13 Goals for 2013

A preview sketch of comics to come.

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions. They’re the reason my Body Works Plus Abs class was filled with two dozen more wide-eyed, sports-bra wearing women than usual tonight. Despite having to illegally park in L.A. Fitness’ full lot in order to burn 440 calories, I still couldn’t shake the urge to create a list of to-do’s for the year ahead.

Plus, that darn husband of mine motivated me to share a few goals, so here goes:

Professional

•  Launch the redesign and rebranding of my photography business in the next few months (thanks to the hubs’ help).
•  Book more weddings for 2013 and starting filling up the 2014 season.
•  Try to blog weekly here or here.
•  Draw one page of comics every week for the entire year and share them on my new comics Tumblr.
•  Research [self]publishing my comics into a book, with possible funding through a Kickstarter project at the end of the year.
•  Start a graphic novel/underground comic meetup in Philadelphia to swap books and geek the eff out.
•  Expand Generocity.org’s freelance team and daily content, while further developing our content strategy and strengthening relationships in the community.

Personal

•  Go to the gym at least two times a week.
•  Finally prime and paint the 2nd floor of our house.
•  Go on a proper American road trip with the hubs.
•  Be a better wife (i.e.: make dinner once in a while, try to not take up the entire bed while sleeping, watch disturbing Cronenberg movies every now and again if it’ll make him happy).
•  Be the best pet mom ever (i.e.: pay attention to the bunnies and chinchilla more, give our dogs the endless attention they seem to require, and try to brush the dogs’ teeth every damn day).
•  Be a better daughter (i.e.: call my parents more so my dad doesn’t have a conniption every time I see him, respond to my mom’s novel-sized emails faster, and document my admiration for their neurotic habits in my comics).
•  Be a better friend. Yeah, I want to do all of this stuff, but it doesn’t mean not meeting up with friends for coffee (or in my case, hot chocolate) to discuss what books we’re reading or to how old we feel when #PrettyLittleLiars is trending on Twitter.

I’m exhausted just writing this list, so I’ll stop there, especially since I’m still six episodes behind this season of Downton Abbey and need to know what the hell happens next. Anyway, thanks for reading this and holding me to it!

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{A Honeymoon in Italy} Gelato and Pesto, Here We Come

{Photos courtesy Hotel Artemide}

Our honeymoon has officially been booked and we couldn’t be more excited. We’ll be departing the day after our wedding to head to Rome, an eight and a half hour journey from Philadelphia. For the first leg of our trip, we’ll be staying at Hotel Artemide in Rome for two nights (the photo above is an example of the room we’ll be staying in). We’re total TripAdvisor stalkers, so the 4 1/2 star rating (out of 1,822 reviews) definitely made it a stand-out hotel with a convenient location.

For those of you who have been to Rome before, what lesser known sites should we scout out? I’ll admit, I’m looking forward to a tourist-y night walk to the Trevi Fountain and Colosseum (preferably while eating loads of gelato).

{Photos courtesy Grand Tour in Florence}

After we explore Rome for a couple of days, we’ll take the train an hour and a half to the Grand Tour in Florence, a five-star B&B I’ve been smitten with for years. The original structure was an 18th century garden theatre, which the owners brought back to light during its restoration and converted into nine suites. All of the doors open onto a courtyard garden with a fountain, which sounds all sorts of dreamy. I fully expect for there to be cartoon birds hanging our clean laundry on a clothesline when we wake up in the morning, that’s how good it sounds.

The Actor Suite, which we’re staying in (above), has a large bathroom with a private sauna…yes please. The shower has handmade majolicas (decorative earthenware tiles), that are so, so lovely. I love the old marble sink that is featured in the bedroom, along with the headboard that has some really pretty details.

{Photos courtesy Rificolona-Paper Lantern Festival}

Florence is a great central location for day trips, so we’ll be spending 4 nights in Florence, with excursions to Venice (Peggy Guggenheim Collection!) and Siena. I’m really excited about the Rificolona-Paper Lantern Festival, an evening parade through the Piazza Santissima Annunziata, with children carrying paper lanterns lit with candles, while the older kids try to set the lanterns ablaze with pea shooters. It’s all in good family fun since it is tied around tradition, plus there’s live music and carnival food, so it shouldn’t be too crazy. Supposedly most of the lanterns end up burning by the end of the night, so it should be interesting to see.

