Monday, September 28, 2009

Mac N Cheese Take Three

As you may recall, I'm on a personal mission to discover the best Mac n' Cheese recipes out there. So far my results have been so-so, see here and here for details. Last week I tried a new Mac n’ Cheese recipe from a Pampered Chef Recipe Book my mom recently got me. I’m really excited to try more recipes out of this book as 29 minutes cooking and prep time is right up my alley and the first recipe was easy to follow. Plus some of the recipes just sound delicious! Yum!

That said, I wasn’t exactly impressed with my first recipe choice from the book: Butternut Squash Macaroni. It’s really good in theory, especially for people like me who have a tough time digesting dairy. The squash gives the dish a cheesy color and is keeps a creamy texture so you don’t have to use as much cheese. The problem is, squash doesn’t have quite the flavor that cheese does so it isn’t a stellar substitute. It didn't help that I had to use a four-cheese mix when the recipe called for a six-cheese mix… for the life of me I couldn’t find the “Italian six cheese mix” the recipe mentioned and maybe if I had, it would have tasted better. The flavor was just lacking a little. So I plan to try this one again because it was really simple and definitely has potential. It just needs more cheese for the mac! Oh, and I used whole wheat pasta to make it even healthier, I imagine with the lack of cheese, I should have kept with regular pasta to balance it out. The good news is I found a new favorite pasta brand that I can use next time (I'll share it with you then)>

Look how intense Matt was when giving it the first taste test. His response? “It’s okay.” And that’s exactly what it was, OKAY. Not great and not bad, just somewhere in between. I’m confident it will be better next time.

If you want the recipe, let me know and I will happily share!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Four weeks ‘til THE BIG day!

I would say the countdown begins, but that’s not exactly true. I officially started tracking (vaguely) how many days until our wedding around the 100 days left mark. But really, I have been waiting for this event since very early on in our relationship. How early? I looked back at emails and found April 1, 2008 as the first mention of getting married. Yeah, and we officially started dating on March 20th so I really have been ready for the wedding since the very beginning!

But don’t get me wrong, I love being engaged. Anytime I get antsy, I remember that we only get this time once, so enjoy it! Lots has happened since Matt and I got engaged on August 2, 2008.

I quit a job I loved. • Got a new job. • Moved to Knoxville. • Moved in with Matt. • “Girlified” the house. • Had knee surgery. • Went to six weddings (and I never even caught the bouquet! But Matt did catch the garter at Scott and Hanna’s wedding). • Spent way too many days in Louisiana. • Survived a snow storm in Portland and Seattle. • Cheered in person as the Zags beat UT in Knoxville. • Went to Nashville and loved it. • Went to Birmingham, Alabama for the first time…and Charlottesville, Virginia…and Raleigh, North Carolina…and Charleston, South Carolina. • Discovered a home away from home in the Oregon-inspired town of Asheville, NC. • Hosted my sister and niece. • Hosted our good friends Mat and Alison. • And hosted my soon to be in-laws. • Zip-lined through the Smokies. • Met new, fabulous friends in the South. • Missed my family and friends from the NW. • Taught Matt how to enjoy craft projects (invites, anyone?). • Swam in the Atlantic Ocean. • Camped near a swamp. • Met lots of Matt’s relatives – from his MOMma’s side. • Built a snow fort. • Got lost in a corn maze. • Got better at tennis. • Bought a Wii and mastered the Wii Fit soccer heading game. • Visited with fabulous friends in San Diego. • (Get ready for the cheese) Fell in love over and over again!

It’s been a wonderful 13 months. The 14th month will fly by but I intend to soak up every minute. My last month as Cara GISH – how weird is that!?

Can’t wait to see everyone at the wedding, it’s going to be such a special event and I can’t wait to share it with those I care about most! See you in 28 days!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Always time to dream of a vacay!

Yes, I have my honeymoon booked and its quickly approaching (in 32 days – not that I’m counting). But since that’s already decided and I’ve already studied the resort website for months, I’m ready to start dreaming up the next trip!

I don’t know when we’ll take said trip, maybe next summer, depending on where we move, how much we are making, yada yada. But the dates aren’t nearly as important as the where! And I want your input, so please vote! And for the record, I’m pretending that budgets don’t really play a part here.

1. Italy and Greece
I realized a month or so ago that it has been seven years since I studied abroad. SEVEN years!? I can’t believe that much time has past and it makes me itch for a return trip oh so bad. Matt and I have both been but I really want to experience it together. I want to show him all my favorite places and discover new ones together. Just looking at pictures of Cinque Terre and Florence makes my heart race! Plus I want to experience Italy when I’m not on a college student’s budget!

We would probably fly into Rome and spend time in Florence and Cinque Terre.
Then off to Greece! I spent a few days in Athens when I was abroad for school but not nearly enough time and my true dream Greece destination is Santorini. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen pictures so beautiful!

2. Africa
Safari? Yes please! Seeing African animals in the wild and not in the Portland Zoo? Yes please! Hiking to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro? Yes please!

I was supposed to go on a trip like this at the end of my year abroad, but sadly the war started and the trip was deemed unsafe by the school and we couldn’t go. It makes me want to go THAT much more! And fortunately, Matt thinks it sounds pretty fantastic too!
Yes - that's a giraffe with Mt. Kili in the background - aweseome, I know!

