Easy chicken salad

When I was in Kansas, my mom made a yummy smoked chicken salad, and it made me realize that I had never made chicken salad myself. This is what I came up with, and I think it came out pretty well.

Chicken salad

2 large boneless skinless chicken breasts, or equivalent (a little over 1 pound)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
salt and pepper
1/2 cup light mayo
1/3 cup chopped pecans
1 cup red seedless grapes, cut in half
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place the chicken breasts on a nonstick baking sheet and sprinkle on the herbs, salt, pepper, and olive oil. Bake until the chicken juices run clear, about 45 minutes.

Let the chicken cool, and then slice it into 1/2-inch chunks.

Add the rest of the ingredients and stir until it’s all combined. That’s it!

I love chicken salad on a croissant, but it’s also great in a pita pocket, lettuce wrap, or just plain.

Huckleberry oatmeal

Mike got me the best anniversary gift — Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Every Day cookbook. As soon as I started flipping through the pages I knew it was going to be awesome, and I wanted to bookmark just about everything.

First up, I tried the baked oatmeal. The photo shows it with huckleberries on top, so I thought I would at least try to find some. I was sure I’d strike out, but there they were at the Berkeley Bowl in little plastic containers. Sweet!

I decided to skip the bananas in the recipe because I really don’t like the taste of baked bananas. But otherwise the recipe was spot-on, and by far the best baked oatmeal I’ve ever had. It’s a little bit sweet, with a little crunch from the browned top, and lovely purple streaks from the berries, which taste a lot like blueberries.

Huckleberry oatmeal
adapted from Super Natural Every Day

2 cups rolled oats
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup raw sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups milk
1 egg
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup-ish huckleberries or blueberries

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and butter a 9-inch square baking dish. In one bowl, mix up the dry ingredients (oats, walnuts, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt). In a separate bowl, whisk up the milk, egg, half of the butter, and vanilla.

Pour the dry ingredients into the baking dish, and then pour the liquid ingredients over the top. Once that’s spread evenly, sprinkle the huckleberries over the top.

Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the top is starting to turn golden brown. After you take it out of the oven, pour on the rest of the melted butter.

Stitches, big and small

You know how I made a knit sign for vending at craft fairs? Well, I loved it, but I felt like it looked a bit like a kindergartener made it. So I decided to re-do the letters for Renegade. But after the show, I realized I needed to make over the whole theme of my booth to fit in with the modern, sort of minimalist design that goes with poufs. So my new sign looks like this.

I’m disappointed that I couldn’t fit the word “knits” on there, but those letters took FOREVER to make and I decided to just let them be. I love how if you look closely you realize everything is made of yarn. And I love how the letters resemble typewriter type.

Speaking of stitching on a canvas, I got this sweet anniversary present from my grandma.

I love all the different layers — it’s a more complex cross stitch than what I’m used to seeing. My favorite part is our names stitched in those itty bitty letters.

Tapas night

Last night we got to rediscover our favorite tapas from our honeymoon in Spain. Mike knew of a place in the Mission that has a good selection, so we tried it out, and it was fantastic.

The place itself was pretty no-frills, but it had the same casual atmosphere as tapas bars in Spain, and they even had a guy playing guitar right outside.

We got Estrella Damm and a glass of sangria, and I was bowled over to find that the wine was only about $4.50 a glass. You know I love SF, but drinks there are usually in the $8-$12 range, which adds up fast.

We’re always trying to find pimientos de padron, the little deep fried peppers we had in Barcelona, and they had them!

They were so good. And I loved that all the tapas were portioned small enough so you could try a lot of them. In Spain we actually had a problem finding them small enough for two (or at least we were too dumb to order them that way).

We also had patatas bravas with a tangy aoili (sorry for the bad photo, it was dark),

fried calamari, which I didn’t get a photo of, and little chorizo sausages, which were like the best lil’ smokies you’ve ever had.

It was another perfect way to mark our anniversary. And I will definitely go back to that place if anyone else wants to try authentic Spanish tapas.

As I was going back through my photos to see if I had pictures of tapas, I realized I had some more photos from Barcelona that I never got to share. So here you go…

J.Crew for less

So while I was home in Kansas, I made the mistake of going into a J.Crew outlet store. I absolutely fell in love with pretty much everything in there, and with some unknown source of willpower I walked out with NOTHING.

But I’m still thinking about some of those goodies. I looked online, and you can actually shop the factory store, but only on weekends. It also has flat rate shipping for $8.95.

J.Crew is probably the store closest to my personal sense of style — very simple, comfortable, kind of preppy. They follow trends, but always have basics. And stripes. I do love the stripes.

