Sunday, June 29, 2008

Tour of Portland: Day 1

I finally finished sorting the hundreds of pictures from our anniversary trip last month, (it took me long enough!) and am ready to share about the second half of our trip, our visit to Portland. We loved Portland and did so many fun things that I'm going to divide our pictures into a few posts to share with you!

We stayed at wonderful little B&B, the Fulton House. The in-residence hosts & owners, John & Wendy, took great care of us! They baked fresh chocolate chip cookies upon our arrival to welcome us and had delicious breakfasts waiting for us each morning.

We stayed in the Blue Heron room and loved having our own private 2nd floor porch off of our room. It was a great spot to relax with a glass of wine or a book in the cool of the evening. We enjoyed the historic character of the house and had a comfortable stay despite the heat. Portland had a hot spell, setting record highs during our stay (lucky us!), so we did miss having air conditioning!

John and Wendy even surprised us with a little anniversary treat. There was a mini chocolate cake from a local gourmet grocery store waiting for us when we returned back from our evening out! We would definitely recommend the Fulton House for visitors to Portland.

On our first night in Portland, we headed out for an early dinner downtown. Portland is known for their fabulous happy hours. Apparently, there was a state law that outlawed discounts on alcoholic beverages, so restaurants offered extensive cheap happy hour menus instead to bring in early evening & late night customers. The law was repealed, but the tradition was established and remains a trademark of the downtown Portland culture. We loved it! Delicious food for mere dollars an entree with generous portions that were plenty for a satisfying dinner.

We dined at Mama Mia our first night and it was excellent! The decor is very chic with exposed brick, red velvet draperies, and sparkling chandeliers. The Italian cuisine was rich & flavorful...very hearty for the happy hour deal! We highly recommend the fried zucchini and lotsa lasagna.
After dinner, we explored the well-known Pearl District of downtown Portland. Our first stop was Powell's City of Books, the largest new and used independent bookstore in the world! It occupies a whole city block with 68,000 square feet of books divided into 9 color coded rooms on four floors! We only had a few minutes to spend looking, but we could have easily stayed for hours!

The Pearl District is filled with restored former warehouses and stock yards turned restaurants, shops, upscale urban residences & lofts, parks and plazas. It has a unique urban character and was bustling with Portland locals out for an evening in the city. Portland has an extensive public transportation system that makes it easy to get around, and both buses and the tram within the heart of the city are free.

We enjoyed some of the local Cool Moon Ice Cream in one of the plazas at dusk before heading back to the B&B. It was a fun & relaxing evening taking in the sights of a unique part of the city!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Minty Treats

Whew! The last two days I've been busy putting together a photo book from our first anniversary trip so it will be ready to send to print tomorrow! (Which also means I have finished sorting through our pictures from Portland and will share the rest of our trip with you later this week. Finally!)

This past weekend we had a full house! We hosted three sets of guests, including overnight guests...some of my hubby's extended family who were in town for a wedding. We ate some delicious food, visited with friends & family, and the weekend was over before we knew it!

I made this dessert this weekend and wanted to share! Its a minty fresh twist on the well-known & loved Dirt Cake. I have loved dirt cake for years and I love the combination of mint & chocolate, so I wanted to see if I could create a mint version.

Since we had company for dessert two nights in a row, and I didn't want tons of yummy leftover dessert in the house tempting me to eat it all week, I decided to make individual serving cups of the dessert. I had the perfect amount for our guests and wasn't serving an already cut or dug into dessert the second evening. And dirt cake is always the best on the 2nd or 3rd day after being in the refrigerator overnight!

Mint Dirt Cake

1 Package of Mint Oreo Cookies
8 oz. Cream Cheese, softened
1 stick of Butter, softened
1 cup Powdered Sugar
12 oz. Cool Whip
2 small boxes Instant Vanilla Pudding
3 cups cold Milk
1 teaspoon Peppermint extract
10-11 individual serving cups OR a 9x13 baking dish

Crush the oreos. You can crush them in a food processor, or seal them in a ziploc bag and use your rolling pin to crush them.

Using a hand mixer, beat together the cream cheese, margarine, peppermint extract and powdered sugar in a medium mixing bowl until fluffy. Stir in the Cool Whip.

