Saturday, April 30, 2011

pucker up

Last month, my bff blogged about making her own lip balm (you can read about that here.) I love lip balm, can't go a day without it... so naturally, I begged that she send me a little pot so I could try it out for myself. Luckily she agreed to my demands and a few days later I had some in my hot little hands. I have to say, the stuff is great. It's so very similar to my beloved Lypsyl, which seems to be the only thing that keeps my lips moisturized during the grueling Chicago winters, but also happens to be very difficult to find. The homemade stuff takes the cake though, because obviously... it's made with LOVE.

I've spent the last couple of weeks gathering ingredients. I purchased beeswax ($15) and peppermint ($5) essential oil at Hobby Lobby and Shea Butter ($10) and Coconut Oil ($7) at Whole Foods. I found the lip balm tubes online. This was the annoying part... 50 tubes= $9 + $9.50 shipping. UGH, really?! $10 shipping on something that weighs a few ounces? It was the cheapest I could find, so I went with it. The rest of the ingredients, I had at home, so I was all set.

Lip Balm
0.5 ounces beeswax
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 tablespoon shea butter
4 vitamin E capsules
20-25 drops peppermint essential oil 

In a double boiler, melt the beeswax, coconut oil, and shea butter. Once thoroughly melted, pierce the vitamin E capsules and squeeze them into the mixture. Add the essential oil.  Pour mixture into containers and let it set and cool completely before adding lids.

I created a double boiler with a pot of water and a glass measuring cup (I totally thought that I photographed it... but apparently not?) In order to get the mixture from the measuring cup into the tubes, I used a food flavor injector syringe sans the "needle" part. It hadn't been used before, so no fear of the lip balm tasking like cajun butter or some such thing. Of course, now I'll need to pick up another one before we have rotisserie chicken on Monday, but I digress.
Once cooled, I added the lovely silver caps:

The total cost for all the supplies (I did have vitamin E already, which runs about $6, I think) was just under $60. I got 50 lip balms out of it, so it's roughly $1 a lip balm... plus, I only used a fraction of my ingredients, I could probably make 100 more out of what I have left, I just need more tubes and ya know, an immediate need for 100 more lip balms! I'll be passing on half of my current stash to my sisters and mom in Texas and which still leaves me with plenty to share with friends!

You want some too? leave a comment before midnight CST on Sunday and I'll send 2 lucky people 2 free tubes of lip balm!

Monday, April 25, 2011

someone stop us, please!

We have a small obsession with collecting living things. We're not collecting children like the Duggars, nor are we crazy cat people. It's just me, the hubs and the rotten dog... and our 983405983045 plants. That's right kids, we're a bit obsessed with growing greenery. Let me introduce you to the family...

 First up... the oldest and largest of the plants: Johnny

I've had Johnny for roughly 10 years. He started out in a small pot that was maybe 6 inches tall and 4 inches in diameter. He's been cut back and replanted at least half a dozen times and the legacy of Johnny lives not only here in Chicago and even back in Texas. As you can see, he's in need of yet another cut back.

We have a spawn of Johnny hanging out in the kitchen. It's actually a replant that I gave to my husband when he moved into his new apartment a few years ago before we lived together.

We have two other ivys in the house... I'm not entirely sure where they came from. I believe one came from the funeral of my husband's grandfather. He's not growing so wonderfully... but we're not giving up!
the other, I believe, may be one of Johnny's kids?

We tend to pick up unique plants, Ikea always seems to have something a little different like these guys. 

The first is a dessert rose, the second? I have no idea. It's something I've never seen before, the individual trunks and leaves certainly make it look a bit tropical. 
Of course, nothing says tropical like the new palm tree the hubs picked up last weekend:

Adding to the tropical feel, we've got this great colorful plant called a Croton (yay! the hubs remembers what this one is!). As I'm thinking about it now... I think it really should be hanging out with the palm tree, so maybe we've got a rearrange coming. 


One of my favorite plants is currently residing in the kitchen window (we've seriously just run out of well lit space!) I have no idea what it is, and the hubs can't remember either. The leaves are just so thick, it sort of reminds me of a succulent. 

