Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Talk Turkey to Me....

I'm honestly surprised that Blogger even recognized my username & password to get on, seeing how its been a hot minute since I've written a post.  These past few weeks have been utterly insane & filled with crazy work tasks & Turkey Day gatherings, so I apologize for my absence.  I'm sure you all have just been dying to hear whats been going on in the world of the Grays, right? Bahaha, rrriiiight.  Regardless, Lucky for yall, I'm fixing to fill you guys in...

So, first things first.... Our lives have changed DRAMATICALLY since my last post.  (And no, I am not preggo.) Want to know why?

Why hello fence in Caroline & Kevin's backyard!  How nice of you to join us right before the ridiculousness & unpredictability of a Kentucky Winter!!!  So, lets back up a bit.... Kevin & I have debated on getting a fence ever since we got Hudson.  After the first 3 estimates we received, we decided to put it on the back-burner because they were both sky high, which is crazy because we only had to fence that one side & add a gate on the other side.  Finally, one of our neighbors had a fencing guy over, repairing some of the boards, so we asked him to give us a quick estimate.  I am not joking when I say that this guy was 60% cheaper than the other 3 estimates- like not even in the same ball park. So after dealing with Hudson taking his sweet time to do his business on the first rainy, 39 degree day we had, Kevin & I agreed that we should just bite the bullet.  Holy Amazingness.  I cannot even begin to express my love for that fence.  I seriously want to give it a hug for allowing me to just open the door & let Hudson outside with out having to endure any of the blah effects of icky precipitation.  Worth. Every. Penny.
That little baby was completed in its entirety last Tuesday- just in time for our Annual Wednesday night Thanksgiving Meal at our house!  You see, half my family lives in Western Kentucky & the other half lives in Central Indiana, where Kevin's WHOLE family lives within 30 minutes of Lexington.  I'd love to tell you that I just decided to start hosting a Thanksgiving meal at our house out of the goodness of my heart, but thats not entirely true.  To be honest, Kevin & I got super tired of spending our whole Holiday break running up & down the highway.  So, 3 years ago, I offered to do Thanksgiving for my immediate family, plus my cousin Becca & her husband, along w/ her husbands cousin & his girlfriend- now fiance (who is also one of my good friends & was a Chi O w/ Becca & I), and its been a tradition ever since.

L-R: Kev, Me, Becca, BABY BANKS!, my older bro, Becca's husband-Jack, & the newly engaged couple, Molly & John!
What a good looking crew :)
Now, I may have mentioned before that my Mother & I are polar opposites when it comes to most things.  And entertaining is no exception.  We take completely different approaches, and it drives her mad.  Jan likes to prepare for company weeks in advance.  She has to iron the table cloths, polish her silver, design a center-piece, etc. Sounds exhausting to me.  So what I deem as a direct result of listening to Jan's endless stress over her hosting preparations, I tend to get things ready either the day of, or if I'm over-achieving, the night before the event.  It drives Jan absolutely nuts.

In turn, Jan usually begins bothering me about a month before Thanksgiving, over the silliest things, such as: What is the menu going to be comprised of, Caroline? (Me: Thanksgiving food, Jan. Duh.) or What is your table decor going to be? (Me: Well, currently, there is a stack of folded laundry sitting on our kitchen table, so I dunno.) or What does the seating chart look like? (Me: Similar to that of a State Dinner at the White House, Jan. Calm it down.).  

   Because I've grown more privy to her rampant fire of questions pertaining to my hostessing skills, I decided that I would go Martha Stewart on her this year.  And then, perhaps she would leave me alone prior to any event I hosted at my home.  So, allow me to show you my Thanksgiving Table Decor & Seating Arrangements, because you better bet that I was covered 110% with both aspects.....

The overall look of the table & bar

A closer look at the bar...
The bar design was completed with not 1, but 2 Caroline original decorative arrangements. And bourbon, of course.  This is Kentucky, after all.