Here are some of my favorites, from the regular (left) and factory stores (right):

boatneck painter tee in stripe, $39.50, tissue classic stripe tee, $24.50

eden cardigan, $89.50, cody cardigan, $44.50

perfect shirt in gingham, $72, perfect shirt in plaid, $44.50

takeaway tote, $68, classic leather tote, $118

dreamy cotton pant, $45, knit cozy pant, $39.50

Sadly, J.Crew jeans never seem to fit me. I have to stick to Gap for those.

I also noticed that if you like J.Crew’s Martina suede wedges ($228, left), you can get an almost identical pair at Target for $29.99.

And here are some more of my loves from J.Crew this fall:

1. always cardigan, $29.50

2. double cloth metro coat, $298

3. open shawl cardigan, $59.50

4. ruffle scarf, $34.50

5. vintage field army watch, $150

6.booker boots, $298

Exercising willpower, exercising willpower…

Our travels

Even though Mike and I have only been married a year, we’ve actually been together for 7 years. And when I was going back through photos of us together I realized that although sometimes I think we are hampered from traveling by money woes or too much work, we’ve actually been a lot of places together!

Prince Edward Island, Canada – August 2008

Eureka Springs, Arkansas – October 2008

Grand Marais, Minnesota – January 2009

I’m usually a homebody, but I don’t think either of us can stand to stay in one place too long. And even when we don’t have the money for a big trip, we seem to find a lot of staycations to keep us occupied.

Chicago – March 2009

Ft. Collins, Colorado – May 2009

Barcelona – September 2010

Seville – September 2010

American Gothic House, Iowa – August 2007

I love how in so many of these pictures we have goofy expressions on our faces or are looking completely wind blown or freezing cold. Travel is about adventure, good or bad.

Big Sur – December 2010

Denver – June 2011

Fort Sumpter, South Carolina – July 2006

Muir Beach, California – December 2010

Green Mountain, Colorado – March 2005

We have about a mile-long list of places we still want to go. Now that we’re on the west coast, Alaska and Hawaii are high up on the list. I’ve already been to Alaska three times (thanks, Erin!), so I’m thinking Hawaii wins.

Newport, Rhode Island – August 2008

The Grotto of the Redemption, Iowa – May 2008

Somewhere in Mississippi (our proof we stopped there) – July 2006

At the top of Mt. Evans, Colorado – May 2009

Pella Tulip Festival, Iowa – May 2008

Mono Hot Springs

So the surprise anniversary trip was … Mono Hot Springs!

Apparently after an attempt to book a cabin in Big Sur failed, Mike discovered this resort tucked away in the Sierra National Forest. And when I say tucked away, I mean this is the most remote place I’ve ever been.

To get there, you have to drive up into the mountains, and the last 20 miles are on a precarious one-lane road with two-way traffic, where the speed limit is 10. In two months the road will be closed, as it’s too crazy to plow.

Right after this sign was a handmade one that read, “Residences ahead. No shooting.”


But there is definitely a payoff for making the treacherous drive. It is absolutely beautiful out there.

This time of year the weather is warm and cloudless during the day, and just chilly enough at night for you to enjoy a fire with s’mores.

Our cabin was nestled up against a HUGE pine, with little blue lizards skittering all around the rocks.

I couldn’t help but feel like this place is a little “Northern Exposure.”

Every morning the dreadlocked server at the one and only restaurant comes down to the general store in her bathrobe and hiking boots. Breakfast is a microwave-it-yourself burrito with a side of gossip from the previous night.

Someone told us the bears up there were “tidy”, but you should still roll up your windows just in case. It’s a little kooky, but also kind of great.

In order to get to the original hot springs, you have to cross a creek via log. Fortunately, our balance was good enough to make it.

We took a brief dip in Old Pedro, but he was really, really hot. And since it was pretty hot outside, we couldn’t stay too long.

So we did what any couple would do on a relaxing anniversary trip. Pretty much nothing. I read three magazines. We rocked in rustic log rocking chairs. We stared at the stars. It was bliss.

The second day we decided to go for a hike up to one of the nearby lakes.

It seemed like we passed every picturesque landscape you could imagine. First you scramble up a rocky hill dotted with giant pinecones.

Then you come across a marshy field full of tall reeds. Then you get to the lake, which is sparkling with rippled water and full of lilypads and flopping fish.

Then you come to a meadow, where you feel like you should skip and sing a wholesome song.

You pass other little ponds with ducks swimming along.

And finally you come to a quiet creek, where tiny frogs are jumping into the water. At that point we heard a tree crack and fall in the woods. It was like nature’s little reminder that it can be harsh, too.

