Jun 29, 2012

What a {Fri}day for a Daydream: Beautiful Spain

There are many things I love about summertime in Nashville: crickets singing at night, swimming pools, fireflies, live music, local strawberries and tomatoes, and cookouts, to name a few. Admittedly, my current seasonal love has nothing to do with Nashville, but it seems to fit right in with Music City's sweltering summer days. Gazpacho is my latest obsession. Hey, I said this was a week of cooking! Chilled and refreshing, it's the perfect dinner or appetizer on a very, very, hot day. Very hot as in 103 degrees yesterday, and 108 today.

So back to the gazpacho. My dear Spanish friend Almu (those who used to read Jenn & Ben Go North may remember her from posts like this one), was the first person to serve me a really great tomato-based gazpacho. She eventually shared her recipe, but I think she must have left some secret out, because mine never turned out as delicious as hers. Then in the summer of 2010 (I was just past my first trimester with Max), we visited Almu in Spain, and her sister treated us to an amazing Spanish lunch that included white gazpacho. And oh man, ever since tasting that light, tangy chilled deliciousness, I determined to learn how to make it. And two years later I finally did :)

I decided to whip up a half-sized batch yesterday, since that was all I had enough ingredients for. This was my third go at it, and I'm pretty much in love. It's probably not for everybody because of its tart kick, but I crave this like a pregnant woman craves peanut butter (ie, a LOT)! And maybe the best part is that it always takes me back to Spain.

We spent nearly two weeks exploring Spain, and it has stuck with me. The hospitality, especially in the northern regions, was amazing. And the food. God help me, the food - I mean everything we ate, everywhere we went - was to die for. The seafood was so fresh (I tried calamari and liked it), the cheese rich and flavorful, the cured meats divine (shh, don't tell anybody I sampled those while I was pregnant), and everything was accompanied by big fluffy hunks of bread and local olive oil. The sites were grand and humble at the same time. Castles and estates and orchards, surrounded by bucolic fields and low-key locals who know how to kick back and enjoy life. High fashion (Spain is the home of Zara, after all) and easy living.

a beach in La Coruna, a gorgeous little city in the northern province of Galicia

with Almu in Madrid

Ben with a Galician delicacy: a gooseneck barnacle - one of the world's most dangerous seafoods to catch because of their location on jagged cliff walls amid crashing waves.

Ben and I were tempted to look at real estate on the northern coast of Spain. But we didn't, so now, after a long and round-about story, I'll get to my point: today, I am snacking on leftover white gazpacho and daydreaming about Spain.

Here's the original recipe I found with the help of google: White Gazpacho Recipe. And here's my slightly altered version:

Heavenly White Gazpacho


2 cups stale white bread (or toasted fresh bread - I've tried a high quality Italian bread as well as old frozen hamburger buns, and both seem to work just fine!)
2 cups chicken or veggie broth
1 cup almond flour (or slivered blanched almonds - but I prefer the smoother consistency of almond flour and can tell no difference in the flavor.)
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 garlic cloves (ore more if you're a garlic lover)
2 cups green seedless grapes
2 cucumbers, peeled and roughly chopped
2-3 tablespoons sherry or cider vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
chives (for garnish)

Start by bringing your broth to a boil, then tear the bread into bite-sized pieces and add it to the broth. Turn off heat and let this mixture sit while you prepare everything else.

Next, in a food processor, grind up the almond flour (or slivers), salt and garlic. Add your broth and bread concoction and roughly blend. Then, in go the grapes and cucumbers. I like to go heavy on the cucumbers, so I either use two pretty large ones, or two and a half if they're smaller.

Once your cucumbers and grapes are well blended, pulse in 2 tablespoons of vinegar (I've always used sherry, but I'm sure cider would be good too). This is where it gets fun - time to taste-test! If it tastes plenty tart to you, then forget about the extra vinegar. If you aren't puckering up quite enough, then go ahead and add that third tablespoon of vinegar. I usually do!

With the food processor running on a slow setting, add the olive oil. Almu was always liberal with olive oil in her gazpacho (and her cooking in general), so I don't hesitate to add more if the consistency isn't as smooth and creamy as I want. I figure this just makes it more authentically Spanish! This last go round, I also added about 1/4 cup of water because I prefer a less thick gazpacho.

Now, chill for an hour or so (the longer the better), sprinkle with chives, and enjoy! This is awesome for an easy make-ahead appetizer. Last night we had it with a big salad and were totally satisfied. I like to serve it in a pretty cup because that's how Almu always did it, and it make me happy. I used martini glasses when I served this at a dinner party, but we didn't get that fancy last night.

So there you have it - you may be daydreaming of different exotic vacation, but I guarantee this gazpacho will cool you down from the summer heat! Hope everybody has a wonderful weekend and manages to stay cool! If you're in a place that's not 108 degrees ... well, good choice, my friend :)

Jun 28, 2012

House Tour: New & Improved!