The main table

And a close-up of the main table decorations...
Yes, I handmade every flower on that table, using my skills with burlap.  And yes, those are gold chargers via wedding style.  And yes, those are also Pilgrim name cards.  And why yes, I did hand tie every napkin bow, complete w/ curls on each side.  Seriously, who am I?  Moreover, what is wrong with me?  OCD much, Caroline?  Good grief.  
I forgot to take pics of the other bar & food table, but I can assure you that they were both equally as decked out.  Needless to say, I don't think Jan will be questioning my hostessing skills any more.  Hell, knowing my luck, she'll probably start heckling me to come design her tables :) Then again, she would need to have her table set about 2 weeks in advance for her to be happy, so I doubt she'll ever ask me :)  

Don't worry, my personal quest to appear Martha Stewart-like to my Mom didn't derail me from remembering what Thanksgiving is all about & what I am most thankful for.  **Prepare yourself, because I'm about to get sentimental & such..** Personally, I am forever thankful for Kevin, my sweet husband that deals with me every day, who still willingly wants to hang out with me :) I am also thankful for our families.  They are both so great & unique, but in completely different ways that help guide us in our life.  And lastly, I am thankful for true friends. Its remarkably reassuring knowing that there are people in our lives, other than family members, who are always gonna be there for us when the going gets tough.  I know my list is pretty standard, but hey, I grateful for those 3 large blessings on a daily basis :) 

Oh! And I can't forget about being thankful for this little blessing...

Lucy says HI... or HOW (Indian voice)- take your pick

Or this handsome little devil!!
Hudson.. just being handsome.  Or trying to accost my 95 year old grandmother. Again, take your pick...

Hahahaa, okay yall, thats it for now!  I swear, my blog slacking is over :)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Daughter in-law of the year

So, obviously, its been a hot minute since my last post.  I would love to tell you that I have been busy doing fabulous things..... but that would be a bold faced lie.
Ohhhh no, quite the contrary.  Currently, I am under a tight tight tight timeline because of what I decided (a bit late, mind you) to get my Father in-law for Christmas.  I know what you're thinking...."what on earth could she have gotten him that has taken her away from her precious blog time?"
Well friends, allow introduce you to the world of needlepoint.  More specifically, the world of needlepoint belts.  (And if any of you show this to Big Bo, just expect to receive one hell of a tongue-lashing from yours truly because it took me forever to figure out what we were gonna get Mr. impossible to buy for...)

Kevin = my personal Vanna White. Great demonstration skills.
So, needlepoint belts are HUGE in the South.  Almost every guy I know has one, and they wear them 24/7.  At first glance, they look hugely easy, right? Um, no.  If someone ever tries to convince you to make a needlepoint belt for them, run like hell.  On average, they take about 72 hours of labor to complete.  So if you get bored easily, you will want to stab your eyeballs out with the needle on day 2.  Lucky for me,  I absolutely LOVE making these bad boys.  Although I am ADHD as all get out, I have some major OCD tendencies, so it actually calms me down because you have 110% complete control of your stitches.  And, its super addicting.  I'm not kidding.. this stuff is like crack to me.
So obviously, when Kev & I decided that Bo's Christmas present would be a custom designed needlepoint belt, I knew what I was gettin myself into.  This isn't my first rodeo.  
However, when I picked it up, I was told I had to have it 110% completed by

Fantastic.  Did I mention that was 2 weeks ago?  No pressure or anything.  Only the minor detail that if I don't get it finished in time, my Father in-law will have nothing to open on Christmas from Kevin & I.  No biggie.  Let me put this in perspective for yall.. normally, the cross-stitch belt project is something that I do at my leisure.  Like, I give myself 2 months to do one.  So, a 3.5 week timeline? Can we say major stress ball?  I have honestly been working non-stop on this belt, ie: we're talking 2am bedtimes, bringing it with me in the car & making kevin drive so I can work on it, & getting up early to work on it.  OUT. OF. CONTROL.....However, my dedication has paid off- I'm closing in on the finish-line.

Left side


Right Side.  (The SC sign is already done, so I just have to fill & do the 18th hole.)

