Tuesday, August 21, 2012

White Lab Coats, Coconut Macaroons, Elf Poses & Jello Shots

We spent the weekend in Detroit celebrating my sister's graduation from The University of Detroit Mercy's Physician Assistant Program. We are all so proud of her and everything she has done over the past two years to get to this point. Her dedication and drive are beyond anything I can imagine. I'm telling y'all, no one studies as hard as my sister!! 

My dad, also a Physician Assistant and (distinguished) graduate of the same program, had an extra glow on Friday as Andi walked across the stage and received her long white coat. He is SO PROUD. 

We celebrated with dinner in Detroit's Greektown on Friday night where we enjoyed our favorite stuffed grape leaves, saganaki (flaming cheese) and after dinner treats at Astoria Pastry Shop

Andi, my parents and I hopped into the Greektown Casino to see if we could could win any lucky money! It was quite a memorable experience and the graduate won a whopping 85 cents.

...while Mark and Natalie guarded our bakery sweets. If I could send each of you a coconut macaroon and baklava from Astoria, they would be delivered to your mailboxes tomorrow. SO GOOD. 

The celebrations continued with a party with family and friends on Saturday night. Andi's cake was from the same bakery that used to make our birthday cakes when we were tiny little lovies! The Pastry Palace creation was as decadent as we remembered it being.

We even threw in some Jello shots for good measure. Gummy bears at the bottom though? Not necessarily our best idea but they made for a lot of laughs and puzzled faces. 

It was a weekend filled with lots of love, tons of celebrating, quoting The Santa Clause and of course, good food. 

So proud of you Andi. Congratulations on all of your hard work! Now pass your test and get to Charlotte! Oh, and Ozzie, too. XOXO

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Spicy Kale Chips

I was slightly weirded out the first time I made kale chips, but there is something about them that strangely leaves you wanting more. When the kale is torn into small pieces and roasted, it cooks up to a crispy, chip-like bite that kind of crunches and dissolves in your mouth. Mark's calls them ashes but I call them delicious! Absurd, but good and very satisfying. An addictive, yet healthy snack is a success in my book!

A Pour Olive customer came into the shoppe last week and said she made her kale chips with the zesty and spicy Harissa Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Harissa is a hot chili sauce from Tunisia that is made with serrano peppers, chilli peppers, garlic and several herbs and spices such as chili powder, coriander, cumin and caraway. The flavor is outstanding and packed with some heat. This totally kicked my usual kale chips up a few notches. Spicy kale chips are my new go- to snack!

Spicy Kale Chips

Kale, washed and torn
Harissa Extra Virgin Olive Oil*
Sea salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Wash and pat kale dry. Rip into bite sized pieces and place in a large bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Toss until all of the kale is glistening.

Spread on a baking sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes, until kale starts to crisp up.

*If you are not local to Charlotte, try making your own spice mix for your kale chips. Add salt to it and sprinkle when the kale is tossed with olive oil.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Well, there is no reason for this post other than wanting to have a dated blog entry on the day we closed on our first home together! After tiring weekends, and many drives between Illinois and North Carolina, we finally found a winner (with a lucky bright red door!) The house hunt was an overall exciting process and the weeks leading up to our closing were smooth and painless. You just never know what to expect we feel very fortunate to have had such a positive experience all around. 

Our little Illinois rental home will always hold a special place in my heart- It's where we spent our first year plus of married life and I wouldn't have traded that time for anything in the world.  Memories were made and our life together began. We knew that our Illinois adventure was not long term so on the flip side of the mushy gushy "I heart Illinois" stuff, it's wonderful to be back in Charlotte where we have roots and where we know we want to be for the long haul. 

We spent yesterday afternoon testing out paint colors on the walls and doing a little planning. It's a slow process but I know that we will have fun making our house a home. 

And...a quick yet GIANT shout out to the best realtor on this side of the universe. Nick Baker did a fantastic job and helped us find the perfect spot to call home. He spend countless hours and literally drove us to one end of Charlotte and back, several times, in order to make sure we were happy. Nick is a dear friend and I cannot sing his praises loud enough. If you are local to the Charlotte area and need an excellent realtor, please call this guy! I promise he will take care of you and you won't be disappointed. Nick is part of the Keller WIlliams Stephen Cooley Team.

 If you call him, say "Hello, Saint Nick!". He'll know that I sent you. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Greek Salad Bites

Good things come in small packages, right? I'm completely in love with all mini, bite-sized foods right now. I love the way they look lined up, perfectly plated and easy for guests to grab. Small bites have my heart and if I have any say so, the second annual Moore-McConnell New Year's Celebration 2012 will feature a spread entirely made of small bites. Mini grit cakes topped with shrimp and andouille sausage? Somebody hold me. 

