Sunday, January 31, 2010

Giveaway Winners

Wow! Such an amazing response to my giveaway (*insert sarcasm*). It's 6:57 p.m. and I have a whopping two comments so I'm calling this one done. With 57 followers, I suppose I was hoping SOMEONE would think what I did looked nice. A big thanks to my mom and my aunt for posting comments. You both are winners. Woo hoo...

Mom, I'll see you soon to give you yours. Auntie Meg, I'll put yours in the mail. :-/

Maybe I'm must being mopey, but this kinda sucks.

Is anyone out there? Does anyone read this blog?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Mexico Inspired DIY Wall Art: Part 2 and A GIVEAWAY

Here she be! Part 2 of my Mexico Inspired DIY Wall Art projects. If you recall, Part 1 was three prints made from banana tree bark that Mr. Tote and I hung after making some easy-peasy stretched canvase frames.

The wall art above has been my problem child. First, I've been thinking about doing this for roughly seven months. I knew I wanted three large, square, matted frames. I found a great deal on some 20"x20" matted frames at IKEA. Problem is that IKEA is about an hour away. And the first time we went there, they were sold out of my precious frames. Gah!! So we made another trip a few months later, calling first to make sure they had the frames in stock.
Second, I was originally going to search for some nice flower photos online to purchase. Until I got this brilliant idea to use photos I had taken on our honeymoon in Mexico. So I started looking through the pictures. Only finding one photo I liked, I decided that we needed to take another trip to Mexico. Only kidding. We had already planned another trip to Mexico this past October and I saw it as the perfect opportunity to take some additional photos.

Here comes the shocker, I took these three photos using my Nikon Coolpix L3. *a hush falls over the crowd* Thankfully, those smart folks over at were the perfect solution for me to enhance these photos and make them what they are now.
The white flower is from the Tulum ruins and the other two were taken at the Iberostar Grand Paraiso Resort. After working with the prints on Picnik, I ordered 12"x12" prints from These guys were fantastic to work with, especially when my pink flower photo arrived in bad shape. They re-shipped all of the prints. Unfortunately the pink one was still incorrect. So, at no additional charge, they shipped the pink flower again. The third time, it was perfect!

Mr. Tote did all of the measuring and hanging. I can't get over how great these turned out. And minus the cost of the trip to Mexico, this project cost me $90 ($80 for the frames and $10 for the photos).

Now, back to my extra prints. I'd like to do a giveaway for each of my extra prints. I have one 12"x12" of the yellow flower and the same size in the white flower. If you're interested in one of these, here's what you gotta do.

1. If you're not a follower, join the Tote's Life fun!
2. Leave a comment, addressing these two things... (1) Which color print you'd like and (2) Who do you think is going to win the Superbowl?
3. Post about this giveaway for an extra entry.

Got all that? So, to recap, leave a comment. Only comments from followers will be included in the giveaway. For an extra entry, leave an extra comment, linking to your post about the giveaway.

The giveaway will close Sunday, January 31 at 7 p.m. EST. I'll use to choose two winners.

Buena suerte, mis skipito friskitos!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Beef Bourguignon

Julia or Ina? Ina or Julia? I've seen two distinct Beef Bourguignon recipes floating around the blogging world lately. I stumbled across them when I was looking for something different to do with a chuck roast other than throw it in the CrockPot. I chose Ina's recipe for, well, for no particular reason, really. I was thrilled to use my Martha Stewart Dutch Oven again. The first time I used it, my oven braised cornish hens turned out to be one of the best things I made in all of 2008.

I have to say that the dutch oven didn't dissapoint. Maybe I did, because I was impatient. I followed readers' comments and left it in the oven for 2 hours, but I could have left it longer. The leftovers the next day were SOOOO tender and flavorful, having sat in the acidic wine for 48 hours. Also, I used center cut bacon and followed the instructions for leaving it in the pan to cook the meat and onions. When I was ready to serve this, I noticed a thick layer of oil on top of the bourguignon. I wish I would have gone with my gut feeling and drained the bacon fat after cooking the meat. The leftover oil coating the dutch oven would have been PLENTY to cook the onions and made for much less grease in the final product. Below is my modified recipe, including the changes I've noted above.