Needless to say, I'm just gonna go ahead & nominate myself for Daughter in-law of the year.  Nevermind the fact that I am Bo's only Daughter in-law.  Hrmphhh. Minnnorrrr detail :)  
The one bad part about this belt is that Kevin has now seen that I can seriously FLY on some needlepointingwhen I put my mind to it.  He now thinks that I should be able to produce a new one for him on a much more consistent basis.  Riiiiiight- Keep dreaming, honey.

Due to the fact I am obsessing over this damn belt, it has also made me completely obsessed with Christmas this year.  Jan (mi madre) convinced me this weekend that I could craft a new Christmas wreath without much issue.  Well, um, I have absolutely zero talent in the floral department, so I found this sentiment laughable.  THEN, i found the bedazzled area in Hobby Lobby that is specifically designed for floral arrangements & wreaths.  O.....M....G..... Talk about a game changer.  
So, with some Jan supervision, let me reveal my bedazzled Christmas Wreath.

It's a little disheveled after sharing the backseat w/ Hudson on the car ride back from Louisville, but yall get the idea.  I know Christmas is more than a month away, but I beyond jacked up it.  In addition to the wreath, I may or may not have purchased 4 other Christmas decorative items over the weekend.  (Jan is a terrible influence on my bank account. I can always count on her to convince me its totally cool for me to drop a couple hundred dollars on something completely ridiculous.  Thats what mom's are great for, right? hahahaha)  And I've already spent hours designing our Christmas Card.  Please sweet Jesus, someone tell me this is normal?  Or am I the only one?  

I need to get it together & redirect my focus on THANKSGIVING!!!!!!!!!!!
I always do Thanksgiving at my house the Wednesday night of Thanksgiving week w/ some of my family & friends.  As of right now, I THINK I have my Menu together (due to Jan's never ending persistence).... However, I am in desperate need of a good Mac & Cheese Recipe because mine has just not been on point lately.  Suggestions are welcome & truly appreciated!  MMmmmmkay yall, that is it for now! 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Epic Fail- I forgot my Halloween Post

I cannot BELIEVE I forgot to tell you all about our Halloween Party.
After missing Halloween last year, if you think I passed up my golden opportunity to finally be MTV's trashiest teen trainwreck, you've got another thing coming.
Lemme introduce you to my dear friends, Amber & Gary.

Have you ever seen 2 more beautiful people in your life????
Seriously? Flippin gorgeous!!!  Bhahahahaha. Okay, now yall know my oddly sick obsession with bad reality tv, and that Teen Mom probably tops the list as my personal favorite.  And as much as it pains my husband to admit it, ole Kev lives for that ridiculous show as well.  We legitimately get in conversations about the people on that show on a regular basis... like they're our friends.... like thats normal.  
Anywho, I'd been talking about wanting to be sweet Amber since last year, so when we figured out that none of our friends had any plans to celebrate Halloween, I immediately started talking Kevin into having a small shin-dig at our house.  After all, I knew it'd probably be my last chance to bust out my portrayal of the break out 16 & pregnant star, Amber Portwood.  
I'd be lying to you if I said that I wasn't met with some resistance from Kevin.  Since we did NYE at our house, along w/ some other couples showers & parties this past year, he wasn't exactly over-joyed about hosting yet another party.  However, once he realized he got to wear a costume, the tide started to change in my favor.  
I don't know what it is about my husband, but the kid utterly LIVES to dress up in insane costumes.  Even funnier is that he ends up getting super into whatever the character is, and just rolls with it for the whole night. 
Whats up Caroline & Kev, circa 2006?
Above is kind of a weak example, but this was taken before a Chi O Date Party my senior year.  The theme was clearly a March Madness Theme (Surprise surprise, we are in Kentucky), so you'd think Kevin would've just thrown on a matching basketball jersey to match my 5th grade cheerleading Uniform (Yes, I said 5th grade, but thats another story all together), but Ohhhhh no.  He had to make his character "more authentic." Seriously? Its a date party. Calm. It. Down.  Sooo in order to be an "Authentic" March Madness basketball player, he made his friend, Stephen, spend 45 minutes drawing that sweet Tattoo you see in that picture.  Because I'm sure every intoxicated Chi O AND their date noticed.  Good Grief. The boy wears me out.
Anyway, once Kevin FINALLY agreed to the party at our house AND that he would accompany my Amber character w/ his best Gary Shirley Costume, I thought I'd won the lottery.  Until I remembered his propensity to get hung up in the details- he then continued to pester the absolute hell out of me about the following regarding his Gary costume:

