CHOPPED Championship 2015

CHOPPED

So, as mentioned in my previous post here, to ring in my 29th birthday, we held a CHOPPED Championship competition at our house — and boy, was it FUN!

For those who haven’t seen CHOPPED, a little background: Chopped is a cooking competition on Food Network, where three chefs battle it out by creating dishes using secret ingredients that are hidden in a mystery basket — they do not know those ingredients until they open the basket right before they cook.  Each chef MUST use every ingredient in the basket, as well as have the option to use ingredients from a limited pantry.  The chef who has the worst dish is CHOPPED, and then two chefs battle, and then eventually you are left with a Chopped Champion who wins!

Since we only have one oven/stove (and we all aren’t chefs, by any means), I had to adjust the rules of Chopped a little to accommodate.  I paired everyone up into teams of two.  Each team was in charge of a type of dish: appetizer, entree, and dessert.  The team that was cooking that dish purchased ingredients for a different team’s basket, so no one knew what they were going to be cooking with until it was time to cook. Each team had 45 minutes total to prepare their dish: 5 minutes for planning, 40 minutes for cooking.  Meanwhile, while that team is cooking, the remaining chefs trash talked, drank delicious wine, and enjoyed watching the cooking team panic 🙂

After each dish was completed, the chefs that weren’t cooking would taste and judge the dish on a scale from 1-5 on the following three categories: taste, presentation, and creativity.  At the end of the competition, all scores were added, and the team with the highest score was crowned the 2015 Chopped Champions!

FIRST UP: Team Appetizer!

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Mystery Ingredients: BBQ Flavored Goldfish, Lil Smokies, Vanilla Pudding, and Kiwi.

WHOA!  I really thought this was a hard basket — good job Team Dessert for choosing these items! Team Appetizer were champs though, they jumped right in and got to work! They used the goldfish to create a bread crumb to coat the sausages and used the pudding and kiwi to blend together with spices (and random sauces from my refrigerator) to create a dipping sauce. And, it was dang delicious!!

The Result:

 

NEXT: Team Entree!

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Mystery Ingredients: Shrimp, Jicama, Hard Root Beer, Fruit Loops

Uh, so.. this was freaking HARD!!!  Good job Team Apps for picking these ingredients!  I was on Team Entree, and when I saw the Jicama, I drew a complete blank.  But, We acted quickly, and thought — Shrimp Tacos.  We toasted some tortillas and made a Jicama chip in the oven, cooked down the root beer to make a sauce (adding in the fruit loops and extra spices), and created a tasty cabbage slaw with onion and red peppers.  It turned out pretty tasty, and definitely looked pretty!

 

FINALLY, Team Dessert!

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Mystery Ingredients: Fruit Punch flavored “Santa Beard” candy, Glazed Donuts, Raspberries, and Radish.

Since I bought the ingredients for the dessert basket, I actually thought they would be pretty easy.  They weren’t for that team though, completely stumped on radish!  They did amazing though — ended up melting down the candy and and creating a candied radish with it, created a chocolate raspberry sauce to drizzle over a BROWNIE they made (holy cow–they only had 40 mins!), which they topped with homemade whipped cream and layered on top of the donut!  It was intense — and super sweet — but they did an amazing job!

 

In the end, only one team could prevail — and that team was….

…drumroll please…

…..

TEAM APPETIZER!!

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It was a close run, but ultimately, their appetizer was amazing and very delicious. I actually wish I had more of it… right now. 🙂

This had to be one of the best birthdays ever —  I’m so lucky to be surrounded by the greatest friends and family — and for those who made it out to this MONUMENTAL event — thank you!  You guys are my heroes, and I don’t know what I would do without you!

Until next time.. and there will be a next time — I’m already pumped for a rematch! 🙂

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[Long Overdue] Holiday Wrap-Up!

Happy 2016!!!!

Wow, what a whirlwind of events that consumed the end of our December!    Since we were so busy, I failed at the blogging game and have been absent for almost 2 weeks!  Where does the time go?  Oh wait, I have a toddler.. 🙂

Christmas Eve was very low-key.  Dada had to work, so Ella and I enjoyed our evening walk, followed by baking cookies for Santa, and decorating a gingerbread house.  We ended the evening snuggled up, watching Inside Out, before the little girl called it a night. Then, Santa came!

Christmas day was lovely — we spent it with family and the little girl was SO excited to open presents!  Watching her was the highlight of the day, she would unwrap the paper from the gift (and I mean, every last piece of paper HAD to come off), then she would want you to physically open each gift from its enclosure before moving on to the next. It pretty much took all day to open presents, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!  Gift highlights: large stuffed Simba, play kitchen, outdoor play treehouse, and plenty of noise-making gifts from the grandparents and uncle!

