You’ve Got Mail…Trick-or-Treat!

My name is Ashley, and I am addicted to Pinterest. There, I said it. If you aren’t familiar with Pinterest, it is an online pin board to post and share your favorite things. I promise you, once you get started pinning to your boards, you can’t stop.

This weekend has been a Pinterest weekend. So far, I have tried out a recipe for Nutella dip, a recipe for baked zucchini sticks and sweet onion dip, and made 13 ounces or less mail. The recipes turned out great, but wait…What was that last one? Let me explain.

Take one of these…

…add these items (forgive the bad quality of the photos, I was using my cell phone):

…and voilá! You have these:

Next question: What the heck are these? These bottles are filled with Halloween gifts to mail to my niece and some friends with little ones back in Athens. Since they can’t come and trick-or-treat at our new house four hours away, I thought I would mail Halloween goodies to them.

I wanted to mail something that would be a surprise the moment they opened their mailboxes, so I started looking around on Pinterest for ideas. I ran across this great pin called “13 ounces or less,” which linked me back to this fabulous post on Giverslog about thinking outside of the box –literally– when it comes to mail. I had no idea you could actually mail a rubber ball, flip-flops, plastic Easter eggs, and water bottles filled with toys and candy in the mail!

For my Halloween-themed mail, I included chocolate eyeballs, butterscotch, candy corn, chocolate coins, pencils, stickers and activity books. It was a lot of fun to do, but let me give you a little advice if you try this:

  • Use a water bottle with a flat bottom. I tried using an empty Coke bottle and an empty Cheerwine bottle, but the grooves and curves of the bottles kept shifting things around. SmartWater bottles would probably work best.
  • Cut a slit vertically in the middle of the bottle to insert the larger items. It was easier to start inserting larger items and then add the smaller items. Cover the slit with clear packing tape once all of the items are in the bottle, and then stick the mailing label around the center of the bottle.
  • You can mail items that are 13 ounces or less as first-class mail. I weighed each filled bottle at 9 ounces a piece and calculated the postage on the USPS website. I can mail each bottle for less than three dollars!
  • Be careful! I scratched up my hands a good bit inserting all of the toys and candy in just the right places, so I suggest using some long tweezers or even a hemostat to help push and pull items in to place.

I hope my favorite little ones enjoy their trick-or-treat by mail. Happy Halloween!

Welcome to the Lowcountry!

So I ended up taking a bit of a blogging break. The Dutchman and I have been on a bit of a rollercoaster lately, and it seems as if the ride is finally beginning to slow a bit. Not that I am complaining. We have big news…We packed up our lives and moved from the Classic City to the Lowcountry! From Athens, Georgia, to Beaufort, South Carolina, to be exact.

Beaufort, South Carolina

Here’s how it all happened: The Dutchman graduated from nursing school and successfully passed his boards. After weeks and weeks of pounding the pavement for jobs, one of us finally caught a break. The local hospital in Beaufort called and wanted to interview him immediately for a job as a surgical nurse. Two days later, we drove down to Beaufort for a whirlwind one-day trip so that we could visit the area and he could participate in his formal interview.

Now I am not one to be superstitious, but let me just say there were “signs” that this job for the Dutchman and our move to the coast was meant to be…

Sign 1: “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor (greatest pump-it-up song ever!) played on the radio before he went in the hospital for his interview, and he came out with a big grin on his face after meeting with the hospital staff.

Sign 2: After his interview, we decided to go dip our toes in the Atlantic Ocean before we drove the four hours back to Athens that evening. We saw a lady walking on the beach with a beagle and a lab/mutt mix that reminded us of our little four-legged children (we have a beagle, a lab, and a mutt). I also found an intact dried sand dollar during low tide on the beach. I have always wanted to find one, and the Dutchman kept it in his pocket for safekeeping for me.

Sign 3: A move is always a precarious thing in that you wonder if you made the right decision to totally pack up your life and move away from all that feels comfortable and normal. New town, new people, new everything. However, we got our answer to this question not long after we moved to Beaufort.

On our first day to really go out and explore Beaufort and Port Royal Island, we wanted to take pictures to send back to our family and friends. We had no idea where to start, and as luck would have it this is the first photo I took:

Rainbow over the bay in Beaufort, South Carolina

Welcome to Beaufort. Home sweet home!

Out of the Blue

Being married to a Dutchman has opened up my world to lots of exciting new things. Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet, amazing cheeses, De Toppers, cool bicycles, gorgeous architecture, and hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles that you sprinkle on toast slathered with butter–yes, you read that unusual combination correctly, and yes, it is really good).

So let’s talk about architecture for a moment. Specifically a unique representation of Dutch architecture, KLM Delft Houses. Between 1952 and 1993, KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines), produced 60 miniature blue and white Delftware houses that were given as gifts to business class passengers. These souvenir houses were modeled after Dutch canal homes and filled with Jenever, a juniper-flavored liquor (similar to gin).