{Photos courtesy La Poesia}

After exhausting ourselves in and around Florence, we’ll be heading to Cinque Terre. I’ve been wanting to go to Cinque Terre forever, but then this happened last year, and it made my heart sink. Alas, the cliffside villages are rebuilding and need the tourists now more than ever, so we will be spending four nights in Monterosso Al Mare, one of two villages extensively damaged in last fall’s flood. Pete really wanted to stay near the beach, so that’s how we landed on Monterosso, however we’ll also be hiking and traveling to the other villages—Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.

We’re staying at La Poesia, a charming B&B not far from the train station, with homemade breakfasts served on the outdoor terrace, complete with lemon trees and a breathtaking view of the beach.

{Photos courtesy here, here, and here}

I’m most excited about hiking around Cinque Terre, with a day trip to the port town of Portofino and loads of relaxing. Pete seems to think he can convince me to jump off of a 30-40 foot cliff into the Mediterranean Sea, but I have a feeling I’ll have to jump from the little kiddie spot that is only a few feet above the water.

Have you guys ever been to Italy? What spots should we be sure to add to our agenda (restaurants, museums, anything)?

Black Bean Burgers with Beet, Red Onion & Orange Salsa

Let me just preface this recipe post by saying that before my relationship with Pete, I never properly cooked. During family gatherings or holidays, I dreaded potentially having to bring an item of food or help out in the kitchen. I was the girl who went to the grocery store the day of a 4th of July barbecue to buy whatever version of potato salad they still had left in stock. I liked the idea of cooking. I had shiny kitchen gadgets! I dog-eared recipe books and favorited baking websites, but that was the extent of my energy spent in or around the kitchen. My meals consisted of chicken tenders with fries, frozen pizza, ground beef burgers or if I was feeling really energetic, ground beef tacos! It came as no surprise that my cholesterol was through the roof during this time.

I remember when Pete and I had one of our first “dates,” he came over to my apartment and we made dinner together. We walked hand in hand at the local ACME while browsing fresh produce. I remember thinking to myself “Have I ever had basil? Do I like basil? What if he makes me this amazing basil-centric dinner and I hate the main ingredient?” I was a twenty-five-year-old who had never ventured far from whatever aisles had processed cheese, snacks and meat. The evening ended with us making caprese salad (turns out I love basil) and some amazing, Ricotta-based pasta dish which Pete conjured up.

After that evening, I was officially ecstatic about food. I looked forward to spending time together with Pete, cooking meals and trying out new recipes. He surprised me with a subscription to Everyday Food, which may or may not be one of the most thrilling times of the month when we receive a new issue in the mail. I love thumbing through the mini magazine to jot down a grocery list for the weeks ahead. Since we began living together, our diet has gone in more of a vegetarian direction. That’s not to say I won’t instantly eat a bacon-infused cheeseburger if given the chance, but for the most part, our fridge is stocked with vegetables and on occasion, seafood.

That being said, we had been anxious to try out a black bean burger recipe as of late, to see if they would be worthy of future backyard barbecue shenanigans. We found a recipe on Everyday Food for the burgers, which we combined with a beet, red onion and orange salsa recipe from Epicurious. Pete’s mom had recommended the salsa recipe, and after sampling some of it at her house, I was looking forward to making some of my own to top on our burgers.

I began by heating one tablespoon of oil in a skillet and adding onion, red pepper and garlic. Once they were translucent, I added cumin and ketchup and cooked everything for a minute before adding them to a food processor along with a wee bit of rice and beans (specific measurements can be found on the link mentioned above).

After making sure the ingredients were well combined, I transfered them to a large bowl and added breadcrumbs, salt, pepper and a bit of hot sauce.

I mixed a bit too much for our two burgers, so I made them extra thick. I’d recommend flattening them out more, but overall they worked out well and (surprisingly) didn’t fall apart.

Meanwhile, I was boiling beets for the salsa recipe, which called for olive oil, lemon juice and honey to be mixed into a small bowl.