Christmas night, we received terrible news about my cousin’s passing (previously written about here).  A few very confusing days followed, and before we knew it, it was BIRTHDAY FIESTA WEEKEND!!

Just for backstory — every year, we celebrate “Birthday Fiesta Weekend” — which is basically the last two days of the year and first day of the next.  My birthday is December 30th, then New Years Eve, and then New Year Day.  Growing up, I HATED being born so close to Christmas — but as I aged and the dawn of “Birthday Fiesta Weekend” was upon us, I realized I probably have the best birthday ever.  Pre-Ella — these three days were notoriously known for drunken debauchery.  As we’ve aged, we’ve toned it down… a little. 🙂

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This year, we celebrated my birthday night by hosting a “Chopped Championship.”  More info on this to follow, as it was an awesome night and so much fun — and too much to include in this wrap-up post.  It deserves a whole post on its own, for sure!  29 is going to be an amazing year!

New Years Eve, we enjoyed delicious snacks and tasty beverages, while watching the festivities on TV and playing party games.  We ended the evening with a fire in the backyard, roasting marshmallows, watching the neighbors light off fireworks and lanterns (much like the ones from Tangled — I’ve seen too many Disney movies 😉 ). We danced, sang, and had an amazing time ringing in the new year with those we hope to share it with for the months to come.

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So far, 2016 has been beautiful.  We’ve started it off right with big goals and dreams for the future (which will be a later post, I’m sure).  We are definitely looking forward to an amazing year!

Hope everyone had a safe — and fabulous — holiday!

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Until I See You Again…

2015 has been a very interesting year.

There have been many laughs, smiles, and happy memories made — but as in all life balance, there have been some good cries, struggles, heartbreak, and loss.

There’s something about death that really puts life in perspective.  Death is inevitable. We all know that someday, whether it be tomorrow or 50 years from now, we will die. There’s no escaping it. It’s one of the few things we, as humans, all have in common. Yet, many times when someone dies, we are surprised. Baffled. Shocked. Confused. We say things like, “Wow, she was so young!” or “Man, he had so much more life to live.” We feel many different emotions – anger, regret, sadness, agony, and maybe, for some, a tiny bit of relief or happiness (depending on the situation, of course).

As I get older, I’m noticing more and more that people I know are passing. It shouldn’t be a surprise to me — as I get older, people I know and love are getting older too, and that’s just part of life.  But, it is interesting how as I age, I feel I notice it more than I ever have. And, I allow it to affect me more — it’s that weird heavy feeling in your chest that just kinda sits there for a while, and you can’t seem to shake it.

This year, we lost several family members.  Four of those hit pretty close to home for me — two grandparents, our family dog, and most recently, a dear cousin. It’s funny how when these passings happen, one of the first things you think about is the last time you spoke to that person or saw them. For me, sometimes my mind then drifts to wonder if I did enough during their life to ensure they knew I loved them. How will I know? Did I ever ask?  There are so many unanswered questions — but really those answers I seek are merely for my own conscience.

I was recently listening a a podcast that briefly talked about “giving warm hellos and goodbyes.”  Although this wasn’t the focus of the podcast, this stuck out to me — kinda like a bright light that I’ve seen before, but never really noticed, if that makes sense. So often we become robots to our daily routines, and sometimes we forget to take a moment to spread a little love to those we hold dear.  A warm hello, a kind how are you, a meaningful goodbye, I love you — but with feeling, and meaning it with everything.

No matter what is going on in your life, or how “busy” you may be or feel — there is always time to share a warm hello/goodbye with someone.  You truly never know if that hello, that goodbye, or that “I love you” will be the last one you are able to say to that person.  Every passing moment is another chance to turn it all around.  Taking a few extra seconds to create a genuine moment with someone is worth it — and in the end, you will know the answers to your questions, and maybe — just maybe, you will find peace.

Hello.

Goodnight.

I love you.

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WEEK WRAP-UP [in pictures]: “It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas..”

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Well, friends, we’re four days away from Christmas!  It’s so hard to believe! This year has seemed to FLY by!  It’s also hard to believe because Florida has decided to not participate in winter at all this month.  We are actually predicted to have a 90 degree Christmas — the hottest on record since the 1980s.  Really, Florida?  C’mon..

Even though the temperatures outside weren’t showing it, we were definitely getting in the spirit! Our week started off with spending some quality time with the “Godfather” at our local farmer’s market.  Ella wasn’t so much interested in the market, but more-so running around and attempting to climb this giant tree.  She had a blast.

We also found a new park (!) — one that actually has an area for little ones under 5 years old.  We haven’t found one since we left Jacksonville, so this was huge for us — and Ella had a ball!  The park seemed to be on Christmas overload — there was a huge tree in the center of the park and all the trees were covered in Christmas lights. Ella loved it, especially the tree!