1) The Flat Billed Hat He honestly worried about what hat to wear, because he wasn't entirely sure of Gary's favorite team bc he wears different hats in every picture.
2)His Gary Stomach-  So, Gary probably outweighs Kevin by 100lbs.  Kevin was truly concerned that he wouldn't look the part because he didn't have on a fat suit.  Then he kept inquiring about me putting stuffing in his shirt to make him appear larger.  Seriously. But how do you say "Ummm, honey- I think a womens XS makes you look puffy enough." in a nice way? 
3) Ice for his ears- So Back in the day, my preppy hubs got all gangster on us & had not one, but both ears pierced.  He proceeded to rock this look w/ studs in his ears. GHETTO FABULOUS!!!! So, having him wear earrings like Gary was no big thing.... or so I thought.  He then got alll choosey about which of my diamond studs would look best as Gary.  Not kidding when I tell you he vetoed at least 2 pairs.  Dang, picky!
4) Baby Leah- Okay, so obviously, we needed a baby doll to complete our Amber & Gary Teen Mom look, otherwise, we'd look like any other couple that roams Walmart past 11:20pm on a given night in Kentucky.  I figured we'd just borrow one from one of our neighbors. Oh no. That wasn't gonna be good enough for Kev.  He called me from Target to ask me about a $22 "life-like" baby doll. After I nearly hung up on him for his clear desire to just burn through money, I calmly explained to him that we could probably just borrow one, or find one in the $1 section because it was pointless to actually purchase a doll that would be most likely not make it through a party at the Grays.  He begrudgingly agreed, but still managed to critique my $2 doll choice when I brought it home.  And don't worry yall, our beloved daughter "Leah" doll basically ended up serving as Hudson's chew toy for the whole night after pictures.  

Even though I might not have been able to satisfy all of Kevin's over-the-top costume preference requests, I think he would agree that he wound up being a pretty legit Gary.
Amber putting Gary in his Place....Please note the Ice in his ears. Hot.

Amber getting physical w/ Gary...and not in the Olivia Newton John sense of the word.

Amber being a great mom w/ Brooke aka Eden Wood Grand Supreme

This was taken about 3 minutes before I managed to lose baby Leah for the night.. I then proceeded to find Hudson with it & the head ripped off & torn into about 1000 pieces.  I personally think he was just super annoyed that we chose to use a fake baby doll to play baby Leah & he didn't get to dress up in an outfit.  Maybe thats why he decided to run away mid-party? What do you think Pink Lou Lou? :)  Regardless, Sorry boy- next year!

I feel like you all should probably know that I opted out of using traditional Halloween decorations.  Too predictable.  Instead, I opted to adorn my house w/ random pictures of Amber & Gary.  Judging from the picture above, I am obviously not kidding.  I probably had about 10-12 pictures of them scattered throughout the house.  Don't worry.. I kept it classy.  I printed them all on card stock.  

So my friends, that pretty much captures our party in a nutshell.  And yes, in case you were wondering, I have saved everything just in case one of you wants to be the lovely Amber Portwood next year.  Just let me know :) hahahahahaha.
Thats it for now!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Little Sunshine on this Dreary Day

I'm not going to lie, I've been kinda grumpy today.  Work + Rain + chilly weather makes for a pissy Caroline.  I guess I need to brace myself because the Indian Summer we've had made me completely forget about the harsh reality surrounding Kentucky winters.
Anywho, I happened to run across this via Facebook, and it absolutely brightened my day & changed my mood for the better.  Be prepared, you might shed a tear or 2....but otherwise- Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

There's no skinniness in cooking!!!