And pretend that is a perfect world and we can go during June or July 2010 and be there for the World Cup. AWESOME! Matt and I both love soccer (I love to play more than watch and he loves to watch more than play, but still, mutual love.) 3. Hawaii
I’ve never been! And I’m banking on moving further west late Spring so the travel to Hawaii wouldn’t be miserably long. We could sip Mai Tai’s, soak up the sun, enjoy a pool with an infinity pool, go on hikes, zipline again, go to a Luau, discover beautiful waterfalls. Ahhh, I’m relaxed just talking about it!
4. Caribbean Cruise
The only cruise I’ve been on was on the Blue Danube and it was a small ship with mostly old people (by mostly, I mean I was the only person under 50 there). It was fun, but when I say cruise here, I mean a completely different experience. Although, I definitely expect the food to be equally delicious because that seems to be a staple of every cruise ship! I really don’t know a lot about Caribbean Cruises but they sound fun! Here are some highlighted activities:
-Climb Jamaica's Dunn's River Falls.
-Go mountain biking in Costa Rica's rain forests.
-Snorkel with stingrays.
-Go horseback riding on the beach.
-Dive 800 feet below sea level in a research submarine.
-Discover the inhabitants of a coral reef on a glass-bottomed boat.
-Explore ancient civilizations as you climb mysterious Mayan pyramids.

Doesn’t sound (or look) so shabby does it? Plus a big cruise ship would be a first for Matt and I and I love firsts!
See why this is such a tough decision and why I need your input? Please vote in the poll on the right handside of the screen.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Cardioke - HOLLER!

So I should probably be embarrassed to admit this, but I just did the entire Cardioke workout video with Billy Blanks Jr. It was on Comcast OnDemand as the top favorite video, so why not, right!? Well I did it, and I did break a sweat but I was dancing like a freak and singing very badly, all while laughing at the ridiculousness.

So what is Cardioke you ask?
Iioke= singing while you dance

Yeah - interesting combination, especially when they choose artists like the Pussy Cat Dolls to dance and sing along with. I encourage you to just what a few minutes of this segment of the video and you'll see just how hilarious Cardioke is...but aparently it is a popular trend. And if you have Comcast, you can go ahead and try the workout yourself!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Happy Birthday Matt!

Matt turned 28 on August 25th – his last birthday as a bachelor! I was really excited to surprise Matt with a new adventure. In May I saw an ad for Wahoo Zip and knew that’d be the perfect birthday activity. I kept the idea in my back pocket for 4 long months without giving any indication – I was proud of that!

The ziplines are located in the Smokies which is only 45 minute drive from Knoxville and very scenic. If you visit their site you can see how they promote it with selling points such as “over 2 miles of cable.” I was sold!

So I told Matt we were going on a surprise outing and we had to leave the house at 11:15am. He asked what to wear and I basically said anything, just not flip flops so he started thinking we were hiking or something. And then we started driving towards the mountains and he was really thinking something outdoorsy. We were driving on some random back roads and the first sign for the zipline appeared. He was definitely surprised – he didn’t even know the place existed! I was so happy to pull of a surprise because normally I am so excited about something like this that I give to many hints and can’t keep it a secret. (Don’t worry, he still doesn’t know what my wedding dress looks likes even though I did slip up and tell him the designer.)

The ziplines were awesome. I definitely recommend going sometime, somewhere. At first we thought it might be scary but it really wasn’t at all. We got to go on 6 different lines and they mixed it up for us:
*We got to hang upside down
*Ride tandem
*Race each other on side by side lines (Matt won)
*And they grabbed the line and bounced it as we were zipping
I wish I could have taken pictures of Matt while he was going, but I had no where to hold the camera and he did. You can bet he was yelling WAAHOOOO as he zipped!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Matt and I went on our very first camping trip together over the fourth of July. Both of us enjoy camping and have gone with friends but have never been responsible for bringing all the gear, setting up a tent and starting a fire. We were quite proud of ourselves when we had a pretty smooth experience. We did have some lessons learned though:

  • Book early! The reason “rustic” campsites were all that were available that weekend was because people book WAY in advance and “rustic” means it is really close to the swamp which means there are lots and lots of bugs (notice the Citronella candle front and center in the picture - these were a critical resource for us!).
  • The South is not the Pacific Northwest! Camping in South Carolina is very different than camping in the PNW. You DO NOT need sweats and sweatshirts to sleep in, in fact you don’t even need a sleeping bag because it is so bloody hot you can barely sleep.

  • Check your equipment before you get there. When Matt says he is “pretty sure” his blow-up mattress is a queen or a full, do not wait until you’re at the campsite to check and see and find out it is only a twin.
  • Bring plastic bags for the cooler. Our cooler was great for keeping things cold, it was also great for keeping things soggy!

And here are the highlights of the trip:

  • An ocean you can enjoying swimming in! The upside to the South being so much warmer than the PNW is that you actually enjoy getting in the ocean and swimming! This was my first time in the Atlantic Ocean since I was too little to remember and I thoroughly enjoyed it!

  • Being rebels! Alcohol is prohibited in state parks so we had to sneak it, because you can’t camp without beer, especially when it so bloody hot. So we propped up a log to hide our beer and wine as we sat by the fire and had to sneak our empty bottles to the dumpster. We probably need to hide it as much as we did but it was kind of fun to be act like we were in college again and trying to sneak alcohol in the dorms!

  • We did it! And we plan to do it again! Did I mention that we were proud of ourselves? We are and are excited to get even better at camping in the future (which also means planning trips when it isn’t so bloody hot out!).