We also made treats for Daddy’s work!  We made several types of cookies and one of my favorite things to make: cupcakes in a jar — we call them “emjays.” We made two kinds: Red Velvet with Cinnamon Cream Cheese frosting and Chocolate Cake with Fudge Frosting/Peppermint crumbles. They were delicious and everyone seemed to enjoy them!

Momma and Dada also attempted to plan a visit for Ella to meet Santa Claus for the first time.  It was almost doomed at the start: our Christmas outfits were all long sleeved, pants, heavy (and HOT!) dresses.  Being that it is Florida — and 90+ degrees — I had to be quick on my feet and improvise a new outfit for the girl to wear.

She was cute as a button, for sure.  We went to meet Santa at Disney Springs, which was awesome and so festive. However, she was NOT having it.  It wasn’t that she was afraid of Santa, she was just more interested in running around and looking at other people than sitting on this guy’s lap. Maybe next year. 🙂

We wrapped up the week by enjoying a very brief bout of cooler weather.  It was lovely being outside and watching our girl have fun, roll around in the grass, and cloud-watch. She always knows how to remind me to put things in perspective — this life is truly awesome.

We hope everyone has an amazing week!  Looking forward to spending time with our lovely family, eating delicious food, and seeing our little bean’s face on Christmas morning when she opens her presents!! 🙂

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“Slow down, You’re Doing Fine.”

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It’s strange how the best job and the most challenging job are the same: being a momma.  You hear people say it over and over, you read it in all the books, but I don’t think you truly understand it until you become a momma yourself.

I’m a type-A personality — I’m a planner, a to-do list maker, a person who prepares for what is to come, and before it even happens, has a back-up plan – just in case! I’m dependable, an over-acheiver, a workhorse, and people can entrust me to do the job, do it well, and go above and beyond expectations — because, trust me, no one else has higher expectations than I do of myself, and I’ll be damned if I don’t hit them.  And, if for some reason I don’t hit those expectations, I will beat myself up about it — forever. It’s a blessing and curse, and I’m a work in progress.  I’m learning everyday how to relax, be more “in the moment,” and to not be as tough on myself if I fall short of what I “planned” out in my mind. And, as much as I may not want to admit it, I thrive on words of appreciation, words of encouragement, and praise for a “job well done.”

When I worked in the corporate world, I would seek out ways to separate myself from the pack.  Whether it was something like bringing donuts on Friday to make everyone smile, finishing a project a week in advance to be ahead of the curve, or creating a process improvement to make everyone else’s job easier — I was your girl! And, I loved hearing that I was awesome, even if I played it off being modest or negated it by saying I could always be better — it still was motivating to hear. It pushed me a bit further, and I liked being the one my boss could depend on to produce quality work.

One of the difficulties in leaving the corporate world to be a stay at home momma is the questioning of whether or not I’m doing a good job.  There aren’t any projects due, deadlines to hit, quarterly evaluations to hear feedback on what I can improve on — and my boss, well — she’s two.  And her vocabulary consists of very profound (and important) words like “cat,” “ball,” “tree,” “car – beep beep!,” and “PINK!”  Sure, I can find success in the sheer fact that she’s alive and healthy — but there’s this unspoken fear of am I doing it right? Am I doing enough? Is there anything else I could be doing to be a better mother?

I know many mommas ask themselves these questions.  And yet, we do everything we can, put our heart and soul into raising our beautiful little humans, but then lack confidence in whether we are “good enough.” Or waste time comparing ourselves to other Moms, thinking we aren’t doing enough because “so and so did x, y, and z today and I was so tired I let my little one watch movies all day.” Why do we do this?

When your little one is so little they can’t really communicate to you, it’s tough to know  — or to feel, rather — that you are doing a good job, or that they are happy with your “progress” in this hard, time-consuming job of being “Momma.” But really, it’s all about the little things — and even if they can’t use the words to say “You’re doing great! Keep it up! You’re on your way to getting a raise/promotion!” — sometimes, it’s the unspoken words, the extra snuggles, the sweet little smiles and kisses that confirm it — you know, I might just being doing okay after all.

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“Dolce far Niente”

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Tonight, after I laid Ella down for “night-night,” I came into the living room and sat down on the floor.  The TV was off, the only lights in the room were from a lamp on our side table and our Christmas tree.  The only sounds were a quiet humming from the washing machine in the laundry room and sweet Geera purrs on the couch behind me.  I had just finished cleaning up the house for the day, already ate dinner — all I wanted to do was just sit and “be” for a second.  That second turned into minutes, and before I knew it, those minutes turned into a full hour.

