Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween =)

 Happy Halloween!
Our little Yellow Jacket =)
Before our Halloween Party on Saturday night.  I'm a witch and can you guess what Marc is? 
 We've been looking forward to Halloween for weeks (I even bought dry ice for my "witches cauldron" of candy).  We bought 8 bags of candy in anticipation of all the trick-or-treaters in our new, kid-friendly 'hood.

Then we heard from our neighbors today that hardly any kids come trick-or-treating since we live in the city!  We were a little bummed, and at first it seemed like we weren't going to have any kids stop by the house.  By 6:30 we'd only had about 3 kids (infants with parents).  We tried to stay in good spirits, but we were pretty disappointed by the lack of cute, little costumes.
Marc's pumpkin - this pumpkin is particularly scary since there's blood on it (he sliced his finger reeeal good carving this guy)
My pumpkin!  Inspired by Jack from Nightmare Before Christmas.
Well - I guess the Denver kids trick-or-treat late, because once 7:30 hit, it seemed like the flood-gates opened.  In all, I'd say we had about 30-40-ish kids trick-or-treat at our house and we loved it!  Everyone was so friendly and I had a great time seeing everyone all dressed up.  Several of the little ones even sang the full song, and they were blushing the whole time (especially the "I'll pull down your underwear!" part).  (the parents made the kids sing, not me!)

My favorite costume of the night - three little girls dressed as "sushi".  Imagine it.  They wore all white, with green belts and pink pillows tied to their backs.  SO cute!  I'm totally going as sushi next year =)

I found immense joy in all the kids that came by and commented on our "fun pumpkins", and one neighbor even said our decorations were "an inspiration to the rest of the folks on the street".  We were apparently the first ones to decorate our yard this year, and I guess the beauty of my fabulous fall-scape inspired the rest of the street to join in the Halloween decorating fun!  It was the greatest compliment ever - then they told me they were excited to see our Christmas decorations.  Talk about pressure!

Okay - it's, like, impossible to take non-blurry pictures in the dark.
I know some people aren't into the whole "Halloween" deal and that's definitely been us in the past.  However, I don't know, maybe it's because we have a beautiful niece and nephew now, maybe it's because we have a dog, or maybe because we have a house that's fun to decorate, but we had a lot of fun with getting in the Halloween spirit this year. 
Happy Halloween from the Bloomington Felices!
Hope your Halloween was great!  I can't wait to see pictures =)

(PS:  Marc was Dwight Schrute from the Office - did you figure it out??)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Success! Adventures in Canning

Well it's official.  Snow is literally right around the corner (we're supposed to get 3-5 inches tomorrow night - ahhh!) which signals the beginning of real fall weather (sounds strange...but that's the reality of "real fall weather" to me now...heh) and the end of summer and our garden.

Marc and I were quite the horticulturalists over the summer and I was thoroughly impressed with the fruits of our his labor =)  We had tomatoes and zucchini and peppers (bell, banana and jalopeno) galore!  By the end of the summer, we had so much produce, we didn't know what to do with it.  There just aren't enough recipes to make us want to continue eating zucchini and tomatoes (which says a lot - I'm a huge tomato fan and if I'm sick of them, you know we had a lot) so we were left in quite a pickle...what to do with all of this extra produce?

We've been intrigued by the concept of canning for quite some time, and threat of the first frost gave us an excuse to get our booties in gear and do some research.  It turns out, it's really quite simple!  Just a few pieces of extra kitchen gear, a recipe you love, and some creativity and POOF - you've got freshly made canned goods that are made with something you can't buy in the


The benefit of canning versus just freezing is that you actually preserve the food, so you can store it on the shelf (depending on what it is, of course).  The stuff we're looking to preserve can be stored for up to a year in the cupboard - which is awesome since our fridge is teeeeeenie weenie.

Here's what you'll need to get started:
  • - Canning jars with lids and rims (dubs...hah not really)
  • - Wide mouth tongs (to pick up the jars)
  • - Magnetic lid "picker-upper-thingie"
  • - Large pot for boiling your jars
  • - Wide mouth funnel (depending on what you're canning...if it's a runny liquid than a normal funnel would probably work)
  • - A recipe you love enough to can =) (this part is key)
Awww kitchen gear.
The big pot on the left was for canning - the pot on the right was for the marinara sauce.
We weren't positive where to go to get all this stuff at first, and the chick at our local Target told us to go to Ace Hardware (???).  We were a little shocked at the recommendation, but I'll be darned, Ace had everything we needed!  PLUS they had recipe books and a TON of jar sizes.  We were impressed.