*Foreword*-  Please don't kick me yall...I know I've been on a major domestic diva kick lately, and I promise to cool it for a bit after this post.  I swear.

I can't help it. I love to eat.  I love food in general.  Allllllll food.  My parents thought I was a phenomenal child when I was little because there wasn't any food I wouldn't try.  Granted, this reaction comes after they went through 20 kinds of hell trying to get my older brother to try anything, but still.  
*Side note*- how Kent eats NOTHING but pizza, chicken tenders, hamburgers, & Peanut butter, yet never gains any weight BLOWS MY MIND.  Seriously, talk about winning the metabolism lottery. Oh wait. Maybe its because he is 5'11, and I am 5'1.  Totally fair. Not.

Anywho, Jan (aka my momma) probably cooked 5 nights a week when we were growing up.  When I would ask her how she learned to cook sooooo many things, her response was "Well, if you love to eat, you have to know how to cook." Simple, yet so true. However, her statement didn't really hit home until I went to college.  After a semester in the dorm, I found myself literally craving a home-cooked meal (Ahem, this craving a home-cooked meal also came after I probably had polished off chicken fingers, pizza, waffles, etc. Oh college. And I wonder why I gained weight my freshman year. Tsk Tsk.)
Obviously, I couldn't really cook in the dorms, but it made me appreciate my Mommas cooking about 10 times more than I ever had in high school.
While we had a fantastic team of cooks at the Chi Omega house, I LOVED Sundays  because it meant that the kitchen was open, and we could have (some) free reign to cook what we wanted.  So, i would just take various left-overs & add stuff to them to make them more appealing to my taste buds.
Don't be jealous our sorority house resembles a Steam boat.  ha.
However, it wasn't until my senior year of college that I started to get more into cooking real food, and figured out that I actually did have some skills in the kitchen.  Now, I love my college besties, but none of them were really known for their cooking.

RIP Woodland Ave (Les, don't kill me- I don't know where you were that night)
Soooo, after I replicated a few of my Mom's easiest recipes, my girlfriends were all super encouraging about me learning more recipes and/or repeating favorite dishes that I had tried out of them previously.  At the time, I'm sure I really thought that my meals were gourmet master-pieces, when in reality, they were just the most basic type of recipes a person can follow.
Kevin & I also started dating around this same time, and I quickly figured out that there was no way this boy was gonna end up with someone who couldn't cook, especially given the fact that he had grown eating delicious dishes by his Mother.  So obviously, as time continued, I just kept on trying out new recipes & conquering things I'd never done before in the Kitchen.

So, as I said before, some of friends aren't exactly whiz's in the kitchen, so I'm never surprised when I get a call, email, or text asking about a recipe, requesting a recipe, or just a simple cooking question. **Side note**: One perfect example of this was when my friend Lindsay called to tell me she made dinner.  Oh maah Lord, she was proud of herself.  Of course, I first was super excited that she had actually finally located the kitchen in her home, but I was even more excited to hear what she had made.  So what was her culinary masterpiece? Don't worry, it was Hamburger Helper. There. Are. No. Words.  Needless to say, for her bday that year, I got her a gorgeous dish that was designed to hold her microwave dinners perfectly :) 

Meet Lindsay. Love her heart.
To be 110% transparent, I am far from being the next Rachel Ray, but I have definitely gotten better through the years, so I can usually handle whatever my friends throw my way.   I have to remember that my culinary improvement only occurred because there has always been a plethora of people on hand that I could call when I had a random cooking related question.  (Thank you Jan, Pat Gray, Michelle, Mary Jo, Hazel, and on the rare occasion, Big P.)  I'm mildly embarrassed to admit this, but I'd estimate that I've probably made (& will prob continue to make) HUNDREDS of frantic phone calls asking ridiculous questions, butttt... versus sounding like I stalk my family, I'm just gonna say that all calls were/are made to insure that Kevin gets top quality out of his dinners :) Bahahahahahaha.
Sooooo since my girlfriends always seem to enjoy when I tell them about a new a simple & delicious meal we've recently tried out, I thought it is only fair that I share a couple of my favorite fall soup recipes that are extremely simple, yet beyond yummy.