It’s so easy to get consumed by our day to day life — and I’ll bite and say, especially when you are a parent.  Everything I do, say, think is for my loved ones — T, Ella — and sometimes I forget that everything I do, say, think should be for me, so I can be better for those I want to give my everything to.

People say as you get older, time flies by — and I’m already experiencing that this seems so true!  But really, time is going by at the same rate it always has.  It’s constant — a second is a second, a minute is a minute — whether you are 2 years old or 28 or 80.  I think the difference is, as we age, we spend so much of our time doing things for others,  wishing for more time for ourselves.  And, before we know it, another day is done, and you find yourself sitting on the living room floor already thinking about the to-do list for tomorrow.  Thinking, maybe if I can scratch this or that off my to-do list tonight –then maybe I’ll have an extra 30 minutes to finish that book, or paint my nails.

Why is it we put the things we want to do on the back-burner? As if, the things we want to do are a reward for doing the things we “have” to do. What if we put some of those “wants” as a priority for a change — giving ourselves a chance to “sharpen our saw.” The laundry will still be there tomorrow — so why not spend the evening doing something you want to do instead?

I’m a list maker — I make lists for my lists. I have a list of things that I would love to have “more” time to do, but for some reason, I never give myself the time to do any of these things. It’s classic, but I’m one of those people who have big dreams and hopes, and start amazing ideas — then never finish them or see them through, because I let other things monopolize my time. And it hurts even writing that out, because I know it’s true.

Did you know I always wanted to learn Italian?  A few years ago, I bought all the books and cds to help me learn, I even got to the point where I was able to say basic sentences.

And then I stopped.

Also, I’m an awesome baker — yeah, I bake! And decorate! I even started my own baked goods shop and sold quite a bit while I was doing it. And people loved it! I loved it.  It was a dream to own my own bakery one day.

And then I stopped.

Right now, I have a mountain of books by my bedside that I want to read. Really great books — and for some reason, they are collecting dust.  I’ve opened (maybe) two or three of them, read the first few pages, and then I stopped.

How am I going to be able to teach Ella to think for herself, spend time doing what she loves to do, and encourage her to put her thoughts and feelings first — when I don’t even do that for myself?

It’s a process and learning curve for me, for sure. But I am on my way.  Tonight, instead of spending that full hour going over my to-do lists and planning out tomorrow, I just sat and enjoyed the company of myself. It sounds weird saying that, but it’s amazing just giving myself the time to enjoy doing…. nothing. No distractions, no social media calling my name, no TV noise, no one else present to give my attention to. Just me. Ashley. And it was lovely.

Il dolce far niente — the sweetness of doing nothing.

If you had an extra hour of time everyday — or rather, if you gave yourself an extra hour of time everyday — what would you do with it?

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Thanksgiving Wrap-Up & Happy December!

Hi friends!

I hope everyone had a fabulous Thanksgiving holiday weekend!  We certainly did!

Thanksgiving was awesome — we spent the holiday in our hometown with family.  Bellies were full of delicious food, and we had so much fun, I completely forgot to take any photos! Fear not — I made up for it over the weekend!

On Friday, Ella and I decided to brave the craziness of Black Friday shopping by making a quick trip to Target (let’s just say, I spent over $100 and I have no idea what I bought — how does Target always do that?!). I learned quickly that this wasn’t the greatest idea — crazy shoppers+two year old who wants to hold EVERYTHING=stressed Momma. After our trip, we headed home just in time for Uncle Myron to visit!  We spent the afternoon outside, enjoying the cool breeze and blowing bubbles.

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Saturday was very relaxing. After three full days of visiting with friends and family, we decided to stay in most of the day, except for a quick trip to Michaels so I could finish our entryway chalkboard display.

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Since my hubby was super busy all weekend with work, Sunday morning was a nice change of pace having him home.  We spent the entire morning running around in the backyard.  Ella LOVES being outside, so as you can imagine, she was in heaven!  It’s moments like this that really make my heart smile so big that I feel it is going to burst out of my chest!

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We also found out that Ella’s hair is now long enough to braid.  I can’t believe how big she is getting.

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We finished up the weekend today (hooray for long weekends!).  We made a few shopping trips, picking up a few Christmas presents, and ended the evening putting up and decorating our Christmas tree.  This is the first tree we’ve ever had that wasn’t 12″ tall and fit in the palm of my hand!  I fell in love with the tall/skinny tree displays at Target and Michaels that when I saw this tree was on sale, I splurged and bought it!  Picked up decorations here and there, and now I can officially say — we have a tree! Ella kept saying “Pretty! Pretty!” and loved helping put the decorations on. Now, if I can just keep her from taking them off or trying to knock the tree over for the next 25 days. 🙂

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday!  It’s so hard to believe it’s over and Christmas will be here before we know it!  Time is flying by!

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