey day. While Thanksgiving is all about the food, Christmas for me is about the festive decorations, thoughtful gifts, twinkling lights and familiar carols... The trick this year is trying to get that warm and fuzzy feeling of the season when we are far from home, our friends and family that we miss dearly, and living in a nice but too-small-for-all-our-stuff apartment that can't really fit (or store) much holiday decor. 

Despite these potential Christmas kill-joys, I've been doing my best to make our St. Pete home feel merry and bright, by playing (and singing along to) my small collection of holiday tunes on repeat, drinking cranberry ginger shandies with dinner, mixing up mugs of mini-marshmallow-topped hot cocoa for a late-night sweet treat. We even rewarded ourselves on Sunday with a frittata and mimosa brunch (prepared by G!) for having wrapped nearly all our Christmas presents. We finally popped our holiday cards in the mail last Saturday and, while the hubs thought it was unnecessary (men), I spent some extra time making the envelopes look extra special with some washi tape. 

Since fitting a tree in our apartment would have taken a bit of rearranging, and all our Christmas decorornaments and lights included—is trapped somewhere in our over-stuffed storage unit, we decided to get a mini potted tree instead. Two, in fact. I picked up a pack of tiny metallic ornaments in the dollar bin at Target, where I also convinced G that we needed a polar bear figurine, a bit of silver garland, and one trinket for the tree to commemorate our first married Christmas. I chose a small red stocking inscribed with the word "Love." Simple and sweet. Using our collection of candles, a scrap piece of wrapping paper and white lace doilies from my stationery stash, I crafted a holiday scene on the bar countertop overlooking our living room. (The holiday release from our favorite Temecula winery and a birdie ornament I brought home from our Victoria honeymoon also make an appearance.)

Small and humble, but cheery all the same. While I find myself missing the the big tree with its sparkling lights, and setting up my family's nativity set (which was always my favorite thing to do each Christmas), I still feel a special joy when our little scene is aglow at night. It might not be grand but it has lots of heart.

Here's a peek at our Christmas, so far...

How are you celebrating the holiday season?

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