1 Tbsp olive oil
10 oz dry center cut bacon, diced
2 1/2 lb chuck beef cut into 1-inch cubes
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 lb pound baby carrots
2 yellow onions, sliced
2 cloves chopped garlic
1/2 C brandy
1 (750 ml) bottle dry red wine (love my Three Buck Chuck from Trader Joe’s!!)
1 can (2 cups) beef broth
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves (1/2 tsp dried)
2 Tbsp cornstarch, plus 1/4 C cold water
1 Tbsp butter
1 lb button mushrooms, sliced thick

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.

Heat the olive oil in a dutch oven. Add the bacon and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is lightly browned. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon to a large plate.

Dry the beef cubes with paper towels and then sprinkle them with salt and pepper. In batches in single layers, sear the beef in the hot oil for 3 to 5 minutes, turning to brown on all sides. Remove the seared cubes to the plate with the bacon and continue searing until all the beef is browned. Set aside.

Remove the oil from the dutch oven as best you can with a spoon or baster. Toss the carrots, and onions, 1 tsp of salt and 1 tsp of pepper in the leftover grease in the pan and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the brandy, stand back, and ignite with a match to burn off the alcohol.

*WARNING: This step turned into an argument between Mr. Tote and I. When we ignited the brandy and the flames shot up as high as our over-the-stovetop microwave, I freaked out. Yadda, yadda, yadda and an apology later from Mr. Tote, we ate dinner.*

Put the meat and bacon back into the pot with the vegetables and brandy. Add the bottle of wine plus enough beef broth to almost cover the meat. Add the tomato paste and thyme. Bring to a simmer, cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and place it in the oven for about 2 1/2 hours or until the meat and vegetables are very tender when pierced with a fork.

Saute the mushrooms in the Tbsp of butter for 10 minutes until lightly browned and then add to the stew. Slowly add the cornstarch and water mixture to the pot to thicken the stew. Bring the stew to a boil on top of the stove, then lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Season to taste.

I served this with mashed potatoes the first night and egg noddles with the leftovers. This can also be served over a thick, crusty piece of toasted bread.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Mexico Inspired DIY Wall Art: Part 1

I am so excited to show off two different displays of wall art that were inspired by two different trips to the Riviera Maya, Mexico. The first trip was our honeymoon in July 2008 and the second was this past October 2009. The display above (Part 1) was created from some homemade stretched canvases and some artwork that Mr. Tote and I found this past Halloween while shopping in Playa del Carmen. It was drizzling that day and we found ourselves holed up in a shop that specialized in art made from various types of bark, leaves and sap. I could have bought everything in the store, but our budget clearly wouldn't allow for that. So we settled in on three pieces that were made from banana tree bark. I love that they all have the element of the sun in them. Below are some photos of the process...

First, making the canvases. I found a great tutorial here. Mr. Tote made the frames using some 1"x3" wood, a miter saw and nail gun. We used natural-colored duck cloth, purchased at Joann's.

To adhere the prints to the canvas, we used somegood 'ol construction adhesive. I was aprehensive about this for fear of ruining the prints if I ever wanted to change them, but I gave in and will just have to deal with it if I ever want to change them. Here's a few more pictures of the finished product.

I really love how these turned out! After living in our house for eight months, I am finally becoming comfortable with putting holes in the wall. *shudders*

Part 2 is coming soon, so stay tuned!

I'm joining Funky Junk Interior's Saturday Nite Special party and It's So Very Creative.

Funky Junk's Saturday Nite Special

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Spiced Nut Crusted Pork Tenderloin with Cheesy Marsala Sauce

More fun with Grandma's spiced nuts! While I don’t have the actual spiced nuts recipe, I’m sure this pork would be great crusted in any sort of nuts. My grandma’s nut mix combines walnuts, almonds and pecans with a little bit of Splenda and some cinnamon. OK, enough “nut” talk.
1/2 pork tenderloin, cut lengthwise
1/4 C flour
1 egg
2 Tbsp milk
1 C spiced nuts
1 Tbsp butter
1 tsp olive oil
Pam spray
1 shallot
1/2Marsala wine
2 oz. lite cream cheese
1/3 C fat free half and half

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Clean and pat dry the pork tenderloin. Slice in half lengthwise.

Use a food processor to chop the nuts. Combine the egg and milk in a bowl.

Heat the butter and olive oil over medium high heat in a large skillet.