Also, Ball Jars has a very helpful website that has some basic tips and easy recipes to use as a guide.  The photo below is linked to their website.
As if it's any surprise, Marc and I decided to try canning his marinara recipe first.  Shocking, I know, but we love it!  Recipe to come in a later post.

One thing to note when you're making a homemade recipe, you have to check and make sure what you're cooking has enough acid to be preserved.  If there's not enough acid, you may have to add some in order for it to preserve successfully (just adding vinegar or lemon juice).  Because tomatoes are super acidic, this marinara recipe didn't need any extra acid - just something to be aware of if you try this on your own.

Your first step is to sanitize all your jars, lids and rims (dubs...heh).

After they've completely dried, begin filling them using the funnel, making sure to leave at least a 1/2 inch of space to the top of the jar.  Before placing the lid on top, wipe the lip of the jar so that there's no food reside, it should be completely dry (also, try not to touch the inside of the jar with your hands since the oils can affect the canning process).

Use the magnetic jar picker-upper-thingie to place the lid on the jar.  It might seem silly to use the magnet, but again, you don't want to touch the lid since you can contaminate and affect the seal with the oils on your hand.

After placing the lid, secure the jar with the rim (dubs...hah...sorry it doesn't get old) - you can use your hands to tighten the jar (but be careful if the jars are hot from whatever you're putting in!).  The little "pop top" of the lid should be sticking up right now.
If you look closely, you can see that the lid is slightly "popped up".
After you seal the jars, it's time to boil!  This is where the preservation happens.  Boil your jars for the length of time the recipe you're making requires (of course, if it's a homemade recipe, go by what's standard on the website for something similar).

For our recipe, we boiled for over 30 minutes (okay embarrassed to say I have no clue how long exactly - Marc was in charge, but pretty sure it was close to 45 minutes of boiling).

After boiling is over, remove the jars with the tongs (this is where the special canning tongs come in very handy - you don't want to drop those bad boys) and place on the counter to cool.  Now it's time for patience, you need to wait until the jar is almost completely cooled and check the pop-top seal.  If the the top of the jar doesn't "pop" then you have successfully preserved your food!
Our little workstation on the stove.
Awww...happy jars of homemade marinara, just boiling away =)
Marc did not want to "pose" for these pictures since he was scared of dropping the jars, so they're a little blurry.
All done and preserved for the future!  If you look closely, you can kiiind of tell that now the "pop top" is sunken in - meaning the preserving process was successful!  (this took a few tries for some of them)
We really had so much doing this over the weekend - I'm looking forward to making a few more recipes and canning them for the winter.  I have a summer salsa that I love to make, and I'm excited to know that I can make a bunch and preserve the rest.

Hope you enjoy!  Happy canning everyone =)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Happy Times =)

What a fabulous week it's been!  We've been enjoying some incredible weather out here (low-mid 70's during the day) and I was thankful to have the opportunity to share this with my mom and Lee Ray, who came to visit us last weekend.  I've been looking forward to my mom visiting since we moved here (2 years ago this week!) and I'm happy to say, the trip was a success!  It was so great to have her here and I honestly didn't want them to leave.  Here are a few highlights from our trip.  Enjoy!

Mom and Lee Ray arrived.  Since their flight got in a little late, we made this a really chill day and just stayed around our place.  I drove them around our neighborhood on the way back from the airport (this is a favorite past-time of the Porcheddu's - Marc finally understands where I get it from!) and looked at all the pretty houses.  I also lectured them on the importance of staying hydrated while visiting Colorado (a common problem for flat-landers - stay hydrated or you can get altitude sickness!).  That night, we took some time to catch up and sat around the living room, opened a bottle of wine, and ordered from our favorite pizza place, Attivo Pizza (best pizza in Denver, by far!!).  I definitely love nights like this =) 

We debated whether we should head to mountains on Saturday or Sunday, and opted to stay in town on Saturday since it was supposed to be windy.  Another relatively chill day of watching football, going on a few walks to soak up the beautiful weather, and running minor errands around the house (we normally would never do this with guests over, but they forced us to!).  We also drove past one of the homes that Marc and I really like (potential new home??) just to show them the neighborhood.  My highlight was going on a long walk with mom to my favorite spot, Cheesman Park.  She was quite "wow-ed" with the scenery and amazing views of the mountains.