For the highly anticipated Olympics Party at our friends' house, Mark and I were in charge of representing the Greeks in the form of food. I knew that these Greek Salad bites were a must and had to make an appearance on the table. These little cuties are easy to assemble, full of flavor and were a giant hit! The olympics may be over, but Football season is just around the corner! These would make a great addition to your Saturday tailgate spread!

Greek Salad Bites

Grape tomatoes, cut in half horizontally
English cucumber, cut into thick rounds then quartered
Kalamata olives, cut in half horizontally
Feta cheese, cubed
Olive oil
Red wine vinegar
Salt + pepper

Cut all ingredients and place in a medium sized bowl. Drizzle with olive oil, red wine vinegar, then season with salt, pepper and oregano. To assemble your bites, start with a feta cube on the bottom. Next, stick on your cucumber and tomato, then finish off with a kalamata half and you're done. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Puzzled About Pesto?

To me, Pesto is like the Italians' answer to ketchup. It's delicious it's perfect for everything from dipping to spreading to using as a base to saute and liven up the most boring of vegetables. A traditional Italian pesto, Pesto Genovese, is made with basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil and parmesan cheese. But what about Roasted Red Pepper Pistachio Pesto? Avocado Arugula Pesto? And Spinach Walnut Pesto? Those are all pestos, too, right!? 

I cannot remember for the life of me who I had this conversation with recently, but someone asked me what pesto is? I was completely stumped and felt like an Italian failure because I really didn't know what to say! I was thinking in my head "well, I guess it's just a bunch of good stuff mushed up together to make a toe die for sauce". Ummmm...okay, Nina. Clearly, I am as puzzled over Pesto and as luck would have it, I came across this editorial question from The Charlotte Observer. This is the perfect explanation and thought I would share.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Summer Sip: RJ Rockers Son of a Peach

I completely forgot about this beer find from last Summer until it popped up as a draft special on Mellow Mushroom's menu. Mark and I bought this beer while vacationing on Kiawah Island last Summer with my family and it was a favorite sip! It turns out that RJ Rockers Brewery is located just about an hour from Charlotte, in Spartanburg, SC. If you are local to North or South Carolina, keep an eye out for this stuff! It's not too sweet and fruity and the spices give it a nice kick! I love ordering this beer on draft but I remember the bottled being just as refreshing.


Ashley and I enjoyed a nice little al fresco dinner date last night and Son of a Peach made it's way into our frosty glasses. Twice.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A Little Mid-Week Motivation

Are you all as addicted to The Olympics as I am? I just can't seem to get enough. Not only are these athletes inspiring, but they have given me a serious kick in the pants and the desire to set goals, train harder and make every workout count. And when the Olympics are not on? I'm thankful that Mark always gives me that extra push I need to work harder and really challenge myself. There are days that I wake up and just am not feeling it, but I always remember, that you NEVER feel worse after working out. I lost about 45 pounds back in college and ever since making those healthy changes to get my body where I wanted it to be, I have maintained my weight for nearly 7 years now and it's the best feeling ever! Knowing where I once was helps keep me on track everyday. It's not about crazy diets or unattainable goals. It's about making positive changes towards a healthy lifestyle that you yourself can maintain.

My friend Jen started a 30 Day Fitness Challenge on Facebook (Operation: LGN- Look Good Naked) and it's been so much fun! We have a huge group with daily check ins, posting workouts and just pumping each other up. Accountability is HUGE in my opinion. If you are checking in with friends, your spouse or your family, it's less likely that you will skip a workout for the day. Knowing that others are making healthy decisions, too is a constant motivator. 

I am not a fitness expert or an exercise guru, but I am happy to share what works for me! Here are some of my tips to JUST DO IT.

1. Plan your workout time in advance! If you know you are meeting your girlfriends for dinner after work, set your alarm and hit the gym before work. If you plan on working out after work, don't go home to change! Pack a gym bag so you're ready to go.

2. Workout with a friend! If you have someone to meet, you are less likely to bail on them, or your workout. Plus, working out with friends is fun! 

3. Mix it up! When I first started losing weight, I was running. I saw the weight just melt off but then I hit a plateau. By adding strength training, yoga and other forms of cardio, I really started to see my body tone up and change shape! I'm a huge fan of high intensity workouts like Crossfit. 

