Wednesday’s events…

This news is not new.  If you live in the south and haven’t heard the news and stories about Wednesday’s destructive tornados then you must be living under a rock.  A very large rock that also managed to keep you safe during it all. Just a week or so ago, bad storms and tornados came through the south, causing some minor destruction to buildings and road signs in Tuscaloosa and then onward east into Alabaster and Pelham.  I drove to my mom’s house that afternoon because I don’t have a basement at my house in Homewood.  Luckily all was well, and me and the dogs headed back home when the storms had passed.

This past Wednesday morning, I was awakened by my roommate in the early morning hours because the sirens had gone off and she saw that a potential tornado was again heading our way.  We piled all the pillows and cushions from the sofa into our little hallway in the center of the house and watched as James Spann tracked the storm. I called my mom, and found out her power had gone out, but they were listening to reports on the radio. After about 15 mins of strong winds, all was calm again, and I headed back to bed.

Wednesday afternoon my roommate and I were watching the weather reports and saw as a tornado dropped from the sky in Cullman.

It was so surreal. Neither of us had ever actually seen a tornado funnel on live TV before, as I’m sure most people in the south haven’t (hence why I had to take a picture!).  We just don’t get tornados like that around here.  Although they still call them tornados, our tornados are usually just walls of very strong winds.  Never have I actually seen a funnel.  After about 10 mins of just staring at the TV in shock, we lost power.

By Wednesday afternoon, as it became very clear that several more tornados were heading east from MS, my mom called and strongly suggested I bring myself, my dogs, and whoever else wanted to come to her house where we could go to the basement.  So Greg and I and our crew of dogs headed to Hoover.  About this time, the tornado was passing through Tuscaloosa, and upon arriving at my house I found out that it had passed directly over my sister’s fiance’s house.  He is finishing up his last few semesters at UA, and he and 2 roommates rent a house off of 15th Street next to DCH.  It was a VERY scary half hour before we could get any sort of communication with him to find out if he was ok.  My sister, obviously, was absolutely scared to death.  Thanks for God’s incredible mercy and protection, the guys had gone into the bathroom of the house when they heard the rumbling of the storm and saw the funnel.  Minutes later, a huge tree fell onto their house, completely destroying the den.  Windows were blown out throughout the house and in their cars parked outside.  But they were all safe.  Other homes in their neighborhood were not so lucky. Some were completely flattened.  I can’t imagine what that must have been like to go through that.  I’m so grateful for God’s protection over my (almost) brother-in-law and his friends.  I can’t imagine not having him as a part of our family. He and my sister have been dating since their sophomore year of high school.  He’s been like family for a very long time.

As far as our house goes, we still don’t have power, but there was no destruction.  The tornado turned north and our area of town was spared from any damage. The only sign of a tornado was a pile of insulation that landed in my front yard.  There is no telling what destroyed home it came from or how many miles it traveled from it’s original location.  I just thank God for the safety of all those close to me.  It’ll take a long time for the south to recover from all the damage, but I pray that we will come together and help our neighbors out.

queen of changes

As you can tell, I enjoy changing the look of my blog quite frequently.  And the type-A personality in me makes me very particular about even the tiniest detail.  Which is why I feel the need to explain that I WILL eventually figure out why my title is shifted to the left. IT’S DRIVING ME CRAZY!  But, in other news, I figured out how I can post larger pictures and not have them crowding over my sidebar.  Whoo-hoo!

It’s the little things, people…

Spring pictures!

So, I’ve been pretty bad about taking pictures this spring. (I think because everyone around me owns a fancy-shmancy digital SLR camera, that I feel no need to take my owns pics. I’ll just steal theirs!)  So, here is a collaboration of some pictures lately.  Some of them are family shots we took on the day of my dad’s funeral. Others are from my sister’s wedding shower, and then the last ones are from Easter Sunday.  Enjoy…

 Even on a sad day, he can make me smile 🙂
Katie with some of her bridesmaids
 Husbands-to-be!
Easter Sunday
I just love my family so very much!

beautiful Sunday

Easter was simply wonderful!  It all worked out smoothly and everyone got some visiting time together.  My family plus Greg and Chuck all went to church together. Katie and Chuck went and had lunch with his family, and then my mom and Emily came to lunch with us at Greg’s family gathering.  And, the Boggs were all so sweet to wait on us for a bit so we could all eat together!  The kids were adorable, of course.  Silly me took no pictures (they are all on my mom’s camera).  So, I’ll have to get those soon so I can post them 🙂  The whole day ran seamlessly and all was good.