Chicken Tortilla Soup
Who doesn't enjoy a nice soup in the fall?  This one is incredibly easy to prepare, but it tastes like it took you hours :)

-2-3 Chicken breasts, cooked & diced
-2 cans of chicken broth
-1 can of cream of chicken soup
-1 can Rotel
-1 small can of yellow corn niblets
-1 can of black beans
-1 onion, chopped
-2 Tablespoons of taco seasoning
-1 Tablespoon chili powder or cumin (Depends on your preference for spicy things- Cumin has more of a kick.)

(1.5 hours prior to eating)
-Sprinkle the chili powder (or cumin) on chicken
-Cook chicken at 450 in oven for 40-50 mins
-Sautee chopped onion for 5 minutes in Soup Pan
-Mix chicken broth, cream of chicken soup, and taco seasoning all together until smooth
-Stir in cooked chicken
-Stir in rotel, corn, beans
-Put soup on simmer for 35-45 mins
-Top with cheddar cheese, sour cream, and tortillas

Jan's Chili
This is the chili that I grew up eating.  Maybe I am biased, but I have yet to find another red chili recipe that rivals this one.  The hubs even agrees that it is the best chili he's ever had. (PS- don't let the amount of ingredients fool you- it is beyond easy to make.)

-1 onion, chopped
-2 cloves garlic
-2 lbs ground beef (I use lean)
-2 cans chopped tomato's (chili style)
-1 can tomato sauce
-3 cans chili beans (I use 2 hot, 1 mild)
-1 1/2 Tablespoons chili powder
-1-2 Teaspoons Cumin 
-1 Teaspoon salt & pepper
-1/2 teaspoon sugar
-1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
-1 teaspoon oregano
-1 teaspoon basil
-Elbow Macaroni

-Brown onion, meat, & garlic in large pot
-Add beans, tomatoes, and all spices
-To prevent chili from getting thick, be sure to add 1 cup of water as needed (I usually end up having to add 1.5 cups by the end.)
-Let simmer for 2-3 hours & enjoy!

-**Continue to taste while chili is simmering, and feel free to add more/less of any of the spices to suit your taste buds**
Also I know not everybody likes noodles in their chili, but for those who do....
-Boil water, cook noodles as directed
-Add noodles 15 minutes before you are ready to eat (Adding the noodles anytime before then makes the chili waaaay too thick.)

Chicken Pot Pie
This recipe is about as basic as you can get, but believe me- it hits the spot on a cold, Fall day.

-Cream of potato Soup
-Cream of Chicken Soup
-1/4 cup milk 
-2 chicken breasts, cooked & diced
-Frozen vegetables (Since my husband is beyond picky, I tend to just use frozen peas & carrots)
-2 Pie Crusts
-1 teaspoon pepper ( I always end up adding more)
-1 1/2 teaspoon of thyme

-Cook Chicken for 40-45 mins in oven on 450
-Cook frozen veggies on stove--> Follow directions on package
-Mix Cream of chicken soup & cream of potato soups together
-Stir in cooked chicken & cooked veggies
-Add in pepper & Thyme
-Cover pie pan w/ 1 pie crust, fill with chicken/veggie mixture
-Top pie pan w/ 2nd pie crust
-Be sure to make a few holes w/ a fork in the top crust
-*Put in oven for 45 mins at 350 degrees

Like the title of the post says, there is NO skinniness in cooking.  I refuse to skimp on certain items in recipes because it inevitably takes away from the taste.  I don't use fat free ANYTHING.  I will, however, sometimes opt for the "light" version of ingredients.  IE: Lean ground beef, light sour cream, skim milk, etc.  I can promise you that if you opt to use all fat-free items, your food will suffer.  Just ask Kev about the chicken Alfredo pasta disaster of 09' :) Believe you me, my aversion to using fat free foods is also the reason why I work out 5-6 days a week... otherwise I'd definitely be the next contestant on The Biggest Loser :) 
Mmkay yall, thats it for now. And per usual, if you have ANY questions about the recipes, feel free to email me :)