Speaking of succulents, I've recently become obsessed and am collecting in order to put together a diverse succulent/cactus garden. Right now, they're all living in the dining room in a bit of a haphazard arrangement that I call "succulent row" 

 Up close and personal: 

I love how they all have such different and unique shapes. They're like little works of art. Best of all, they require little maintenance. Apparently, they thrive when they aren't really given much attention at all.  Right now, they're all in the pots with which they were purchased. When I finally find the perfect planter, they'll be consolidated into one or two containers. 

We usually have fresh flowers on the dining room table, but the fresh tulips we had just died, but we just picked up a flower bag to hang on the deck 
Normally we have multiple deck rail flower baskets, but since we're moving during the summer, we opted not to go crazy with flowers this year.
Lastly, we've got the edible plants! I love love love fresh herbs, and am growing my two most commonly used herbs; basil and cilantro.

I can't wait to have the fresh herbs at my fingertips instead of having to pick up a bunch at the store or farmers market. 

Lastly, since we don't have the space for a garden, I've decided to give the Topsy Turvey a try. Several friends have had great luck with it. I bought two and plan to grow tomatoes and cucumbers. I haven't assembled it yet, since we just picked up everything yesterday, and we have to purchase a few more hooks for the deck, but come this weekend we should be on our way to fresh produce!

Right now, the man has his eye set on a fern to hang in the sunroom across from Johnny. We have a spare hook since the bridal veil plant we kept indoors during the winter too a turn for the worse. 

Hopefully, we can restrain ourselves and not add to the family until we move and know what space we're dealing with.Though, if we could find some small plants that don't need much light then we may be able to adopt more... we shall see!

Friday, April 22, 2011

new obsession

There was a lot of talk about Pinterest... I went to the website and requested an account. nothing happened. for weeks.
Today, I got tired of waiting... I am nothing if not impatient. The fact that I've waiting almost 3 weeks says a lot. Why won't they let me join in? Why can't I pin too? I went to facebook, found their app page and requested an invite. Within 30 seconds, another pinterest user had sent me an invite... and off I went.

I haven't even been pinning for a full 24 hours and suddenly I have 394058304934534 ideas floating around in my head. I'm currently waiting for my husband to pick me up so we can head to his parents for the weekend. Guess what he's going to hear about during hour 1.5-2 hour car ride? If you guessed those aforementioned 394058304934534 ideas... you are right!

check out my pinterest page:
if you're a user, connect with me!
if you want an account, let me know I can send an invite!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

these are a few of my favorite things...

Despite the fact that companies spend billions on marketing and advertising, I'm still a firm believer that "word of mouth" is the best form of advertising. Before heading to dinner somewhere new, the first thing I do is ask around for recommendations or check a website like Heck, I even picked my optometrist because of yelp reviews! I might be intrigued by a commercial, but if a product is tried and recommended by someone I know... I'm much more likely to give it a try! 

So with that said, here are a few things that I'm totally loving at the moment... you can thank me later!

When it comes to small kitchen appliances, I love my kitchen aid mixer (it's a dream for making multiple batches of cookies, and don't get me started on the attachments) and I love my bread machine (we use it almost every week when making the dough for our grilled pizzas) but the nearest and dearest (and probably most used aside from the toaster over) is the Ninja!
image from

My mother purchased this about a year ago off of an infomercial and love it so much that she bought one for me for my birthday. This thing is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G! It's like a food processor and blender only better! My mother uses it to make sno-cones for my niece and nephew because it chops ice that well! I've made frozen fruit margaritas in it a time or two and it worked like a charm. The thing purees like nothing I've seen before. It kicks my old kitchen aid food processors butt a million times over. Because I'm a big fan of cooking from scratch, I use this thing multiple times a week!
Just a small list of my most common uses for the ninja: smoothies, salsa, black bean spread, homemade tomato sauce, shredding cheese, veggie/fruit purees, chipotle flavored ranch or sour cream...  
I've been raving about this thing to friends since the day I got it and I am please to say that several friends have purchased one too and love it!

