Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Bird is the Word

Happy Thanksgiving!

A holiday centered around food & family.....sounds perfect!  This is Conor & My third turkey day with just the two of us.  With Thanksgiving being so close to Christmas it's hard to travel twice, get time off work, and pay for the flights.  But we aren't complaining, because we've began to really enjoy our combined family traditions and the way that we get to do things.  So here is a rundown of what was our best Thanksgiving yet!
This year we had the 1st Annual Keenan Family Thanksgiving Walk!

What a great way to start our day!  It was nice to get out in the fresh air and blue skies and burn some calories before our feast.  After our walk, it was straight to the kitchen to begin cooking.  And to get things started we popped open some bubbly that we purchased during our napa trip.  Knife in one hand, champagne in the other, Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV, skype open on the kitchen table....welcome to our t-day.

Conor is quite an incredible cook, so we're both in the kitchen together preparing this meal.  We use some family recipes and have come up with our own as well.  We each make different parts of the feast which has been the same for the past 3 years.  I always pick up the turkey and get it brining the day before.  Removing the neck and giblets is definitely not my favorite part, but Conor handles the turkey the rest of the way so I can handle it.  We also make our own breadcrumbs for stuffing the night before and let them dry out, and I try to make my pumpkin chiffon pie that night as well.  Pumpkin chiffon completely trumps regular pumpkin, plus it goes with a graham cracker crust!  I had made my own pumpkin (meaning baked sugar pumpkins and pureed it) back around Halloween, so I just had to look in the freezer for some "fresh stuff" and avoid the crazy ladies fighting over the canned stuff in the grocery store.   I love this recipe which comes from the Simpson side of the family.

This year we got our turkey from Whole Foods and it was oh so delicious.  I'm sure lots of you out there are organic haters, but bear with me.  While foods being marked "organic" is not important to me, "natural" is.  For all our meat, milk, & eggs we try to buy products that have no hormones or antibiotics added, and are on a vegetarian diet.  This makes for food that is better tasting and better for your body!

 Conor & I came up with our own stuffing recipe, but he is the one who actually makes it.  And then of course he stuffs the bird...his favorite part!

In Conor's family, they cook the turkey in a special oven bag...which I had never heard of before.  But when combined with an already brined turkey makes for a extremely moist and savory bird.  So turkey in a bag it is!  With dinner cooking in the oven, it seemed about time for some bloody marys!  About two weeks ago we infused some vodka with rosemary, thyme, basil, & jalapenos.  So these bloody mary's were extra special.

With two people cooking we have some time to kill while the bird cooks, so.....we get cleaned up, dress nicely ('cause it's still the holidays, even if it's just the two of us), and head to the theater to see a Christmas movie.  This year there weren't any holiday films though, so we settled on Due Date.  It was funny but nothing special.  Once back home, Conor finishes up with the turkey and makes gravy while I'm put together the mashed potatoes and a salad.  No cranberry sauce for us, but we did have cranberries in our salad :-).  Once we start cooking this meal for more people we'll add more side dishes, but this is plenty of food for the two of us.  And there's always leftovers....which I turn into turkey noodle soup.  Similar to chicken noodle soup, but with white wine. 

Finally it was time to eat!  I know a lot of families eat in the afternoon which is just plain crazy to me.  It's Thanksgiving DINNER!  I don't want to eat early and then get hungry again before bed, so we eat around 6.  Here's the man of the house cutting into our feast, cheers!

Everything tasted incredible and we had such a fun day together.  We definitely miss our family and friends, but at least we had the opportunity to skype with lots of them.   We'll see what next year brings!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Suzie the Snowbird

Conor's mom, Suzie, came for a visit recently to get away from the negative temperatures in Montana.  It was beautiful blue skies and 70s here in AZ.  That Thursday I picked her up from the airport and then headed straight home to get dinner going before Conor was off work.  Well it wasn't exactly straight home, since I got on the freeway going the wrong direction...but only a minor detour and we were back on course.  Guess I'm still learning my way around, even with the GPS!  That evening we sat outside with a bottle of Keenan wine, watched all the hummingbirds we have buzzing around our feeders, and caught up with "The Suz".  She is a busy women, so it was nice to have her here relaxing and all to ourselves.  Dinner was a delicious Sockeye salmon fillet (which can be hard to find all the way down here) followed by more wine and after dinner drinks.  A good start to Suzie's short visit.