Once the beets cooled off, I chopped two to add to the salsa bowl.

Finally, I mixed in chopped orange, red onion and pitted green Greek olives and stirred everything before seasoning with salt and pepper.

Here is a glimpse at our black bean burgers with spinach salads, which included goat cheese, beets, walnuts, pomegranate craisins and avocado slices with balsamic vinaigrette. I apologize for the blurry photos, I was in a rush to devour my dinner and didn’t snap the most flattering pictures. Also, what may appear to be a pitcher of urine in the background was in fact lemon/orange-infused water, I promise. Anyway, our final verdict was that we’d definitely like to offer these for upcoming barbecue shindigs, along with a “normal” option for those Ron Swanson-esque meat lovers out there.

I’d like to start sharing more of our cooking adventures now that we are settled in at our new home, so brace yourself for more foodie posts in the future! My friend Kerry, who is a culinary god in my (somewhat biased) opinion, introduced me to Foodgawker, where I have become hooked on “heart-ing” recipes to store away for upcoming meals.

So tell me, has anyone else become more enthusiastic about cooking because someone important in their life has influenced them in the kitchen?

Christmas Time is Here…

Another item is crossed off my 30 before 30 list! Pete, Betty White and I picked out our first Christmas tree together (and my first ever real tree) at Shady Brook Farm. It was absolutely arctic outside, I felt awful for thinking Betty White would have fun with us since she spent the entire process shivering. She really liked standing next to the trash can fire by the tree helpers though.

Pete gave Betty smooches to warm her up while we had our noble fir tied to the roof of my car. She was super content with this, since he is not usually one for bathing her with kisses.

I got Pete his first ornament for our tree—a heart with buttons—since the other ornaments are mine from growing up and I didn’t want him to feel left out. Nothing is ever going to top the baby with the plastic bag on its head (courtesy of my grandfather), or the flamboyant elf and mouse sitting in a tree (k-i-s-s-i-n-g).

Now that I finally have a wee bit of free time, we’ve been spending our evenings by the fire and watching Mad Men marathons. It’s absolute perfection. I’m so incredibly happy and look forward to what 2011 brings.

Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Recipe

I don’t know what is happening to me. Lately, I’ve had a strong desire to explore baking and cooking, two things that have never previously interested me in the least. I think this recent change has to do with how happy I am now in general and with Pete, but perhaps I’m just at a nesting point of my life. Before this, I never really had a desire to spend time in the kitchen because I was often stressed and would eat entire meals consisting of Cheez-Its, Oreos and pickles (ok, I still do that sometimes, I’ll admit). Besides, that’s what take-out was for.

Now that I’m a chipper little thing, I want to prance around in an apron and bake (I don’t have an apron, so I’ll just wipe my hands on my pants in the meantime…don’t judge me). I don’t even really like cheesecake, but this weekend I wanted nothing more than to try to bake a cake for the first time ever. Yeah, you read that right, I’ve never baked a cake. Apart from cutting refrigerated Pillsbury cookie dough, my baking experiences are pretty much non-existent.

I am a spazz at operating a spatula and handheld mixer and can barely figure out how to grease a pan. Needless to say, I think my first attempt at baking a chocolate chip cheesecake with homemade graham cracker crust was a success, considering it came out in one piece. The boy said it was delicious and ate his slice in under a minute, so I suppose that counts for something.

Here’s the recipe, for those of you who are also jonesing for something sweet in your life:

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted
  • 3 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese
  • 1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour

Directions

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C). Mix graham cracker crumbs, sugar, butter and cocoa. Press onto bottom and up the sides of a 9 inch springform pan. Set crust aside.

Beat cream cheese until smooth. Gradually add sweetened condensed milk; beat well. Add vanilla and eggs, and beat on medium speed until smooth. Toss 1/3 of the miniature chocolate chips with the 1 teaspoon flour to coat (this keeps them from sinking to the bottom of the cake). Mix into cheese mixture. Pour into prepared crust. Sprinkle top with remaining chocolate chips.