Using three bowls, dip the pork into the flour, then the egg mixture, then the nuts.

Sautee the pork pieces over medium high heat for 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a baking dish coated in cooking spray. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees.

In the same skillet, remove any excess grease with a paper towel. Finely chop one shallot and add to the pan over medium heat. Sautee for 2-3 minutes before adding the Marsala wine. Continue cooking over medium heat until the wine reduces by 1/3.
Add the cream cheese and lower the heat. Use a whisk to incorporate the cream cheese. When almost fully incorporated, slowly add the creamer. Mix until heated through and cream cheese is fully incorporated. Add additional creamer if sauce seems to thick. Serve over the pork.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Bean with Ham Soup

A classic soup.. so classically easy to make. I remember having this when I was a kid, so my mom was the first person I called when I had a leftover ham bone. And when she told me the recipe, I asked "Is that it??" Nothing fancy, just simple flavors in a hearty winter dish. Perfect for all the cold weather we've been having!

1 lb Navy beans

1 ham bone
1/2 C shredded carrots
1/2 C diced onion
1 Tbsp liquid smoke

Cook the beans according to the directions on the package (both the overnight soak or the quick soak work just fine). Once the beans are cooked and rinsed, in a large pot, combine all of the ingredients with six cups of water. Simmer for two hours before serving.

This soup is excellent re-heated and can easily be frozen for later use.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Banana Nut Chip Bread

It's a classic case of what to do with overly ripe bananas. So I did a quick search for a different banana bread recipe and thought this one looked delicious. And with only two tablespoons of oil and some oats, it's not nearly as bad for you as most banana breads, yet just as moist. And I really thought the nutmeg was the perfect complement to the bread. I made a few modifications to the original recipe, which can be found here. My recipe for one loaf is below (the original makes two loafs).

3/4 C mashed ripe banana

1/2 C sugar
1 egg
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 C all-purpose flour
1/4 C rolled oats
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 C milk chocolate chips
1/4 C chopped walnuts - For this one time, I used some chopped spiced nuts that I got for Christmas from my Grandma

In a mixing bowl, beat bananas, sugar, eggs, oil and vanilla. Combine the dry ingredients; stir into banana mixture. Fold in chocolate chips and nuts. Pour into a greased 8-in. x 4-in. x 2-in. loaf pan. I used my Pampered Chef stone loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees F for 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack.

WW Points per Serving: 4 points for 1/12 of the loaf

Monday, January 11, 2010


Linda over at Craftaholics Anonymous is hosting a great party. So many times I buy something from the thrift store that I have no idea what to do with. I'm so inspired after reading so many great crafiing blogs, that I run out and buy the first thing I see. So, now I'm stuck with a bunch of pieces that render me idea-less, or rather, STUMPED! Linda's Stumped Party is meant to address and rescue all those treasures that stump us.

So, now I bring you my submission. I found this treasure a few weeks ago for a whopping $2.99 at my Goodwill store. Besides taking off the tacky eagle at the top, I have no idea what to do with this. So blog world, hit me with your best shot!

Three spots for words of wisdom, his hers ours or something more mysterious. Three little hooks at the bottom, waiting for keys or something more romantic?? I now summon the blog gods for inspiration!

Updates: 1. the lettering is just gold paint on the section of wood in the middle so I can easily paint over it. 2. The dimensions are 23" tall by 5" wide. 3. The lattice it actually carved wood, not just painted, giving it lots of depth and different textures. Thanks again everyone!!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Eggnog Thumbprint Cookies

I’d like to give a shout out and a big thank you to Shelby over at The Live and Loves of Grumpy’s Honeybunch. If you haven’t checked her out, DO. Her recipes and stories are so warm and full of love. That was the shout out. Now, on to the thank you. So thank you, Shelby. Your recipe for Eggnog Thumbprint Cookies left such a wonderful impression… on my butt. I should have locked these up and thrown away the key. Instead I ate each wonderful morsel, bit by bit. OK, OK. In reality I think I only ate three or four, but I definitely COULD have eaten the whole batch.

I served these at our Apps and Wine holiday party and they were definitely a hit. My co-workers devoured the rest when I put them in the staff kitchen the following day.

Now that I have you all drooling, I bring you the recipe, found by Shelby via the Better Homes and Gardens Cookies for Christmas book.