God is so good.  The day could not have been more beautiful.  I’m so thankful for the blessings God has poured into my life.  I have a wonderful fiance, who loves me unconditionally.  Sometimes I wonder why.  I know my flaws, I know I’m not perfect, and yet he loves me just the same.  And God loves me.  He not only knows my transgressions but He knows the ones I haven’t even committed yet.  But He has a plan for me.  And His love is all-encompassing, all-forgiving, and so undeserved by little ole’ me. The fact that God loves His children despite their flaws, sometimes is crippling to me.  Because I feel so undeserving sometimes, I distance myself from God, ashamed of myself.  Ashamed of the mere fact that I pull away from Him.  How twisted is that?  I get myself stuck going in circles.  I should be seeking Him instead, no matter what the circumstances!  When I feel the most distant, that should be my clue to draw myself closer.  I need to open my Bible and soak up God’s teachings and wisdom.  I need to pray more.  And I need to believe in my prayers. So many times I begin to pray and I feel like I’m just talking to myself.  God is listening.  Why do I ever doubt that?

I hope you were enlightened this Easter.  I hope God revealed to you some of the things He has revealed to me.  He deserves our love and commitment to Him.  We can never repay all the blessing He has given us. He gave us Jesus, who became a living sacrifice, so that we would have a way to live eternally with Him.  All we have to do is choose to seek Him, and to believe in His teachings, and serve Him.  Happy Easter, everyone!!

ick, I’ve been sick…and learning to mesh families

Don’t you hate being sick?  I guess I can’t really complain, cause I really am pretty lucky when it comes to the catching the bug. I hardly ever get sick. To be honest, besides maybe in kindergarten when I got the chicken pox, I don’t ever remember having to stay home from school because I was sick.  (I’m sure that’s not actually true, but it’s probably pretty close!).  And luckily, when I do get sick, it’s usually pretty minor, which is how it went this week.  Started feeling icky on Wednesday, worked Wednesday night, ran a fever at work (oops), lazied around the house Thursday, decided to call in sick Thursday night, then by the end of Friday I was almost back to normal.  Now if I can just get rid of this annoying cough!

Now I’m back at work. Easter is one of my holidays to work this year, which usually means I would work Saturday night and Sunday night…and sleep ALL through Easter day. No fun.  But I got lucky this year, and another nurse at work needed a swap, and offered to work my Sunday night instead.  Yay for me!  So, I’ll work all night Saturday, and hopefully have enough energy in me to enjoy the family time on Sunday.

Speaking of family.  Growing up it was always our family tradition to go to my Nana’s house on holidays. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day…we always had lunch and spent most of the afternoon at her house with my mom’s sister and her family, including my two older boy cousins (who now have kids of their own). Then in the fall of 2009, my Nana passed away.  Ever since then our holiday “traditions” have, well, sorta become non-existent.  We don’t know what to do on holidays now.  We don’t spend them with my aunt, uncle, and cousins anymore, because I guess you could say my Nana was the “glue.”  So it pretty much leaves us 4 Graves girls trying to do something special for the holidays. Now that me and Katie are getting married, we also want to incorporate time spent with our new families.  And I love that, but it’s hard not being with my family too.  And since our family doesn’t really have a holiday plan anymore, I feel bad leaving my mom and youngest sister on their own.  I don’t like having to choose.  I’m so grateful that Greg’s family has been very welcoming in allowing my family to join them on some of their holiday plans.  Last November all 4 of us (plus Katie’s fiance) got to spend Thanksgiving with Greg’s family….all 20 of them, I believe!  And Christmas worked out well too, because Greg’s family celebrated in Birmingham, so between Christmas Eve and Christmas day, we spent time bouncing between all three families (the Graves, the Boggs, and the Abbeys- Katie’s future in-laws).  It wasn’t until this holiday that I really felt torn having to choose who to celebrate with.  Simply due to a matter of time scheduling, I couldn’t seem to find a way to share my time with all the people I love. And of course I broke into tears when I was on the phone with my mom trying to work it all out.  I love my mother. She said, “this is just part of getting married. This won’t be the first time you’ll have to choose on holidays. But there will be other holidays, and we can still see each other Sunday afternoon, if that works best.”  Although it didn’t make me feel any better, it was comforting that she was so understanding of it all.  I mean, who can be in two places at once?

Luckily, I think we finally came to a compromise that hopefully will all work out in the morning.  Greg and I will go to church with my mom and sisters, Katie will then split and go spend lunch with Chuck’s family, and my mom and Emily will come join us with the Boggs family.  The catch is, we will have to leave the service immediately following the sermon. We’ll sneak out before the offering, the final song, another prayer, announcements, etc. When he says the last amen of the closing prayer to the sermon, that’ll be our cue 😉  That should put us only about 30-40 mins late to lunch with the Boggs, instead of over an hour…in which case we would miss seeing the kids.