That night for dinner, we went to a great local spot, Le Central, which is this awesome little French bistro just down the street.  We ordered their famous moule frites (mussels and fries - don't knock it till you try it!) and then went to another favorite spot for dessert, Sweet Action.  Sweet Action is this fantastic ice-cream shoppe that specializes in some pretty funky flavors (green chile, spiced mocha, salted caramel) in addition to sporting some vegan options.  Everything is sustainable and the hippie in me is obsessed with this place =)  I ordered a double with Reese's Pieces and red velvet cake ice cream (to die for), Marc got the Reese's with their pumpkin pie ice cream (very good!) and Lee Ray ordered their cinnamon gingerbread ice cream (tasted like Thanksgiving - yummy).  Mom opted to be healthy and just took a few bites of our ice cream...lame =)

Sunday was our famous "Colorado Day".  We started off the morning with a fabulous breakfast, courtesy of Lee Ray.  He made a full southern spread of bacon, eggs, biscuits, gravy, and a potato/zucchini hash (we had to use up our zucchini!).  Our tummies were quite pleased...but a little sad we had to go on a hike later =)

Good morning!  Mom and Lee Ray cooking our gravy - yum =)
To show how much I love my mom - a "pre-makeup" picture =)
Chef Lee Ray - our kitchen master =)
Look at that spread!  Full tummies are definitely in our future.
The whole group - Happy Sunday!
Thankfully we don't eat like this often...but it was a great treat.
After breakfast, we had to fight off the food coma and head up to the mountains!  The road up to Mount Evans was closed due to blizzards (yep!), so we just drove to Echo Lake instead.
What a beautiful backdrop!
My mom was so excited that there was snow on the ground =)
A little snowball fight may or may not have occurred =)
Wish this wasn't blurry!  Look how smiley Marc is!
My mom decided she wanted to take a piece of Colorado home with her - so she pulled up a few saplings.
...I'm pretty sure this is illegal but oh well =)
Heyo!  My mom really liked this "action shot" of me ducking under a tree =)
So cute - walking down the snow path =)
After our hike around Echo Lake, and quick stop at the lodge to get a pressed penny (yes - they were obsessed with getting that pressed penny), we continued our drive to Frisco to show them a cute little "touristy" mountain town.
There were still some Aspen trees that hadn't dropped all their leaves just yet - I was so happy to show my mom these beautiful, gold trees!
A quick stop in Frisco for some coffee and a cookie =)
Enjoying our warm drinks before we head home.

After we got home, we were POOPED!  But we mustered up enough energy to cook a fabulous dinner.  Marc made an incredible pasta dinner with my Nanni's meatball recipe - after hiking all day we were quite thankful to have such a yummy and satisfying meal.
While Marc cooked dinner, mom and I enjoyed some wine and french bread with dipping oil.  That bottle of Crown was full the day before...
Marc the master chef for dinner - browning Nanni's meatballs to perfection!
So sad - the smell of meatballs always brings Polly to the kitchen =)

Nanni's meatball recipe combined with Marc's sauce - a perfect fusion of old and new =)
AH hate this is blurry - but Happy Sunday Dinner!
And that really wrapped up our trip!  It was so much fun to have my mom and Lee Ray visit, and I was sad to see them go home on Monday morning.  This was the first opportunity I had to "host" my mom for something, and it was really kinda fun!  She enjoyed seeing how we use all our grown-up stuff...I guess it's interesting for a parent to see what quirks they passed on to their progeny.  I'm pretty uptight about pillow placements on the couch and my mom thought it was hilarious, since that's DEFINITELY something I got from her =)

As with any guest visit to Colorado, my goal is always to try and convince them to move here (the more people I love that move here, the less reason I have to move back East!).  I'm happy to report that this trip was another stunning success.  I have started the brain wheels a-churnin on yet another East Coast skeptic, and my mom is now considering moving here-ish...

Maybe not in a serious she's-putting-her-house-on-the-market-tomorrow kind of way, but I think in a hmmmm...when-my-daughter-starts-having-kids-it-may-be-fun-to-move-here kind of way.  Either way, I'll take it =)

And there you have it!  I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend - we sure did =)
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