Conor had to work again the following day, so just us girls headed to Old Town Scottsdale to be touristy and go window shopping.  Lots of interesting trinket shops & tons of jewelry stores.  I have no idea how all these places survive, but I guess they'll be a hotspot once all the little old ladies with money to burn make their way down here for the winter.  Suzie and I had some pretty good laughs about all the random stuff you can purchase and how hideous it all looks.  However, there were some beautiful art gallery's we peaked our heads into.  Lots of blown glass which I love.  I especially liked the blown glass pumpkins and various light fixtures....so pretty to look at.  We also came across a nursery full of what we thought were pretty standard garden plants....but oh no....once we looked at the price tags we realized these supposedly were some sort of rare/exquisite desert plants that we had never heard of. But they really looked just like the ones in our backyard...  We finished our walking tour with lunch at a local mexican place, Los Olivos....Suzie had  been craving some good southwest cuisine and I was not going to complain since I LOVE mexican food.  In fact Suzie loves it too, so for dinner we had mexican again!  This time, we went to a place close to our house called La Casa Blanca....soooo good!

Her last day with us we went to the Desert Botanical Gardens.  Now this is not my cup of tea, but I did manage to enjoy it.  To sum it up, there were lots of different types of cactus... and I mean LOTS!  Next stop was lunch at Queen Creek Olive Mill, our 2nd time there and again delicious.  I just started eating/enjoying olives about a week ago, so this is kind of a new and exciting food for me.  Now I want to put olives on everything!  For some reason sipping on a dirty martini (and liking it...) has been strangely intriguing to me.  So perhaps this is my first step in that direction.

We also made a stop at Superstition Farm where we just became dairy club members.  This was our first pickup.  Every two weeks we get to pick up a gallon of milk, fresh cheese, pint of ice-cream, butter (plain or flavored), & a locally made mystery item.  Boy do I love my dairy!   This week we got garlic & pepper cheese, mint chocolate chip ice-cream, molasses & pecan butter, and the mystery item was bananas foster bread with a sugary glaze.  Our fridge is stocked!  I'm already looking forward to our next pick up.

That night we took Suzie to downtown Chandler fora night on the town.  We stopped in at Kokopelli Wine Bar for a drink and it ended up being a horrible experience...  Bad service and even worse wine.  Well we know that AZ is not exactly wine-country... but yikes!  Luckily I opted for a kir royal and was very pleased with my choice.  But once again the bartenders had no idea what they were doing and the guy tried to open a champagne bottle with a wine key...In the words of my father: "Get an idiot!"  After breaking the first cork, he tried again....still with the wine key... least it came out this time. About ten minutes later, I had glass in hand.  Needless to say, we downed our drinks and left.  After trying to find a new place for a drink & dinner we came across interesting employees and more bad service...downtown Chandler you disappointed me.  Hopefully we'll learn the area a little better for our next guests' visit.  We did end up at a small local restaurant close to our house, Boatzhouse, which ended up being a nice little surprise.  Not exactly what we were looking for, but it was a cute & casual place owned by a young local guy and his wife.  We had good service, good food, and good prices.  Finally, a breath of fresh air to end the evening.  We were all pleasantly surprised, and Conor and I will definitely be back to this great tucked-away, neighborhood spot. 

Conor had to take Suzie to the airport early the next morning....he let me sleep in :-)  Her visit was much too short and we can't wait to have her back.  Or any guests for that matter, just let us know when you're coming!

*pictures to come, but they are all on Suzie's camera right now*
**'cause i know you're all dying to seeing the desert botancial garden shots, hehehe**

Monday, November 22, 2010

My Favorite Things

If Oprah can do it, so can I!  So here is a list of what I'm loving right now!