So, I’ll let you know how it all goes 😉  Have a great Easter with your families! I’m so thankful for the ones God has blessed me with!

Rustic Bread

Remember that bread failure from last night?  Well, I decided to post the recipe (even though mine didn’t turn out), in case it works for someone else.  So, if you try this recipe and it works for you, let me know how you did it!!  It looks delicious, so if I can’t make this one work, I definitely want to find a similar recipe. Based on the picture, it looks a lot like the bread they serve at Macaroni Grill. Yum!

Rustic Bread
Serves: 6
INGREDIENTS:

  • 2/3 cups whole milk
  • 1 Tablespoon superfine sugar
  • 1 ounce fresh active yeast
  • 5 cups bread flour, sifted; plus extra for dusting
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons coarse sea salt, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 2 fresh rosemary sprigs, leaves picked
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil

DIRECTIONS:
1. In a small pan over medium heat, heat 1 cup water, milk and sugar just until warm (90-95 degrees), or 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in yeast until dissolved. In a large bowl, combine flour and 1 1/2 Tablespoons coarse sea salt. Pour in yeast mixture and mix, using hands, until a soft dough forms. (If dough is dry, add more water. If dough is sticky, add more flour)  On a lightly floured surface, knead dough for about 5 mins. Place dough in a large, lightly floured bowl, cover with a clean towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free area until doubled in size, 50-60 minutes.
2. On a clean surface, punch down dough and form into a 10×7-inch rectangle about 2 inches thick. Place loaf on a parchment-lined baking sheet, cover with towel again, and let rise in a warm, draft-free area until doubled in size, 50-60 minutes more.
3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Using your fingertips, press indentations into top of loaf. Place a few rosemary leaves in some of the indentations. Drizzle surface with 1 Tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt. Bake until loaf is golden and sounds hollow when tapped, about 30 mins. Transfer loaf to a wire rack and let cool.

GOOD LUCK!

Pot Roast, Garlic Red Potatoes, and a bread failure

Tonight I cooked dinner for Greg and 2 of his co-workers who were in town from Atlanta. I used my new dutch oven to cook the pot roast, and I made some garlic red potatoes to go with it.  I had a recipe from my Country Living magazine for some Italian bread that I wanted to try too.  But, unfortunately, the bread was a total fail.  For some reason I cannot bake bread.  I believe this is the 3rd bread recipe I have tried, and every time it fails.  My bread never wants to rise correctly.  I’ve even gone over to my friend Christine’s house and watched as she bakes bread (cause she’s a pro!), and I STILL can’t do it right.

But anyways, here are the recipes for what DID go right!  And luckily I have made these potatoes before, so I knew at one thing would be good for dinner 😉

Pot Roast (from Greg’s family’s recipe)
INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 to 4 lb. chuck roast
  • garlic salt
  • sea salt
  • pepper
  • all-purpose flour
  • garlic (5-6 cloves)
  • olive oil
  • 1 large white onion
  • baby carrots

DIRECTIONS:
1. Sprinkle all sides of the roast with garlic salt, sea salt, and pepper. Then coat lightly with flour.
2. Saute garlic cloves in some olive oil.

3. Place roast in the pot on the stovetop and brown both sides on medium heat (roughly 5 mins each side).
4. Add water to the pot just below the top of the roast.  Peel the onion and quarter it, then add to the pot.
5. Bring water to a boil, then simmer for approx. 4 hours (the longer the better). Add the baby carrots one hour prior to serving.

Garlic Red Potatoes:
INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 lbs red potatoes
  • 1/4 cup (4 tbs) butter, melted
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoons salt
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 Tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese

DIRECTIONS:
1. Preheat oven to 400.  Mix garlic, butter, salt, and lemon juice into a small bowl.
2. Pour over sliced potatoes in an 8×8 baking dish.
3. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top.
4. Bake covered for 30 mins, then uncovered for 15 mins.

Merry Christmas to me!

Christmas?  What?  Yes, believe it or not I just got one of my Christmas gifts from last year.  I had asked for a dutch oven and researched two different brands…Le Creuset and Staub. After reading many reviews, and realizing though they both have some unique features, neither one was really better than the other.  Potato…potato, tomato…tomato….you get the point. Although, that analogy only makes sense when you say it, not so much when you write it!  😉

Aaaaanyways, so my mom ordered this lovely Staub dutch oven for me for Christmas from an online retailer.