3/4 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup butter
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon rum *

In a large mixer bowl beat 3/4 cup butter till softened. Add sugar and brown sugar and beat til fluffy. Add egg, vanilla, and salt and beat well. Add flour and beat until well mixed. Cover and chill about 1 hour or till easy to handle.

Shape into 1-inch balls. Place 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Press down centers with thumb. Bake in a 350 degree oven about 12 minutes or till done. Remove and cool.

For filling, in a small mixer bowl beat 1/4 cup butter til softened. Add powdered sugar and beat till fluffy. Add rum and beat well. Spoon about 1/2 teaspoon filling into center of each cookie. Sprinkle with nutmeg. Chill till filling is firm. Makes about 50.

*You may substitute 1 tablespoon milk and 1/4 teaspoon rum extract for the rum.

1. Shelby used rum. Therefore I used rum!
2. Shelby said the recipe doesn’t make 50 cookies. She’s right. I got about 24 cookies.
3. Be generous with the filling. I ended up having to go back and add more to each cookie because I had so much leftover and I had already licked a good spatula’s worth of it myself.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Oven Braised Cornish Hen with Capers and Apricots

For Christmas, I received a beautiful, almond-colored 5 qt. Matha Stewart dutch oven. I must say that my first meal in it was one of the best things I cooked all of last year. Seriously? Amazing. I think the fresh herbs really brought a lot of great flavor to the dish. And I'm so proud that I developed this recipe on my own, something I hope to do more of in 2010.

I really think you all should try this one. It's a very fancy dish, but relatively easy to prepare.

1 cornish game hen

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
¼ C flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
2 shallots, minced
2 cloves garlic
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 sprig fresh sage
2 Tbsp apricot preserves
1 Tbsp capers
2 C chicken stock
½ C dry white wine

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Rinse the Cornish hen with cold water and pat dry. Trim any excess fat and split the hen in half lengthwise.

Combine flour, salt, and pepper in a shallow dish. Dredge the pieces in the flour mixture.

Melt the butter and olive oil in a large dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the hen pieces and cook 4 minutes on each side or until browned. Remove from pan.

Add the shallots and garlic. Sautee for 2-3 minutes. Add the wine, scraping the bits from the pan. Add the apricot preserves and capers. Stir and add the chicken stock. Return the hen pieces to the pot. Cover and bake for 30 minutes or until hen is done.

Remove the hen pieces from the pot and keep warm. Reduce the broth mixture by half over high heat for 10-15 minutes. Pour the liquid over the hen and serve.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Dilemma - the dreaded cable box

Ugh. So ugly. I had great intentions after re-finishing this old dresser. Visions of book stacks with a picture frame or two, some milk glass, etc. danced in my head. Much to my dismay, Mr. Tote insisted on getting digital cable in our bedroom. And my lovely dresser is where Mr. Comcast Guy decided to put the huge, ugly cable box. Oh, and he did it at 9 a.m. on Saturday morning, but that’s beside the point (not really… I was dead asleep when the knock at the door came). I was so sad for a month, looking at the ugly cable box and DVD player.

But then, the light bulb went on in my creative little brain. So I pitched my ingenious idea to Mr. Tote. Why not hide the cable box inside the top drawer of the dresser!?!?

Here’s how we did it.

1. Remove the drawer and bang off the sides and bottom of the drawer, leaving just the face.

2. Remove the drawer slide, if any, from the bottom of the opening in the dresser where the drawer used to be.

3. Using two Friction Lid Supports (can be found at Lowe’s), screw the supports to the inside edges of the dresser and onto the back side of the drawer. This creates a hinge effect without an external hinge showing on the front of the dresser. This took a bit of finagling to shimmy it back into the correct place.

4. Attach a magnetic closure/stop to the inside “roof” of the dresser and the other part onto the drawer. This provides extra support when the drawer is closed.

5. Drill a hole in the back of the back of the dresser, where the top drawer used to be, with a 1” wood paddle bit.

6. Place the electronics inside the drawer hole and feed the power cords through the hole in the back of the dresser.

7. Voila!! Bye bye, cable box. Now, Mr. Tote just has to put those wires in the wall. And I'm off to get that milk glass vase I’ve been eyeing at Goodwill.