Tom & Jerry's:  It is a holiday favorite in the Simpson household.  Pretty much consists of bourbon & apricot brandy, hot water, and topped with a dollop of whipped sugar and egg.  Sprinkle with nutmeg.  Very strong, it has taken me years to appreciate this holiday treat.  The Spokane Club throws a tom & jerry's party ever Christmas, but I have yet to attend.
Worcestershire:  I have been putting this on everything lately....burgers, edamame, chex mix, bloody marys, pumpkin seeds, tortilla soup, sauted with mushrooms and onions, etc.  I absolutely cannot get enough of it!  If it's in a recipe, I at least double it.
Timbuk2:  Their bags are the greatest.  Realistic for everyday use, and so cute at the same time!
Pearls:  Channeling my Audrey Hepburn and sporting these beautiful things all the time.  And not to mention Julia Child who would wear a full string of exquisite pearls while cooking.  Earring, necklaces, bracelets, rings...all are this girl's best friend.  Maybe one day I will even get my hands on some Mikimotos!
Kir Royal:  The best new drink!  Nothing is as refreshing as champagne with a little black cherry liquor splashed in, mmm mmm mmm.
Vera Bradley:  My East Coast girlfriends turned me onto this brand.  So many patterns, so many styles...how do you choose?  I want a diaper bag so bad...and not for its said purpose right now...but because of it's size and numerous pockets!
Kindle:  I love mine and think that everyone should have one.  Also, I heard from a little birdy recently that they are coming up with a way to be able to "lend" books on your kindle to others for 2 weeks.  This is the best news because Conor isn't too happy with all of my amazon purchases.
Northface:  Everyone from the Northwest has to love this brand!  Nothing is cozier.
Trump Wollman Ice Rink:  People seem to think that the Rockefeller Ice Rink is the place to be in NYC, but they are all so wrong.  The Rockefeller rink is small, over crowded, and has a time limit!  The Trump Ice Rink is way better and in Central Park.  Think Serendipity: the skating scene in that film was in Central Park.
Whistler:  If you haven't been, go immediately!  This is best thing Canada has to offer.  Even if you don't ski or board, the shopping, restaurants, and scenery will satisfy you.  I haven't been in 3 years, but hope Conor & I will make it back soon!
Dry Soda:  A Seattle company developed by a woman who appreciated wine paired with food but needed something else to drink during her many pregnancies.  The flavors are so unique but taste delicious.  I would equate the drink to more of a sparkling water than a soda because it is not sweet.  My favorite flavor is Lavender.  Drink that with some lavender goat cheese and it is perfection.  Hard to find sometimes, but Whole Foods usually has it.  In Spokane it's at main market and possibly Huckleberries.
Glee:  I have officially become a Gleek and am trying to convert Conor, no luck so far.
Fro-yo:  Not TCBY fro-yo (although I do still love their white chocolate mousse), but the real stuff.  I only like the tart flavors though.  Most recently I fell in love with pomegranate tart.  Top with mini gummi bears and I have my favorite dessert.  Yogurtland is all over the southwest, and Spokane just got Froyo Earth.
Nordstrom:  Always has and always will be one of my favorite things!  Everyone loves when that silver box appears at birthdays, christmas, or just because.  I am a Nordies girl!
Candles:  I went to a candle part (similar to a tupperware party) about 3 years ago and it has since changed my life.   The best candle brand in my book:  Gold Canyon.
Cooking Light:  Love their magazine as well as their cookbooks.  Conor calls it "cooking with white wine" since any recipe with milk or cream is substituted with wine.  No complaints here.
Keenan Wine Club:  Not many wineries in AZ, so the local selection isn't great.  Solution: join a wine club.  A couple times a year you get wine deliveries to your front door of bottles that aren't distributed.  We got our first one last week and are quickly filling up our wine cellar.  I'm sure we'll tap into the collection on Turkey Day.
Dairy Club:  Speaking of clubs, Conor & I just joined  a dairy club at a local farm.  Twice a month we go pick up fresh milk, butter, cheese, ice-cream, and a mystery item.  All things I love.  This week's mystery item was Bananas Foster bread.  Pretty excited to try that with our molasses butter.  Looks like I'll be hitting the holiday food hard this year!
Conor Keenan:  Of course the love of my life is one of my favorite things!  Married life has been wonderful, and I couldn't be happier. 

Monday, November 15, 2010

"Hey Laura, It's your Birthday!"

Since Conor had a business trip in Alabama last week, I took the opportunity to make it back to Spokane again!  Now I will preface this post with saying that I am officially becoming my father, and found myself taking numerous scenery photos and not very many "people pictures."  I guess I was so excited about all the fall colors and got a little carried away.

My first night home, my parents and I headed out to their lake cabin.  And christmas came early...Since I'm never home when my parents put up their christmas tree at the lake, they decided to do it early this year so I could help.  It doesn't even need to be said that I ABSOLUTELY LOVE christmas, but typically I do wait until the day after Thanksgiving to begin any christmas festivities and decorating.  This year I made an exception.  While my dad made a huge fire (my 1st of the year) my mom & I put up all the ornaments.  This tree is themed to fit our cabin, having lots of lake-ish ornaments.  One of our favorite stores: Christmas at the Lake in Coeur d'alene.  We even started a new Christmas puzzle (there's always a puzzle in the works at our cabin, countless hours are spent by everyone over that table).  It was such a fun and cozy night.