Mike got to do a lot of birdwatching, which is definitely one of his favorite pastimes. We saw a bunch of yellow-rumped warblers and at night we heard a great horned owl hoo-hoo-ing.

I don’t know about you, but I feel like there is no worry that nature can’t cure. A little time out there does so much for the soul.

Being in California has really gotten me back in touch with this. All of the answers are out there. It’s the only place quiet enough for you to hear them.

On the drive back we actually got stopped by a logger who told us the road would be closed for a few minutes while they cut down one of those massive pines. Sure enough we watched it wobble and then come down with a huge explosion. (Apparently they remove some of the dead ones to help with fire prevention). Then they lifted it off the road and we were on our way.

I hope every anniversary is as wonderful (and woodsy) as this one has been.

One year ago…

I won’t be here to blog on my anniversary (Sept. 18) because Mike is taking me on a surprise getaway for the weekend (!!), but I wanted to give you a little look back at what was, in my totally biased opinion, the greatest wedding of all time.

Whenever I look at the pictures, I just have to smile at the total expressions of joy on people’s faces that day. Everyone looks like they are having so much fun, and that was the whole point.

Planning a wedding and living a marriage are two totally different animals. I feel lucky to be with someone who loves me for exactly the person I am, and who supports me in all the crazy decisions I make in my life.

So just for fun, here is a ridiculous number of my favorite photos from the wedding. A few of them I’ve never posted before. But just so you feel like you’re getting something new, I’ve made them BIGGER. Enjoy!

All photos by Joe and Libby Crimmings.

DIY coffee bean roasting

So while I was staying with Erin, she showed me how she roasts her own coffee beans in a popcorn popper. It’s actually really easy, and you learn how differences in the length of roasting time can vary the taste of your coffee. It’s kind of like wine snobbery for coffee.

You start with green coffee beans, which you can order from Sweet Maria’s.

You heat up the popcorn popper, then add a scoop of beans, and wait for it to do its magic.

As the beans heat up, the popper pushes off little shreds of the shell, and the beans eventually start to darken and make cracking noises. You can tell by the sound of the cracks how ‘well done’ your beans are.

After they’re done roasting you toss them back and forth between two strainers to cool them off a little, then let them sit and cool some more. By morning you’re ready to grind ’em up!

I can’t wait to get an air popper and try this myself. I want to have the smell of freshly roasted coffee beans in my kitchen.

No place like home

I saw this Amish buggy going down the road in rural Missouri next to SUVs.

My mom was going to come out and visit us this month, but we kind of decided at the last minute to change the trip so that my sister and I went home to Kansas instead. Even though it’s wonderful here, I hadn’t seen my family in a long time, so I’m glad I got away for a few days.

It ended up being kind of a whirlwind trip. The first night we got together with our good friends Liz and Galen. While there, we realized their house is only about a block from my aunt Rox and uncle Jerry’s house, so we walked down there and saw them, too. The next day I drove up to Des Moines and had lunch with three of my breakfast club girls. Then I drove on to Kirksville, MO to see my best friend Erin.

She and her husband just bought a house and got two adorable kittens.

Erin is quite the hostess, so of course she planned a great dinner, complete with HUGE steaks, bruschetta with local heirloom tomatoes, and grilled romaine lettuce. Have you heard of that? I don’t usually like wilty greens, but the smoky flavor is amazing.

Yeah, that steak laughed in my face.

Then Erin taught me how to roast your own coffee beans, which I’ll show you in another post. It’s so cool!

The next morning she had to work, so I drove all the way back to Kansas so I could go bargain shopping with my mom and Megan. We loaded up carts of stuff to try on at NBC, and bought quite a few things. I hardly ever buy clothes anymore, so it was really nice to indulge a little. And then I got to take home an extra suitcase full of clothes that Liz can’t wear since she lost a bunch of weight. Thank goodness she is such a stylish lady!

After shopping, we went to my aunt Lark and uncle Randy’s house in KC for a mini family reunion. My sweet grandma was there, and she gifted Mike and I a cross-stitched piece with our wedding date on it. I might have welled up a little over that one. And we also got to see my cousins and their spouses (and dogs Lucy, Quincy, and Rudy).

I shopped some more in Lawrence, lunched with my dad and stepmom, helped my mom organize her antique mall booth, and probably a lot more I’m forgetting. Oh I know what I’m forgetting.


My mom’s boyfriend got a matching Boston terrier, so now Charlotte has a buddy.

Unfortunately, she is used to being the only dog around, and she pretty much hates him. But it’s pretty darn cute to see the two of them together.

Now I’m back with my own doggies and doing California things like ordering double doubles at In-N-Out Burger. Yum!