My second item is a favorite due to my lack of competency when it comes to using a corkscrew, god forbid someone give me one without those little arm things, because if left up to me, no one is drinking! I believe I received this as a christmas gift many years (wasn't it from you, A?) and I still use it to this day. In fact, last weekend I had a scare when I thought it might have died! Let me introduce you to the Oster Wine Bottle Opener:

Image from

Basically, you put this baby over your wine bottle, and hit the button on front, it moves an internal corkscrew into your cork and pulls it out. Once you have taken the cork from your bottle, you can hit the button again and the corkscrew will turn until it releases your cork. VIOLA! No fighting with a manual corkscrew. No mess ups that result in bits of cork floating around in your wine (or does that only happen to me?) or a horribly mangled cork that can't be used for projects like this one.

I've mentioned Rick Bayless several times before in this blog because that's just how much I love him. They run his cooking show on the local public broadcast station here in Chicago (WTTW) and whenever I see it on, I have to watch. I am obsessed with his food, his restaurant is AMAZING. I use his salsa recipes on a regular basis (or at least a loose interpretation of them) and have handed out the recipes to many an interested friend. We have a few of his cookbooks, but this one... this is by far my fave:

image from

This book is packed with info. One thing that I really love about his book is that when he mentions ingredients that aren't exactly  things you have around the house, he mentions places you can find them and usually also offers up a more common substitution. The salsa recipes alone were totally worth the $20 I dropped on this book. We've made a handful of dishes and they've all been great. One exception was a dessert my husband made, a pineapple upside down cake. But, in all fairness, Rick warned everyone that this recipe would not yield the typical cake us americans are accustomed to. He described the differences and such, but we made it anyway and just weren't fans. But I'm guessing there's many people out there that do/would love it! 

When it comes to cooking I'm a fan of Big Bold flavors. Bland food is boring to me. I like spice and depth of flavor and interesting flavor combinations. As you can imagine, this trait leads me to have a rather large dried herb/spice/spice blend collection. Last year on of my favorite local authors blogged about The Spice House and since two of their 5 stores are local to me, I made the trip to replace some spices that had been around for far too long. (never fear, you can order online too!) One thing I love about The Spice House is that you can request your item to be in a shaker jar or in a refill bag or in a bulk bag. So instead of buying a shaker of paprika, for example, and then tossing it when it is empty and buying yet another, etc. you can buy one jar, and then purchase a refill baggie at a fraction of the price! Of course, there are some items I don't ever get in a jar. my most commonly used herb blends/spices are kept in magnetic spice jars on my fridge.  It saves me tons of time from having to search through dozens of containers to find what I'm looking for. Right now I have these (from Ikea) and I keep the refill baggies that still have herbs in the freezer:
And now how about a little something NON cooking/kitchen related:

For those that don't know me, you probably don't know that I am a bit obsessed with makeup. I'm getting a lot better at it in my old age. I guess with all the grown-up responsibilities I have these days, it's harder to drop $75 at the MAC counter every few weeks. Honestly, I probably have enough eyeshadow to keep me made up for the rest of my life. With the exception of eyeshadow, foundation and bronzer, I try and keep everything else on the cheap (i.e. drug store brands). One of my favorite products is the Waterproof Eyeliner Pen by E.L.F

Image from

E.L.F. or Eyes Lips Face is mostly an internet business, but you can find some of their products at Target. I've tried many of their products and the the two that I like enough to keep buying are 1. their brushes and 2. these eyeliners. They go on like felt tip pens. It doesn't smudge or flake and it lasts all day! I'd happily pay $10-$14 for this stuff (ssshhhhh don't tell E.L.F.) but lucky for me, it's only $1. Who can't spare one dollar?

So what about you? What are a few of your favorite things?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

just in case you were wondering

The paperwhites haven't taken over the house yet... but they are still growing at a alarming rate. Please excuse the poor picture quality, I took these with my blackberry.
Keep in mind, I put these bulbs in water less than 1 month ago!

photo taken two days ago

photo from this morning

As you can see, they've started to bloom. Luckily they aren't super fragrant, because honestly... they stink. I was excited for the appearance of the first flower, I stuck my nose right into the bloom and inhaled. It sorta smells like petrol or oil or something equally not nice. But, as I said before, they aren't really fragrant, so I can't smell them unless I'm sticking my nose up-close, which I no longer do.

