Hello 2013

I missed it this year. The ol' holiday greeting card season flew right by me without my own contribution  sent off in the mail. So in case you were fretting, thinking I'd forgotten you on my list this year, fear not. I was just slacking (for 3 years in a row, I do believe).

But that's okay, because this year I decided to whip up something quick to help you ring in the New Year! We took some fun photos at the sand dunes while vacationing in California this fall, and I thought they created the perfect tone for a New Year celebration. I don't know about you, but we're pretty excited for 2013! Haha ...

We are off galavanting in New Jersey right now, but are looking forward to a busy January and a fun year ahead (we have two sisters' weddings!).

Happy New Year!

Cozy on Christmas

Oh the weather outside is frightful, and Car-o-lyn is delightful ... oh yes, this is most certainly a great time of year. Besides the fact that I'm almost a Christmas baby - Dec 19! - I am the biggest winter weather fan and live for all things cozy ... and cold. So when the snow starts to fall (and fall and fall and fall ...), neighbors set welcoming lights in their window, and Swedish Meatballs, cookies, and lefsa abound, Carolyn is a pretty happy camper. 

Of course I get wrapped up in all the hoopla that comes with the season, and I treasure the family traditions I grew up with. 


But when you get married, you have to part from those traditions just a little bit so that you can experience Christmas all over again from a new perspective. And sometimes it's those new traditions that bring the most meaning. Cross-country skiing out in the corn field, enjoying from-scratch lasagna, and bundling up to spend the Eve of His birth in one of the coziest and most fitting places - a stable. Or more specifically, the Sapa Ska Barn.

Two years ago E and I fed calves on Christmas Eve to help E's dad come in from the barn a little sooner (no break from chores on Christmas!) and because we both love checking in on those little guys. 
 Funny little side story about the calf nipple you see above: that's the first gift Evan ever gave me! Well, not that specific one, but he wrote Happy Birthday C on an old "retired" one I still have in a box somewhere. It was our freshman year at St. Olaf College and we had only known each other a couple of months. Give a girl a calf nipple and she can't say no, right? Haha ... 

 Anyway, continuing on with the farm tour ....

After the trek out to the barn you finally start to warm up a bit in the prepping area as you mix the milk with a little replacement powder - which smells delightfully like pudding. Add a little water, toss on some nipples, and you're off.

Christmas music is cranked up in the barn, and we pretend we're Santa bringing treats to the little calves

 They're pretty thankful we stopped by

... or else they're just hungry ; )

Have a very merry and *cozy* Christmas!

We'll be spending Christmas down at the farm again this year, then we'll be jetting off to New Jersey the next day. (Flying to Bethlehem on Christmas! ...Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, that is.) Traveling on Xmas isn't that bad. Everyone seems to be in a pretty festive spirit. Look at who we spied the last time we flew on Christmas:

Birthday Business


old, you say? there's no such thing


(Kirst, note the childhood memory reference in the line above?) For Kirst's big 30 bday, sister Karrin and I flew out to St. Louis to help her celebrate. Of course we wish that Sarah, our youngest sister, could have been there too, but she is off having grand adventures in Alaska. Our weekend was filled with biking, wineries, breweries, shopping, eating, and even tree climbing! Here's a little slideshow from the festivities ... and I threw a few old photos in there too, just for kicks. (Thanks for sending your pics, Karks!) Have a happy happy birthday, Kirsto!

Election Night ... and Quiche

For all the debating, side-taking and downright hatred that comes out during election season, the tone of election day itself provides a nice balance. When we take to the polls there's this camaraderie, where we stand in line bracing the cold, meet up with family members or friends in the parking lot, proudly place that sticker on our chest, and then hunker down in front of the TV for a good portion of the night. Despite the fact that the country is divided and we're on opposite teams, the ritual of voting brings us together as Americans.

This morning on the radio a caller told a story about how, back in the 90s, she volunteered to drive voters to the booths. She came to a high rise and was surprised to find a group of older women dressed to the nines. Turns out they were around in 1920 when women could vote for the very first time, so to them voting wasn't just a civic duty but a women's rights act as well. And it gave them a reason to come together and remember. There's so many patriotic stories on election day. I heard my sister's boyfriend drove home to New Jersey from upstate New York so he could ensure his vote didn't get lost in the absentee black hole. That's a whole day of driving for his one--but very important--vote.