Bake at 300 degrees F (150 degrees C) for 1 hour. Turn off oven (do not open oven door) and leave the cake in the oven to cool in the oven for another hour. Remove from oven and cool completely. Refrigerate before removing sides of pan. Keep cake refrigerated until time to serve.

Do you have a favorite cake or pie recipe that you’d like to pass along?

Hummus and Cucumber Sandwich Recipes

I’ve been following my “30 before 30” goal of trying a brand new recipe every month, no matter how simple they may be. This week I decided to splurge on a mini food processor so we could indulge in freshly-made hummus, pestos and other delights. Pete seemed to like it (hopefully he’s not just being nice and excusing himself from the table to spit it into a napkin), so I am a pleased lady. I am trying to cocoa butter my hands to death to get rid of the garlic smell, but alas, I could still keep vampires at a far distance if needed.

With the homemade hummus I made a simple cucumber sandwich, which was absolutely delicious! Below are the recipes that I stole from people who are much smarter than me in the kitchen.

Hummus Recipe

INGREDIENTS
4 garlic cloves, minced and then mashed
2 15-oz cans of garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained and rinsed
2/3 cup of tahini (roasted, not raw)
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon of salt
Pine nuts (toasted) and parsley (chopped) for garnish

METHOD
1. In a food processor, combine the mashed garlic, garbanzo beans, tahini, lemon juice, 1/2 cup water, and olive oil. Process until smooth. Add salt, starting at a half a teaspoon, to taste.
2. Spoon into serving dish and sprinkle with toasted pine nuts and chopped parsley.
Serve with crackers, raw dip vegetables such as carrots or celery, or with pita bread. You can cut the pita bread into thin triangles, brush with olive oil and toast for 10 minutes in a 400°F oven to make pita chips with which to serve the hummus.
Makes about 3 cups.

Cucumber Sandwich Recipe

INGREDIENTS
2 thick slices whole wheat bread
2 tablespoons cream cheese, softened
6 slices cucumber
2 tablespoons alfalfa sprouts
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 tomato, sliced
1 leaf lettuce
1 ounce pepperoncini, sliced
1/2 avocado, mashed

METHOD
1. Spread each slice of bread with 1 tablespoon cream cheese. On one slice of bread, arrange cucumber slices in a single layer. Cover with sprouts, then sprinkle with oil and vinegar. Layer tomato slices, lettuce, and pepperoncini. Spread other slice of bread with mashed avocado. Close sandwich and serve immediately.

Pistachio Baked Salmon Recipe

As part of my “30 before 30” challenge, I’ve decided to try to tackle at least one new recipe every month. This means the recipe has to be somewhat of a success to count toward the challenge. For instance, the basil and dill eggs I managed to catch on fire the other night would not count (we have a glitchy burner that has no concept of “low heat,” which I was not aware of).

Last week I was in the mood to cook Pete dinner (this rarely happens as he is almost always the maker of dinners), so I headed to the grocery store and flipped through an issue of Taste of Home magazine. I decided to make the Pistachio Baked Salmon, which sounded easy enough.  That was before I realized most cooking magazines assume you have a food processor and a grocery store that sells unshelled pistachios. Needless to say, I spent a good 35 minutes taking the shells and skin off of pistachios and chopping them up, but it’s not like I had anything better to do while watching Bethenny Getting Married. Anyway, below is the recipe for you fellow salmon lovers out there! I think it was pretty darn tasty, especially since I am notoriously known as the girl who can’t even microwave Easy Mac without the smoke alarm going off (note to self: next time, add water).

6 ServingsPrep/Total Time: 25 min.

Ingredients:
6 salmon fillets (6 ounces each)
1 cup pistachios, chopped
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon dill weed
1 teaspoon pepper

Directions:
Place salmon in a greased 13-in. x 9-in. baking dish. Combine the remaining ingredients; spoon over salmon.
Bake, uncovered, at 425° for 12-15 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork. Yield: 6 servings.

Nutrition Facts: 1 fillet equals 505 calories, 28 g fat (5 g saturated fat), 100 mg cholesterol, 194 mg sodium, 25 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, 39 g protein.

Check it out, it even vaguely resembles the magazine photo!

Are there any others out there who are helplessly trying to tackle the kitchen after years of microwaveable dinners?