I had two extra bulbs from my original order so I brought them into the office last week. They are growing significantly slower than these that we have at home, yet still fast enough to creep out my boss. ha! I'm really not sure what possed me to bring them in here. I'm giving them an advantage over me... and now, they outnumber me. When they take over the world, I'm pretty much screwed.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

which one of these is not like the other?

a view of our top shelf in the bathroom...
which two items just don't seem like they belong?

Last month, I posted about going green (you can read that here.) and part of the process involved making my own facial cleanser with Castor Oil and Sunflower Oil. It's called the Oil Cleansing Method. Which, sounds crazy right? Cleaning your face with OIL? Sounds totally ick! I read several articles and, ya know what? it actually makes sense. When I considered my own personal struggle with trying to keep my skin moisturized and in a state that doesn't make me want to scratch it off my face, I figured that I'd tried everything else I could think of, spent hundreds of bucks on different cleansers and moisturizers... what did I really have to lose by slathering oil on my face?
I'm going on day 10 of the oil cleansing method (I admit to opting for my regular cleanser 2 times as I was in a rush) and I have to say; it's pretty good! The process takes a big more time than a normal session of face cleansing, but it's worth it. Since I have dry skin, my current combo is 1 part Castor oil and 2.5 parts sunflower oil. I'm going to add a bit more sunflower oil because I erred on the side of too little for fear of breakouts. (hey, I was skeptical!) I take a small amount of oil and gently massage it into my face and neck. The oils take away eye makeup with ease, even waterproof mascara! You can rub it over your eyes and eyelashes and even open your eyes with the oil still there and there's no burn or irritation. After massaging the oils in, I wait a minute or so and then lay a hot clean washcloth over my face and let it steam. Once the cloth is cool, I wipe my face to remove oils and impurities, rinse the cloth and repeat.  With this method, I no longer need a separate eye makeup remover or moisturizer, everything is in one! And the cost? Castor oil was about $3 and the sunflower oil ran about $4.  Way less expensive than a normal facial cleanser, plus, this lasts so much longer! Plus, there's the satisfaction in knowing that I'm not covering my face in chemicals and stripping my skin of it's natural oils. Dare I say that maybe something so natural will delay the onset of wrinkles?!?! SCORE, SCORE and SCORE!!!

Has anyone else tried this method? or something similar? I'd be interested to hear about your experience.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

tex-mex in the house

Considering the fact that I was born and raised in Texas, it makes perfect sense that I would love love LOVE Mexican food, and hold a special place in my heart for Tex-Mex. When I lives in Texas, I had Mexican and/or Tex-Mex multiple times a week. One might think that with so many fresh ingredients and native Mexicans around me that I'd have gotten some amazing authentic (or not so authentic if we're talking Tex-Mex) recipes and have perfected several scrumptious dishes. One would be very very WRONG. The thing about living in Texas is that every time you turn a corner, you see a Mexican and/or Tex-Mex restaurant. To put it simply... it was easier and cheaper to but it from a restaurant than to make it myself. Sundays at the local grocery store boasted homemade tortillas... warm, fresh and glorious... so I *could* have bought some, taken them home and made a wonderful dish... or I could take them home, throw some cheese or sour cream or, um nothing, on them and shove them in my mouth while they were still warm. Guess which route I chose.
Since moving to Chicago, there a few things I simply can't easily find. One of those things is great salsa. I am picky when it comes to salsa. A bowl or raw veggies chopped up and served with chips? not salsa. That's pico de gallo and it is ick. Pureed tomatoes with chunky raw veggies? not good salsa. In the past few years I have perfected a few great salsas that I make on a regular basis (thanks to Mexican food god, Rick Ballis). This weekend, I brought to Chicago a Tex-Mex classic that I love so dearly and have not been able to find, Sopapillas. It's basically, fried dough. The dough it rolled out like this...

Then popped into hot oil and fried for 2 minutes. The dough puffs up and leaves an empty center. Once done, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar
For tasty results, slather with HONEY.

I found a recipe Here. And it was great! Although I really am not a fan of frying food, this? totally worth it! It was a perfect dessert! I froze most of the dough for future sopapilla cravings.