Even though the country is divided, in many ways we're on the same team. In an article the other day, I read John Kerry's parting words after he lost the election: "In an American election, there are no losers, because whether or not our candidates are successful, the next morning we all wake up as Americans." And although there's much to disagree with throughout the election, I do believe and respect that both candidates--and parties--are doing what they think is best for the country.

I'm not generally a very political person, at least not upfront. Those who know me at work and even closer family members could attest to the fact that I don't readily speak out when it comes to politics. But I am a conscientious citizen, tune in to MPR on my way to work, visit CNN over my lunch hour, and engage in political discussion on occasion. I used to think it's not a big deal if someone doesn't want to "be political." Maybe it's just a passion you either have or you don't, and honestly, it doesn't come to me naturally. But more recently I've come to believe that being current on the state of our country is an issue we all need to care about. In many ways this approach to politics mirrors the way I view the environment. I've never been able to understand why people don't take climate change seriously and pull their weight in turning it around. I understand it's a complicated issue and discussion, but no matter what you believe, the ramifications impact us all ... and same can be said with politics. That's why I've made an effort to get more involved in the last year, listen to the issues and get involved in the discussion. It's not always easy for me, especially at times of the year when we aren't in the "heat of battle." But it's definitely been worth it, and I can only hope that everyone else does the same.

I'm off to watch the election coverage on TV and enjoy a late-night dinner: Quiche. (Or as Evan used to call it, quitchee.) Evan works at the airport tonight, his second-to-last shift ever, yippee! So I'll be home alone for a few hours ... which probably means I'll whip out the paint brushes and finally start tackling the upstairs. Sounds like a good thing to do while watching the election, right?

In case you're in the mood for some quiche, here's the recipe (adapted from this quiche and this crust recipe). How is this fitting for election night, you ask? I really don't know. Perhaps it's simply that you mix a lot of ingredients together, throw it in the oven and hope for the best? In any case, it's a somewhat time-intensive weeknight meal (unless you buy the crust) but it yields great leftovers for lunch!

Whole Wheat Crust
You can use a store-bought crust, of course, but I hear you increase your chances of a soggy quiche)
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, chilled and diced
1/4 cup ice water (actually use ICE water!)
Combine flour and salt, then cut in butter chunks until mixture is crumbly. Stir in water little-by-little until mixture forms a ball. It seems pretty dry at first, but as you work with it, it gets better. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least half an hour (although the original recipe says 4 hours or overnight!) Roll dough to fit in 9" pie plate. I just open up the siran wrap, press the dough out with my fingers, then make it into a ball and press it out again (doing it twice is supposed to help with the elasticity). I then flip the whole thing into the pie pan and peel off the siran - no rolling pin whatsoever. Then push the dough around and up the sides as needed.

Quiche Filling
olive oil
half an onion
teaspoon minced garlic
1 head chopped fresh broccoli
1 1/2 cups shredded cheese (cheddar or mixture of cheddar and mozzarella)
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon butter, melted
a few strips of bacon, chopped
Preheat oven to 350.
Put about half a cup of the shredded cheese in the bottom of the pie pan - this should help keep the quiche from getting too soggy.
Saute onions, broccoli and garlic in olive oil until tender. 
Add veggies and chopped bacon to pie pan, and top with the rest of the cheese.
Combine eggs, milk, melted butter, then pour over contents of pie pan.
Bake for 50 minutes or until center is set.

It's About Time ...

We decided to upgrade our kitchen. After weeks months of prepping food off a slab of plywood, we finally had countertops installed, taking our kitchen from this:

To this:
(I realize that would've been more impressive with daylight, but I forgot to take that identical shot when the sun was still out)

Here's the countertop basking in some evening light

Yea, we're pretty much smitten. Granite is quite the upgrade from what we were working with before.
I like how it works with the dark floors. We wanted something light for the counters to really let the floor pop, yet it needed a warm quality to pull it all together.

Way more counter space than before! We're not sure what we'll use this for exactly, but we were thinking it might serve as a nice spot for a laptop, a place to dish up food, or some fresh flowers.

And yea, we're totally aware of the "birthmark." At least it's evidence that it's an authentic and unique piece of granite.