4. Get fitted for proper shoes! If you plan on running, check out your local running store where specialists can conduct a gait analysis and fit you for shoes that work best for your feet. When running, good shoes make all the difference. The first time I got fitted my sophomore year of college, it changed my running life drastically. There is nothing like hitting the runner's high. And good shoes are a part of that!

5. Buy cute workout clothes! I know it sounds silly but invest in some bright colors and items that make you feel like a babe. If you feel good in what you are wearing, you are more confident and ready to crush your workout. I prefer to dress head to toe in NEON. I'm in love.

6. Pump up the jams! Music is a known mood booster and what you listen to can positively (or negatively) effect your workout. Load your iPod with an energetic playlist and keep it on shuffle so you never get bored. I also switch out new music every couple of weeks. My playlist never fails me; Britney, Beyonce, Lady Gaga, and J. Timberlake anyone!? Pandora is a great music source as well! My favorite stations for workouts right now are Pitbull, Jock Jams (seriously), Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch and Journey. 

7. Fuel your body the smart way! When we eat properly and put good things in our body, we are more likely to take care of it in all areas. It also goes the other way around- the more on track you are with your workouts, your brain tells you to eat fresh and healthy. I know that when I get off track and have a few off days, I'm more likely to skip workouts and eat even worse. Hold yourself accountable, treat yourself once in awhile and remember that at the end of the day, a flat belly starts in the kitchen. Healthy eating could be featured in a whole separate post! 

8. Keep a positive attitude! This is the most important one. Always remember that you never feel worse after working out. We all have good workouts and not so good workouts, but 20 minutes of something is better than 20 minutes of sitting on the couch thinking about doing it. Set small goals along the way and remember that you get what you put into it.

Go for the Gold. Nike style. Just do it.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Making a Statement

Statement necklaces are everywhere this Summer! I used to almost always go for a fun pair of earrings but lately, I love throwing on a big chunky necklace to add a burst of color to a simple outfit. I love the bright, happy colors of Summer and I have been embracing them fully.

My go-to necklace right now is my Bridier Baubles Coco Necklace in coral! This necklace is such a fun piece and I receive compliments on it every time I wear it. It's surprisingly very lightweight, too! I love pairing my Coco with a basic tank and a skirt or shorts. Super easy and fun for Summer. My Coco also joined me when Mark and I attended an evening wedding last month. It's the perfect piece!

I was introduced to Brider Baubles through Twitter and I cannot get enough. It was love at first sight when I placed my first order (the coral Campbell Chandelier earrings). No less than a week later the turquoise and gold Ashley Necklace was posted and I ordered immediately. Kerry has a gorgeous selection of fun statement pieces as well as everyday pieces to add to your jewelry collection. The prices are phenomenal and the service is impeccable. I don't know what I was more smitten with the first time I ordered- my beautiful earrings or the handwritten note! You all know this goes a long way with me and it was definitely a perk that left me singing Bridier Baubles praises! 

Check out all of the beauties on the Bridier Baubles website- do you see the Nina Pendant!? LOVE!!  Kerry's baubles get scooped up fast, so be sure to like the Facebook page and follow on Twitter, too to get up to date information on re-stocks and specials. Happy Shopping!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Eggplant Caprese Stacks

I know, I know. ANOTHER eggplant recipe. I just can't get enough! I could eat eggplant for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And probably even some kind of dessert. Eggplant does tend to have a strange texture and I find you either love it, or you hate it. I think I fall in the category of being obsessed. What I like best about eggplant is that the neutral flavor takes on whatever you pair it with, making it easy to experiment with. 

My grandparents have been sharing their garden fresh tomatoes and Caprese always makes the top of the list for simple Summer sides. This time, I roasted eggplant slices to anchor the Caprese stacks with.  And all stomachs left the dinner table happy.

Roasted Eggplant Caprese Stacks

1 eggplant, sliced 1/2" thick
tomato, sliced
fresh mozzarella, sliced
basil leaves, whole
good olive oil
salt & pepper, to season

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Slice eggplant and arrange on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and let sit for at least 10 minutes. Water droplets will form on the eggplant slices, pat these dry. (this takes the bitterness out). Brush eggplant with olive oil and season with salt and pepper on each side. Bake for 20 minutes.

To assemble caprese, stack eggplant, mozzarella, basil leaf and tomato. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Wine of the Week: Espiral Vihno Verde

Vihno Verde is quite the delightful sip! Last week's pick was so perfect for Summer that I decided to look for another bottle to enjoy this week for our outdoor deck dinners. I love this wine chilled, and the bubbles are so refreshing.

This bottle of Espiral  was a steal at the friendly price of $4.99. Trader Joe's, I love you.