I'm linking to:


Monday, January 4, 2010

New Year's Eve 2010: A Series of Pictures

Four days in to 2010 and I’m still seeing blog posts about what happened last year and what’s going to happen this coming year. So I figured I’d join in on the action with a post about our New Year’s Eve festivities, since I think they were pretty darn cool.

Traverse City is one of Mr. Tote’s and my favorite places. With a trendy downtown, a plethora of diverse dining options and vineyards that stretch for miles, it’s a DINK’s (dual income no kids) paradise. So when we found out that a close friend just took a job as the new township planner for Old Mission Peninsula, we couldn’t believe it. That lucky S.O.B. Then… THEN… having no place to live yet, he somehow wiggled his way into living at the Old Mission Peninsula Lighthouse. Yes, a friggin’ LIGHTHOUSE!!!!! But wait, it gets better… he decided to have a New Year’s Eve party there. Ummm… yes please!!

I have been dying for a new camera, so we bit the bullet and walked into Best Buy once we got to Traverse City. "Nikon D3000, please." I had my mind made up. But an hour and a half later, Brian, who worked at Ritz Camera for four years, convinced me to get the Sony Alpha A330 DSLR. Finally feeling informed about my decision, he tells me he's all out of them. You've.Got.To.Be.Kidding.Me. He suggested I purchase the A230 just for New Year's Eve and then purchase the A330 when I returned home. So that's what I did.

The following pictures were taken with a Sony Alpha A230 DSLR, with a 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens.

On our way to the lighthouse, we stopped at the Old Mission Tavern for a burger and fries. Makes sense, right? Tavern equates to a burger and fries type menu. Not so much. To our surprise, this place was serving up some quite delectable entrees. And because our group was 10 people deep, we had the privilege of eating dinner in the adjacent art gallery. The food was absolutely fantastic. Mr. Tote’s prime rib was some of the best I’ve ever had. I had almond encrusted whitefish with a cherry drizzle and a butter sauce. It was sooooo good. I was really surprised at how good it was. I don’t think I’ve ever had fish served so piping hot. Usually it arrives at the table warm-hot in temperature, but this fish was hot, crisp and flaky.

In true Real World fashion, Mr. Tote raced into the lighthouse with our gear in tow to claim a good sleeping spot. He dropped our stuff in the Lighthouse Keeper’s room. Unfortunately at the time, he didn't realize that this part of the lighthouse wasn't heated.

New Year's Eve wouldn't be complete without some Coors Lite.

We went to bed around 4:30 a.m. and woke up at 10 a.m., face frostbitten (OK, I exaggerate), toes numb (NOT exaggerating!). We were too cold to sleep.

In the quiet, while everyone was still sleeping (aka passed out), we made our way to the top of the lighthouse for some pictures.

Looking down from top dome.

It was so cold that the glass was completely frosted over. And let's not forget about the wind. When you're at the tip of a peninsula that faces open Great Lakes water, it's bound to be windy... and freezing. Anyway, Mr. Tote did a wonderful job warming a patch of visibility in the frosted glass.

When we couldn't take the cold any longer and the cleared off glass was beginning to frost over again, we headed back down. Leave it to Mr. Tote to rock the Lions sweater he got from his grandpa.

I couldn't resist taking some additional pictures of the lighthouse. This time, from the outside where it was much colder... and much windier.

On New Year's Day, we headed back down to the peninsula for an extra night in Traverse City. I can't explain how ecstatic I was when we arrived at our hotel and they had our room ready early. After getting only six hours of freezing cold sleep the previous night, we were both looking forward to a long nap, which is exactly what we did.

Leave it to us to forget something at the lighthouse. Something important. We left my CDs, including the precious Power Hour CD, at the lighthouse. *sigh* So, we headed baaaaaack up the peninsula. Had I known that we would have seen a bald eagle flying along the peninsula coast, I would have been much more enthused about going.

Below are some pictures I was able to capture. The first one is my lens zoomed in as far as it goes. The other three are close ups that I cropped. Hence, the blurriness. Still... so majestic.

We also stopped at Chateau Grand Traverse, one of Old Mission Peninsula's many vineyards. I am in love with these pictures.

And there you have it. I loved that camera. And I can't wait to get my new A330 (p.s. it's on backorder). Happy New Year! Many good things to come this year!