The weather was perfect...for me....with a chilly breeze and a few rainy days.  I actually enjoy the rain, and now living in a place where those days are few and far between, I appreciate them even more.  Arizona has a little too much sunshine for me!  The trees were gorgeous, full of color, one of the best autumns Spokane has had in awhile. 
Sunday night we had a big family dinner to celebrate my birthday!  It was so nice to have my whole family together.  Our good family friends, the Crumbs, even made an appearance for drinks, along with my Uncle Tom & Cousin Taylor.  On the menu: Miller's Ham (who knew Spirit Lake makes the best hams in all the land) seasoned with cloves and glazed with raisin sauce, gorgonzola & thyme potatoes, and a pomegranate salad...mmm!  My mom had the house beautifully decorated for Autumn.  My favorite part: her tablescape...Sandra Lee has nothing on Shari Simpson!

For the first time in Simpson family history, we ran out of wine!  There is usually a good stock in the household at all times, and even though we were prepared for this event, there still wasn't enough.  Partly because my Dad has finally been converted and joined the rest of us in our love of the red stuff.  It's safe to say that fun was had by all.

While home, I actually bartended at my brothers' bar for a day.  It had been about 2 years since I was behind the bar, so I was a little rusty.  But pretty quickly I was back in my groove and slinging drinks!  A few of my favorite customers came to see me back in action, which made my day go by quickly.  It was nice to be there again and thinking of all the concoctions I could make.  I spent half the day deciding what I would have as my after work drink...thoughts of lemon drops, champagne with chambord, bloody marys, mojitos, and a fine red wine circled my head.  Also while working, I got to decorate the bar for Thanksgiving.  I'm pretty pleased with my handiwork, even though it's kinda hard to see!

Later in the week, I had the pleasure of joining my mom's book club.  It was a lovely afternoon full of wonderful women, great discussion, and delicious food...and don't forget the wine!  My mom's friend Patti Stifter was the host this week.  This women is incredible, and has become a dear friend of mine as well.  I look up to her and admire her, and enjoy any opportunity I get to sit down and chat with her.  We had lentil soup, blue cornbread muffins, and some delicious salad for lunch.  Now lentils were on my DO NOT eat list, but I gave it a try and loved it!  It's always exciting for me, when I can add a new food to my repetoire.  This month, the group read Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls.  Some of the women really enjoyed it, while others (like me) found the book entertaining, but wouldn't necessarily recommend it.  As I continue thru more books on my kindle, I'll update my reading list when I have a few books worth recommending to others. 

The rest of trip was spent running errands with my mom, seeing friends, and eating some incredible meals.  There's times I feel like this blog is more about all the amazing food I eat, instead of what's going on with Conor & I, but food is our passion....so hear I go again.  On Tuesday I went out to dinner with Grandpa (I do this every Tuesday that I am in Spokane, it's become our tradition and something I look forward to).  My mom always comes to, as Tuesday is the night that she always goes and sees him.  My brother, Jon, and his _______? lady friend? Shalan also joined us this time.  We went to Geno's (near Gonzaga) as always.  This is my favorite italian restaurant in Spokane.  If you have never been, I suggest you check it out!  It's nothing fancy, just good authentic food.  The atmosphere is so unique with two seperate dining rooms, low lit with candles on the red and white checkered table cloths.  There is an old jukebox right inside the front door, which was one of the hightlights when I was younger.  Their house soup is to die for...no use describing it, you just have to try this little drop of heaven for yourself.  I suggest going straight for the bowl, because the cup always leaves me wanting more.  I also suggest getting a large carafe of Chianti!  The thin crust style pizza is simple but to die for.  And any place that can offer me spumoni at the end of the meal is a winner in my book.  This restaurant has been around for a long time, and remains in operation by the same family.  Geno himself opened it up, and now his daughter Gina runs it.  I hope the younger generations continue to support it, so that I may be able to take my kids there someday.

Another night, my dad took my mom and I out to dinner at Gordy's Sichuan Cafe.  This little gem is hidden on the South Hill, near Grand & 29th.  It's a very small place and typically has a long wait.  Lots of people get take-out for this reason, but I just don't think it's the same.  My to-die-for dishes on the menu: lemon chicken & dandan noodles.  Both so good, you will never have anything like them.  A bottle of wine tops of the meal nicely, and I love the orange slices that come with the check. 