KLM Delft Houses (photo courtesy Effervescing Elephant via Flickr)

 In 1994, 15 houses were added to the collection to celebrate KLM’s 75th anniversary. Since then, on October 7th of each year to celebrate KLM’s birthday, a new house is added to the collection. No.91 is the most recent addition, released October 7th, 2010.

 

Needless to say, I’m hooked. Since I decided to start my own collection, I have found people are mad about these cute little houses. According to the Wall Street Journal, even some celebrities are crazy for KLM houses: “Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel García Márquez once requested a full set of houses as partial payment for writing something for KLM’s in-flight magazine, says Ken Wilkie, the magazine’s longtime editor. KLM refused because it only distributes the trinkets aboard its planes on intercontinental flights, and then only in business class.”

Luckily, thanks to eBay and some Dutch friends, I have 21 houses in my collection. However, it looks like people’s infatuation with KLM houses have gone from collecting and trading these miniatures to inspiring a street of real-life KLM houses in Amsterdam.

The Oudezijds Armsteeg was formerly a badly run-down street in the city’s red-light district. However, it has been given a new lease on life thanks to architect Kees Doornenbal’s “Out of the Blue” designs inspired by the iconic KLM houses.The outside walls of each building are painted in a shiny white to make them look like they are porcelain. The window frames and eaves are even painted in royal blue to mimic the blue used in Delftware. 

Definitely a place to visit next time you are wandering around Amsterdam!

Hot Fun in the Summertime

A friend of mine sent me a note on Facebook, and I thought this was too good not to pass along:

Alright, it’s already super hot.  Every other Facebook status update I read is complaining about the heat.  And it’s not even ACTUALLY summer yet.  As I was reading them, I thought “When I was a kid, summer was awesome.  It was what we LIVED for! So, I decided to do that again. Yep, at the ripe old age of 34, I’m gonna quit bitching about summertime and make it a good thing. 

What was your favorite summer activity as a kid?  The ice cream truck that came through the neighborhood?  Building forts with the neighborhood kids?  Give me your ideas and I’ll try them. My goal: to do an idea a day (I do get Sundays off) until Labor Day.  They can be little things.  They can be big things!

Laser Show at Stone Mountain Park (image courtesy of Jimmy Baikovicius)

Is that not a great idea? So here are a few of mine:

  1. Eating my Mom’s homemade peach ice cream straight out of the ice cream maker. I can remember the sweetness of the peaches against the faintest taste of rock salt that would sometimes sneak its way into the top of the ice cream container as it churned away.
  2. Splashing in the rain puddles that pooled in our driveway after a quick downpour.
  3. Picking up the most pennies on the bottom of the pool and being crowned “Penny Queen” for the day during swim lessons at the neighbor’s pool.
  4. Going to the local Dairy Queen with my Dad and getting a grape Misty or a chocolate dipped cone. After we ate our treat and played on the playground, we would ride home with the windows down with the warm, humid summer air whipping around us. We always had to get home before the Atlanta Braves game started. The Braves may not have been so great in the 80s, but my Dad always made sure he was home to cheer them on as they played in Fulton County Stadium.  
  5. Sitting on Memorial Lawn and being mesmerized by the images from the Lasershow at Stone Mountain Park, all building up to the big finale of fireworks!
  6. Watching lightning from a far away storm while sitting on the dock of my aunt and uncle’s lake house on Kingsley Lake.
  7. Peaches, strawberries, watermelon, warm homemade peach cobbler and ice cream, tomato sandwiches, Sliver Queen corn, Vidalia onions, Mom’s piping hot pound cake straight from the oven, three-bean salad, candy necklaces, penny candy and ice pops.
  8. Watching “Days of Our Lives” with my mom as she folded laundry. I couldn’t leave to go to my swim lessons until 1:56p.m. Monday-Friday, as this is the time “Days” ends each day. While Patch and Kayla, Jack and Jennifer, and Shane and Kimberly may have moved away from Salem, I am glad to see the rivalry between Stefano DiMera and Victor Kiriakis is still going strong.
  9. Playing tag outside with my friends until the streetlights came on. Then we would catch fireflies as our parents talked about the latest neighborhood gossip.
  10. Going to visit my grandparents. I can still feel my Papa, or “The Crusher,” giving me one of his famous bear hugs and my Grandmother telling my Dad to “put some stockings on me so my feet won’t catch cold,” in spite of the blazing summer heat outside.

These are just a few of the countless memories that I have of summer. Do you have a couple that you want to share? Then leave a comment or two here and I will pass them along to Dawn, or you can post your suggestions and follow Dawn’s adventures at Summer of Dawn. Good luck Dawn, and since you are a child of the 80s, don’t forget to wear some Jams! Yes, that is me and my brother rockin’ some Jams shorts (circa 1985, I think). My Mom is going to kill me when she sees I posted this photo. :0)

Hello again, and Hello Summer!