Humor me, and spin around and check out the stove area
In my final reveal post (yet to come!) I will have to post a side-by-side shot of this with our previous stovetop area.

The view when I enter the kitchen for my nightly bowl of yogurt and granola. (Note: end buffet peeking in on the left is no longer with us ... she's in the garage waiting for a new owner)

I love how the two rooms now feel somewhat connected. The table is a new Craigslist purchase, by the way. The table itself isn't much of an improvement over our last one, but six solid wood chairs were worth the $120 price tag alone. Note: kitchen cart has been demoted to the laundry room.

We have this counter area arranged somewhat differently already, but this gives you a sense of space.

Now we just have to finish up on some odds and ends. Like painting the baseboards, finish installing the trim around the top of the upper cabinets, paint the trim around the window, find a cute pendant light, and finish off the bracket holding up the wrap-around. I can't wait to put up some artwork on the walls, and we're planning on introducing a vibrant pendant, and possibly some fun curtains above the sink.

(Note: we have since fixed the dishwasher so it is parallel and level with the surrounding cabinets. The granite installers couldn't figure that out but Evan and I could, funny how that works ...)

Oh, and it's called China Gold, from Midwest Granite (through Ikea) - the cheapest granite option available!
Walls are painted Benjamin Moore, Moonshine. It's the perfect shade of gray.

And since I'm a perfectionist and can't stand the fact that I've skipped a few monumental occasions with this lil' kitchen renovation, let me finish out this post with a little award ceremony:

The award for first out-of-state visitor in da (almost) finished kitch goes to my grandma! 
As you can see, this was pre-countertop. But it met her approval!

And biggest helper goes to Denny (and Mary) - Evan's parents. When E had given up on tackling some final steps ourselves, big D stepped in. Here he is installing the base trim. (Funny how E will happily tackle electrical and plumbing work, ripping up the floor, and hanging sheetrock, but when it comes to some of the basics he out, haha).
(Sorry, I don't have a face shot)

Out littlest helper:
Lillian, at 7 mo.

Although she definitely upped the cute factor of our work crew, it was really Lily's parents, Josh and Jena, who drove all the way up from La Crosse to help us get the cabinets hung.


And let me introduce you to Mark Mann, aka The Boss, who most definitely deserves the award for handiest! I would be lying if I said we did this entire kitchen renovation on our own. The truth is, we hired a handyman to lead us through the project. Evan was part of every step of the renovation, and we did lots of work ourselves (like installing the cabinets on our own) but it was definitely nice having someone with a little experience to learn from. Maybe this means the next time we're renovating a kitchen we'll be pros! Haha. Here he is with his two sons, who stopped by one day.

I'll be sure to keep ya posted when we tackle our final projects and can call this kitchen dunzo. Hopefully that is sooner than later!

Read up on the entire kitchen renovation project here

Notes from C: September

I'm one of those people that carries around a little pad of paper wherever I go. Don't you know someone like that? Well, you probably do and might not even realize it, because we "notetakers" like to keep our notes pretty secretive. Yes, we go to many lengths to protect them from the elements, but for the most part you won't see them emerge from the bag unless you peek into my cube at work and see me, head down, scribbling in the corner, or glance over at a stop light where I'm furiously jotting down the key points to my strain of thought.

Last spring I posted about my little note-taking habits {I just typed that like hobbit with a double B}, and decided that a regular blog post on some of my random thoughts might be a good way to put my notes to use. I mean, it's nice having stacks of notebooks filled with scribbles and makes me feel somewhat like Harriet the Spy, but hopefully posting regularly (monthly?) will help me someday turn these thoughts into something more productive. Some may be seasonal, some may be random, and some may be downright ridiculous ... but here we go!

Without further ado, my September Notes:

{1} Fall seems to always come as a surprise. "Oh, it's fall outside," people will exclaim as they quickly shuffle on their jackets. Maybe it's just in Minnesota where the weather changes quickly and fall is altogether rather short. Maybe it's because summer stretches out our days, our muscles, our routines, making the change a shock to our system. Whatever the reason, fall, more than any other season has this sense of urgency that sends us flying off to apple orchards; whipping up pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin muffins, and pumpkin-filled ravioli; lighting candles and bonfires; and trying to savor the last of the colorful trees. No other season does this to us - or at least to me. Sure, we get wrapped up in Christmas festivities, spring planting routines, and summer-loving activities, but there's no drastic switch. We slowly shift and drift into the next season: snow gradually melts, the trees start to bloom, humidity rises and the sun is high. But the moment you pull out the long sleeves and fall scarf, it's go time! That's why we're off to Vino in the Valley this weekend for a little fall wining and dining. If you're in the Minnesota/Wisconsin area, please make a trip down there sometime. It's delightful - our own little Napa, as we like to call it.