Before I flew back to Phoenix, my mom and I had lunch at Mizuna in downtown.  This was only my 3rd visit to the restaurant, but I have been pleased everytime.  The building has exposed brick walls, which I am obsessed with and wish I could put them in my own house.  The hardwood floors and marble tabletops only add to it's cozy atmosphere.  The menu changes constantly with the seasons and is vegetarian & vegan friendly!  Winter is the perfect time to visit this restaurant, especially to take a break from Christmas shopping since it's right across the streat from Macy's.  It's good to support your local businesses and stay away from the chains!!!

Once again, a fabulous trip!


Conor & I love game nights and are always looking for new games!  We're both very competitive which makes for an interesting game every time, and I think I embarass Conor sometimes when we're playing with lots of friends!  I definitely get it from my family, which you would know if you ever tried to play Catch Phrase (or as my dad says, catch-a-phrase) with us.  There is usually lots of shouting, accussing, and angry people amongst all the fun that we're having.  Conor & I have even been known to ferociously play multiple games of speed monopoly.

Our game closet is filled with the standards: apples-to-apples (another simpson family favorite, shouting included), mexican train, the game of things, monopoly, and anything cranium.  But finally Conor & I got a little adventurous.....

So for all you crazy Settlers of Catan fans, I bring you: Carcassonne!

But no worries, although this may seem a little over the top nerdy on our part, you will not see us dressed up in the park fighting with swords or anything of that nature! 

Monday, November 1, 2010

It's Spooky

Another fun fun weekend for us!

On Friday, Conor & I decided to have a date night.  While I was getting ready for the evening, Conor was on the phone with our cable company 'cause the cable/internet wasn't working.  Him and this lady were just chatting it up and talking about their favorite restaurants....maybe she was trying to get a date?  Nonetheless, we took the overly friendly respresentative's advice and went to her favorite restaurant in Chandler.  Si Senor was a New Mexican style restaurant and quite spicy, but very delicious.  Guess the cable lady knew what she was talking about.  After dinner we went to the San Tan Brewery in downtown Chandler, where we met up with one of Conor's coworkers.  I really enjoyed downtown Chandler.  It was nice to get away from the strip mall atmosphere that seems to be everywhere in AZ.  I happily sipped on my hard cider and watched fireworks....we think downtown was celebrating el Dia de los Muertos a few days early.

Saturday was a lazy stay-at-home day.  We finally sat down to choose pictures for our wedding album.  Narrowing down 600 pictures to 140 is quite difficult...it took hours.  Now I can't wait to get the album.  Since we were on a roll with the pictures we decided to order our christmas cards now and get that done.  Get excited...the Keenan Family's very first Christmas card will be hitting your mailboxes in early December!  That night we made pizzas together...a great friend gave me this phenominal recipe for a chicken, mushroom, lemon artichoke pesto pizza!  (love and miss ya Ali)!  I was trying to get into the Halloween spirit and wanted to watch a scary movie.  This took some convincing 'cause Conor hates horror films.  We finally decided to watch Paranormal Activity, so we'd know what everyone is talking about...it was horrible!  The biggest waste of my time and not scary.  I only jumped a tad at the very end.  I've had scarier nightmares!

Finally, Halloween was here.  To me, Halloween kicks off the holiday season.  This is the first year I've been able to carve pumpkins outside in 85 degree weather while wearing shorts.  Kinda different.  Any of you who have carved pumpkins with me before will know that I am horrible at it.  I've practically been carving the same thing since I was ten.  It's embarassing.  So this year I was determined to step up my game!  I found a pumpkin pattern that I liked online and used that.  About an hour and half later, I had a pretty sweet ghost!  So proud of it.  Conor carved a spider which proved to be a little more difficut and he had a few issues...but nothing that some toothpicks couldn't fix.

Conor had some chili cooking in the crockpot all day.  He came up with the recipe last year during the 2nd horrible snowstorm that Delaware had.  If the news ever reported that a storm was coming, east coasters hit the grocery stores with a vengence, stock piling milk, eggs, bread, and toilet paper.  The northwest blood Conor and I have in us just wouldn't allow for this kind of behavior.  So the day after that bad storm Conor and our friend Quinn walked to store so we could have dinner.  Because of that blizzard, we now have  cravings for Conor's Snowstorm Chili!  Mmmmm.  I had some spiced cider brewing on the stove...add in some Jim Beam bourbon and it's a little drop of holiday heaven.  Skyping with lots of family and friends made for a perfect night!

This year we had so many trick-or-treaters.  I couldn't have been happier! But we almost ran out of candy which would have been a travesty.  The kids loved our decorations, which were all thanks to Conor.  He set up spooky music and created this little disaster under our garage...and asked the kids if they'd seen Joe...

Let the holiday season begin!