So a lot has transpired since my last post from months ago (insert embarrassing shame for taking so long to post here), but I am back again. Now on to what’s on my mind…

I love trying out new dishes at home from around the world. Aside from the Dutch and German food I cook for the Dutchman, we have feasted on traditional Irish, Jamaican, Thai, French, and Austrian fare, along with the usual Mexican and Italian food. I have to admit I have always shied away from attempting Chinese cooking at home, though. I have enjoyed watching Ming Tsai try to show me a thing or two and I can make a decent Chow Mein, but when it comes to Chinese cooking I am a bit intimidated by some of the ingredients and some of the cooking methods. However, I have recently discovered Ching-He Huang, the cook behind Chinese Food Made Easy on the Cooking Channel and BBC 2. Now I am sure there are a lot of Chinese food purists who would say that her food is not “real Chinese,” but I am just a home cook looking to expand my dinner repertoire, not set the world on fire with my version of Egg Fried Rice.

I recently tried Ching’s recipes for “Pork and Prawn Dumplings” and “Chicken and Vegetable Spring Rolls.” Not only were the recipes easy to follow and did not require a trip to the Asian market located an hour away from home, they were fun to make! I also like that Ching makes substitutions for traditional Chinese ingredients with ones that most home cooks have in their pantry. The dumplings were really great with a dip I made from light soy sauce, rooster sauce, rice wine vinegar, fresh ginger and sliced green onions. The spring rolls were light and crispy, and the five-spice powder that was mixed intro the chicken and mushrooms gave these spring rolls a slightly smoky flavor that went well with the red chili and ginger sauce I served them with. Add an ice-cold beer on a hot Friday night in June and you have a great dinner for the start of summer!

Ching-He Huang

Happy 2011

Happy New Year!

I am sure every region of the world has their own special New Year tradition. Philadelphia has the Mummers Parade, the Dutch have their oliebollen, and the Scots have their haggis. Now I am from the South where football is like a religion, you say yes ma’am and no ma’am to any lady regardless of their age, and no matter what, you eat collard greens and black-eyed peas for New Years.

Collard greens represent money and good fortune, and the black-eyed peas are for prosperity and good luck.

Here’s a little tip: Don’t add extras to the collard greens. No chopped garlic, onions, red pepper flakes, or sesame oil. I’ve even seen a recipe for collard greens with barbecue sauce. No! Just go with this tried and true method that came from Mrs. Ella from Starke, Florida: Cook the collard greens with a ham bone, some water, a generous pinch of salt and a good amount of cane syrup. Cook the collard greens until they shine. That’s when you know they are ready to eat. Soak up the potlikker with some warm cornbread, and you have pure Southern heaven on a plate. Happy New Years, y’all!

I have a new obsession…

Crochet. Who would have believed it?

Until recently, whenever I heard the word “crochet” I always thought of those terribly garish granny square blankets made of itchy wool that always seemed to be folded on the back of my friends’ grandmothers’ couches. Well, let me put it this way, crochet has come a long way, baby.

All rights reserved by colourmad1

All rights reserved by colourmad1 (via Flickr)

There are many great videos on YouTube you can watch that will teach you the different stitches needed in crochet. I like that I can pause and rewind in the middle of a clip and really try to learn how to accurately make a stitch that I am learning. I have made two scarves just using the single crochet stitch. With Christmas right around the corner, when is a better time to learn something new that can be turned into a special homemade gift?

If you are looking for some inspiration, or just want to see some amazing crochet work, check out these blogs:

Attic 24

Rosehip

Sarah London Textiles

Wood & Wool Stool

Emma Lamb

Have fun!

It’s Been a Long Time…

So it’s been almost a year since I have updated my blog. Ouch. Time really does fly by.

That said, here are some things that have been going on:

1. I finally learned how to crochet. Now I have a fabric and yarn obsession, and I must stop at every quilt shop, yarn shop, or somewhat crafty-looking store we go by. My husband is so thrilled…
2. Losing your job to budget cuts and outsourcing is a scary thing, especially in this economy. However, I am so excited about the new job opportunity to come (whatever and wherever that may be).
3. The Avett Brothers, Kings of Convenience, and Ben Folds are still on a heavy rotation on my iPod. Hey, it may not be Lady Gaga but it works for me.
4. Tim Gunn rocks.
5. People may laugh at you when you tell them you are taking a cheese-making class, but they sure don’t mind eating the cheese you make once you have learned how to make it. Also, homemade cultured butter is the most amazing thing ever. Ever.
6. I have way too much blue fabric.
7. Veggie burgers, quinoa, and bacon jam, (yes, bacon jam) are really good if you give them a chance. Just don’t eat them all at the same time.
8. No matter how many weddings I direct, that first kiss between husband and wife is always magical.
9. Nigella Lawson is as beautiful, warm and friendly in-person as she is on TV. And for the men: Yes, her chest is that amazing in real-life, too.
10. My magazine addiction has only gotten worse. Now add all of the craft blogs that I read to my reading list, and I definitely waste way too much time reading about trashy celebrities and awesome crafts I will never make. I guess it could be worse.