Now I should back track and tell you about dinner. I originally wanted to try my hand making tamales, but while researching how to make them, I realized it called for some cookware I don't have and well, the kitchen is already bursting at the seams so the purchase of more stuff is a no-go right now. After poking around at a few other options, I settled on enchiladas. I'm not a huge fan of the standard red enchilada sauce, so I went with an enchiladas verdes. I found a recipe by Tyler Florence from the food network (note my adjustments in bold blue)


Roasted Tomatillo Chile Salsa:
1 pound tomatillos, husked
1 white onion, peeled, sliced, quartered or whole (I used 1/4 onion )
4 garlic cloves
2 jalapenos
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves
1/2 lime, juiced


Extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 medium onion, diced (1/4 onion, again)
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken stock, store bought
Chopped cilantro leaves
1 deli roasted chicken (about 3 pounds), boned, meat shredded ( I cooked and shredded 4 chicken breasts)
Freshly ground black pepper
10 large flour tortillas (flour?? no. I used corn)
1/2 pound Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (I used a combo of pepper jack and quesadilla queso)


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

For the salsa:
On a baking tray, roast tomatillos, onion, garlic and jalapenos for 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer the roasted vegetables and any juices on the bottom of the tray to a food processor. Add the cumin, salt, cilantro, and lime juice and pulse mixture until well combined but still chunky.

Meanwhile heat a 2 count of olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft and caramelized - this should take 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cumin then cook for a further minute. Sprinkle on the flour and stir to ensure the flour doesn't burn then gradually add the chicken stock to make a veloute. Continue stirring over a low simmer until the flour cooks and the liquid thickens. Turn off the heat, add half of the roasted tomatillo chile salsa, some additional fresh chopped cilantro and fold in the shredded chicken meat. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper.

Change the temperature of the oven to 350 degrees F and begin assembling the dish. Take a large baking dish and smear the bottom with some of the reserved tomatillo salsa. Now take the flour tortillas and briefly flash them over the stove-top flame (or put them briefly under the broiler if using an electric stove). Using a shallow bowl, coat each tortilla lightly with the reserved salsa mix. Put a scoop of the shredded chicken-enchilada mix on top of the tortilla followed by a sprinkle of the shredded cheese. Fold the tortilla over the filling and roll like a cigar to enclose it. Using a spatula place the tortillas in the baking dish and continue to do the same with all the tortillas. Finally pour over some more of the salsa and top with the remaining shredded cheese. Bake uncovered for about 30 minutes until bubbly and cracked on top. Garnish, cilantro and tomato.

Additional notes: I added about a cup to a cup and a half of my cheese mixture to the enchilada filling- what can I say? I love me some cheese! Also, the salsa is actually really mild. I would probably add an additional pepper next time. Possibly a serano or maybe even a habaƱero if I could get away with it without killing the hubs!

Here's the finished product:

It was a pretty tasty meal... the only issues I had were 1. it could have been spicier, I love me some heat! and 2. the bottom and sides of the tortillas became a bit mushy. perhaps I squeezed too many in the pan? or maybe they are supposed to be that way. Afterall, since the recipe calls for coating the pan in salsa first, it makes sense that the bottom of the enchiladas won't by crispy.
I'll admit, the recipe took quite a while and required tons of multi-tasking. I ended up having to call my husband into the kitchen and have him help out with things like shredding the chicken and shredding the cheese. It would be one of those dishes that you could prep most of the components beforehand and throw together at dinner time. Also, pretty inexpensive... ingredient-wise.

*apologies for the crappy photo quality... it was late, lighting was bad, and I was too hungry to try and improve the lighting for the photos.

Friday, April 1, 2011


As you may know, the hubs and I have been alternating turns and making new dishes (that we've never cooked in the past) every 2 weeks. Well, this weekend is my turn... and while I had originally thought about making tamales (YUM!) I have since found out that I don't exactly have all the cookware required and I think that if I try and bring any new items other than food into the kitchen 1. it may expload or 2. my husband may kill me.
So, with that said... I'm hoping for a few ideas. Any special meals you recommend? Any particular cuisine you think it would be fun for me to try?