{2} Wouldn't it be fun to get all of the Carolyn's {insert your own name} together in one room? One big party with everyone who shares your name. You wouldn't have to introduce yourself to anyone, because obviously you're a Carolyn. No need to worry about forgetting someone's name either. "Sorry, and you are ...?" just doesn't exist. You could play the "favorite nickname game," all wear shirts that say "not Caroline," and sing "Sweet Carolyyyyyn da da da" because for as much as you are not a Caroline that song is still about you. There'd probably be a theme song or group choreographed dance at the Carolyn party. What would be at your party? (Just found out there's a new Carolyn at work and I would never guess that's her name. I mean, usually I can pick a Carolyn out of a crowd but this one surprised me.)

{3} Regarding the pumpkin photo above. Trader Joe's got the best of me. They were flaunting all that pumpkin stuff and I just couldn't resist. The pumpkin itself was a deal at $3.50, and the other items were total splurges. Turns out the ice cream is super sweet and won't ever make it to my bowl, but this morning I discovered that it's the perfect addition to a cup of coffee. Homemade pumpkin spice coffee! Sweetener and cream in one! I have big plans of making this granola with those pumpkin seeds.

{4} A quote from Moloka'i, by Alan Brennert
"Fear is good. In the right degree it prevents us from making fools of ourselves. But in the wrong measure it prevents us from fully living. Fear is our boon companion but never our master" (205).

And I'll close with a nature quote:
"How beautiful leaves grow old. How full of light and color are their last days." --John Burroughs

... perhaps the same can be said for human life as well? With aches, pains and sickness, it is easy to overlook the beauty of aging, but I believe - and hope - those days may be some of the brightest in some way (so says the 28-year-old).

Pistachio Citrus Couscous

Pistachios are a powerful little nut with lots of memories tucked under that shell. From Christmas-time snacking and pistachio-crusted chicken to green-flecked ice cream on the streets of Trinidad, the pistachio has woven itself into my life.

It's a great snack for late at night - keeping both your mind and your fingers nimble, and the perfect sidekick to almost anything. Like oranges.

I came across a simple couscous salad earlier this summer over at wholefoodsmarket.com, and it's been a staple ever since. My sisters and mom have already made it a handful of times too.

The best thing about this recipe is it's super adaptable to your tastes or whatever you have on hand. My sister has made it with apples and walnuts instead of the pistachios and oranges - something I'm looking forward to trying this fall. Actually, the original recipe calls for nectarines, but since those aren't typically in season and I don't have the patients to wait for them to ripen when they are, I opted for oranges as my standby fruit. You can see the original recipe here - I've changed a few other things like the type of greens and couscous, since I don't typically have watercress on hand and I find parmesan couscous offers a lot more flavor than plain. But for the most part it's the same Whole Foods creation.

When I made this earlier this week, we ate it alongside some brats (without the buns). Ever since I started eating brats sans buns I've been enjoying them much more. You just eat it like a sausage and dip it in mustard! Since this dish is great warm or cold, I like to bring leftovers in my lunch. I'll usually throw in a fresh handful of greens to up the salad-couscous ratio.

Let me know if you come up with any other fun adaptations!

Pistachio Citrus Couscous


1 box of parmesan couscous
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 orange, peeled and diced
handful of greens (watercress, spinach, spring mix, etc) - stems removed and leaves sliced
1/2 cup pistachios, chopped
1/4 cup thinly sliced shallot


Cook couscous according to box directions (takes approx 5 minutes), then fluff with fork and pour into large bowl. Meanwhile, chop pistachios, slice shallots, dice orange, and add them to the couscous along with the greens. Whisk together vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper, and olive oil (I usually put it all in a small container with a lid and shake it), then toss it with the salad.

Great warm or cold!

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