   Unfortunately, we kept getting emails every few weeks saying it was on back-order, and would be shipped in another few weeks. This continued well into March, and then we said forget it!  PS: the website was csnstores.com.  Yes, they have great prices, but after the ordeal we went through, I refuse to order from them again.  So, since it’s hard to find Staub products in local stores (at least in the lemon color I liked), she got a great deal at the Le Creuset outlet store in Destin and now I have this beauty in my kitchen waiting to be used.  I love it even more than what I had originally asked for.  I think it’s beautiful 🙂

And Tuesday evening I plan to cook my first pot roast in it. I’m really excited!  Greg’s boss will be in town, and the plan is to cook dinner for them while they discuss their business-y things.  Wish me luck!  And don’t worry. Recipes will follow…

baby, baby, baby

It’s a little weird being at the age now where not only do I have friends getting married, but friends my age are starting to have babies.  It’s funny how you imagine the road your life will take and the “plans” you set for yourself. I remember in high school thinking, ‘I’ll probably get married shortly after college, and maybe start a family when I’m 26,’ cause at the time 26 years sounded pretty old. Ha!  And of course there was always the obligatory “back up” plan. Did anyone else do this? You had a guy (or girl) friend that the both of you agreed that “if we are __ years old and still not married, we’ll call each other up and just marry each other.”  How ridiculous is that??  I had one of those. Although, I think my back-up husband turned into a druggie. So unfortunate…for him, that is.

Anyways, babies. I have several friends who have already tied the knot and started little families of their own. One friend in particular already has two little angels in their brood (whom I adore!).  Then listen to this. I have 2 friends right now that are currently pregnant, my neighbors behind me just had their baby about a month ago, Greg’s neighbors just had their baby a week ago…and get this- they are all boys!  So, this afternoon I went on a baby shopping trip to do a little shopping for these tiny little gentlemen of the world.  Let me tell you, I’ve been into Baby’s-R-Us a handful of times, but today I went to BuyBuyBaby in Hoover.  I was amazed, and if my bank account would have allowed it, I would have bought the whole store.  So much cute stuff!!  One of the coolest things I bought was a digital thermometer pacifier.  That’s right. Remember when we were kids and the great new invention was the digital thermometer you stuck in your baby’s ear?  Well, now you can get one in the form of a pacifier. Talk about no fuss!

And can we talk about how much I like shopping for baby clothes?? My friend Christine can testify to this. I’ve been out shopping before and passed by the baby section, and called her up many a times to see what sizes her little ones are currently wearing!  Especially if it’s holiday related. Oh my goodness, you better believe they end up with something.  🙂  Halloween outfit – check. Thanksgiving onezie – check.  Christmas pajamas- check & check!  I love it, too, cause eventually I always end up with a picture message of her kids wearing the outfits I buy them.  🙂  It warms my heart.  And if I didn’t already have a cart full of baby gifts, I probably would have called her up about this little number…

4th of July, anyone?

But don’t worry friends. The baby bug has not hit me yet!  Luckily, since my full time job is to work with premie babies, I get my fix on a regular basis.  Which means at the end of the day, I’m just as happy coming home to these two babies….

Chicken Parmesan

 Luckily, this was NOT the scene at my house tonight.  I’ve noticed lately that I’ve gotten more relaxed in my need to follow a recipe word by word, which I think is a good thing.  I’ve always been amazed at cooks who can just throw things together sometimes without even needing a recipe. I’ve got a long way till I reach that level of skill, and I’m certainly no Julia Child, but at least I’m experimenting more and just “going with it.”  There’s still so very little I understand about mixing flavors together and what spices and herbs go well with things.  Baby steps, people.  Tonight, I found two chicken parmesan recipes (one was fairly complicated, the other super basic). So, of course I wanted to create a medium level dish. I’d say it turned out pretty well (and Greg agrees, so I guess that’s all that counts!).

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped green or red bell pepper (recipe called for red, but I used a green one)
  • 2 cups pasta sauce (I used tomato and basil)
  • approx. 1 to 1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • linguine pasta for two

DIRECTIONS:
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Pound each chicken breast to approx 1/2 inch thickness using a meat mallet. Combine bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, and a pinch of black pepper into a shallow pan.
2. Dip each breast into the egg wash, then into the breading mixture. Place chicken breasts into a baking dish and bake for 20 minutes.
3. While baking the chicken, saute the chopped bell pepper with 1 teaspoon olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Once sauteed, add 2 cups pasta sauce and stir. Remove from heat and set aside.

4. Remove chicken from oven, pour pasta sauce over chicken and top with mozzarella cheese and cook for additional 10 minutes until cheese is melted.
5. Serve over linguine pasta.

Final result…

And one happy dinner date!