In a separate bowl, mix together 2 small boxes of vanilla pudding & 3 cups of cold milk. (I used 1% milk, but any variety would work fine. I also substituted one small box of pistachio pudding for one box of vanilla. I only had one box of vanilla on hand, so I made do with what I had! I couldn't tell any taste difference and the pistachio actually gave a nice light green color to the filling.) After the pudding mixture is set, stir it into the cream cheese mixture and blend it together well.

If you are using a 9x13 dish, spread 1/2 of the crushed oreos in the bottom of the ungreased dish. Spread out the filling evenly in the dish, covering the oreos. Top with a layer of the remaining oreos and pat the top layer with pressure to help the layers hold together.

If you are using individual serving dishes (glass ice cream serving cups or fancy glass coffee glasses work well), put a scoop of crushed oreos in the bottom of each. Add approximately an inch of the filling in each glass, top with another layer of oreos & filling, and top with oreos. You can garnish each glass with a sprig of mint & a cookie before serving.

Refrigerate a minimum of 2-3 hours, but it is at it's absolute best after being chilled in the fridge overnight!

We really enjoyed the mint twist on this dessert and I will definitely be making it again! It is a perfect fresh dessert, especially for the summer. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Summer Goodness

I don't know about you, but one of my favorite things about summer is the abundance of fresh strawberries! They are easy to find, huge and juicy, sweet, and always on sale.

If you know me, you know about my absolute love of all things chocolate!!! One of my favorite summer treats (other than ice cream which I seem to crave almost daily when the temperature is soaring outside!) is chilled chocolate covered strawberries. I recently dipped a batch for no special reason other than to enjoy the delicious fruits of summer!

Now, if only we had a pool....

Monday, June 9, 2008

Trash to Treasure

I wanted to share a project that has been in the works for awhile now! Not because it was complicated, but because my life has been crazy. I wanted to create a large "idea board" to hang about my crafting table. I found this old window screen for free on Craigslist (gotta love free!) and decided that it would make the perfect frame for my bulletin board. I love how worn and chippy the paint is. I think old "junk" turned treasure has such character!

I bought a roll of cork board and cut it to fit the openings. I wrapped fabric around the cork board and fit it snuggly into the openings behind the screen. I put a layer of thick foam core board behind the cork to hold it in and add an extra layer to protect the wall from any long pins I might stick in the board. I nailed finishing nails in to the side of the frame to hold the cork & foam board in place.

I am so happy with how the project turned out and can't wait to add inspiration photos, fabric scraps, notes and clippings to my idea board! But, I wanted to share the finished project with you before I cover it with beautiful pieces of inspiration & things I love.

I have two old windows that I picked up at the same time as the screen (also free!), and I look forward to finding a creative way to incorporate them into our space!

(On a different note, we were so excited to see several healthy sprouts with multiple leaves peeking out of our garden bed this weekend! There is definitely growth in progress!)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Green in the Garden

We had a busy weekend around the house! On Saturday, we had a friend over for dinner and grilled one of my favorites....fajitas. My hubby has been wanting to find a homemade salsa recipe that we can make fresh. I found a Roasted Tomato Salsa recipe here last week and decided to make a batch on Saturday. It was delicious and I loved how fresh it is! Hands down, salsa from a jar doesn't even compete in flavor.

I would highly recommend this recipe for whipping up some fresh salsa. The only thing I think I'll deviate from on the recipe for my next batch is to broil the tomatoes for only 15 minutes on each side to char them less. I think the roasted flavor was a little intense, but with a little less of the char, I think it will be perfect! Great for a summer snack or to go with BBQ or mexican!

My hubby also got the itch earlier this spring to put in a vegetable garden. We got a little bit of a late start with our planting (for Texas) because we've been out of town. But we finally tackled the job! Since we were starting a new garden, we did some research to decide how we wanted to plant and found a square foot gardening technique that we wanted to try. This technique is perfect for Tru because of his love for precision. We built the frames and mixed up an all organic mixture to plant soil needed. We started a few plants for herbs and tomatoes that we would like to harvest sooner, and we started with seeds for the rest of the vegetables.

I am excited to have fresh, organic vegetables and herbs just steps from our kitchen. Tru is really looking forward to making our new salsa recipe with ingredients we grew ourselves. As the growth progresses, I'll keep you updated on how we like this gardening technique!