Good morning! Today's post is a quick one - we've started an attempt at potty training this week, and things have been a wee bit hectic around here. But I wanted to let you know about a little update at Cookies & Beer.

My house tour was looking kind of pitiful from the get-go. Ok, really pitiful. It's fine, you can agree with me :) But fear not, I've been busy updating the house tour page. There are now bonefied before and after labels and photos of several rooms and outdoor spaces. Much prettier photos than previously.

I know many rooms are still missing ... but I couldn't go around revealing spaces in the house tour before I actually blog about them. Where would be the fun in that? So stay tuned! And thanks so much to those who HAVE stayed tuned thus far, I really appreciate you taking time out of your days to read my little blog. Check out the new house tour page here, or just click on the tab at the top of the page.

Jun 27, 2012

Gettin' Crunchy With It

I've told you about my hippie moments (read about my music festival days here), but now we're getting down to the real crunchy stuff. Granola, that is.

It's been a cooking sort of a week around here. And yesterday it was time to whip up a batch of homemade granola. I started making it few years ago and haven't stopped since. For breakfast, add a little almond milk and fresh fruit, and I'm a happy camper. I've tried several different recipes, tried making it in the slow cooker and in the oven, and adding wacky ingredients, but in the end, my favorite is a classic oven-baked granola.

Thanks to my friend Ally, for pointing me to a recipe from Earthbound Farms, available here, on her friend's lovely blog, Zoo House. After making many, many versions of this yummy recipe, I thought I'd share my favorite adaptation. I cut way back on the maple syrup and added extra sunflower seeds and almonds, to make a low sugar, high protein granola. It's very lightly sweet and crunchy, and super satisfying.

So first thing's first. It's important to have a helpful assistant...

Next, set the oven to 325 degrees, and assemble the ingredients...

5 cups rolled oats
2 cups blanched, slivered almonds (I've tried thin-sliced almonds, but they can burn in the oven)
1 cup raw sunflower seeds
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1/3 cup canola oil
1/3 cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
raisins or other dried fruit
optional: 1 or 2 tablespoons ground flax seeds
optional: juice from one orange

I usually mix all my dry ingredients together first (except raisins). I keep ground flax seeds in the freezer and like to add a scoop or two for extra nutrients. I do not add raisins or dried fruit yet! Those go in after baking. I've made this mistake a few times, and you end up with raisins that are more the consistency of pebbles. Not so appetizing.

Once all my dry ingredients are mixed, I stir in the oil, syrup and vanilla extract. If I have an orange on hand, fresh squeezed juice adds a nice flavor kick and the sweetness helps compensate for the large amount of maple syrup I cut from the recipe. This can all be tweaked to personal preferences, and takes no time to throw together. Max loves him some raw granola. I love this photo where you can see him sneaking a handful from the cooking sheet.

The hardest part is the baking, because you really have to pay attention and figure out what works in your own oven. First, the whole batch needs to be evenly spread onto the biggest mamajama of a baking sheet that you have. I think mine is 17x24. Then, for me at least, the magic baking formula is the following (it's really much simpler than it looks!):

Bake 12 minutes, take out and stir
Bake another 12 minutes, stir again
Bake 12 more minutes to finish

So my total bake time is 36 minutes. The main trick is to be sure to stir the granola at least once, and to keep a close eye on it for the last five minutes, because it can suddenly burn! Pull out your finished granola and place it on a cooling rack - it should be only slightly crispy, since it gets crunchier as it cools. This is the point when those raisins can go in. I usually just toss in a handful or two, until it looks raisin-y enough.

And voila! Enjoy however you please, with yogurt, milk, fruit or just by the handful. Confession: sometimes I sprinkle it with chocolate chips and coconut flakes, add a little milk and call it dessert :) This size batch usually lasts close to two weeks in our house, with me eating it daily and Ben only a few days a week.

Do you have a favorite granola recipe? Or do you like something totally different for breakfast? I'm definitely a one-breakfast-food kind of woman. Guess I'm just predictable like that :)

Jun 26, 2012

Cookie of the Month: June

June's cookie of the month came in at the last hour. Last night was one of those nights that I just had to have some fresh-baked cookies, health and sugar be damned! I did a quick scan of my cookbooks and came across these little wonders, which astonishingly, I had not tried making yet: dark chocolate, white chocolate chip cookies.

Did I mention they are vegan? I was briefly vegan, and have continued to incorporate vegan cooking into my life even as I stray farther and farther from a diet with no dairy or meat/animal products. But last night's veganism was no act of health ... nope, I was simply out of eggs. I pulled this recipe from a newer vegan cookbook that I've been impressed with so far - Skinny Bitch: Ultimate Everyday Cookbook. And let me tell you, those vegans can make some cookies! Disclaimer: I used non-vegan white chocolate chips, which were already in my cupboard, but a quick Google search turned up plenty of vegan white chocolate chips available for purchase online.

These were easy to make. I followed the recipe almost exactly and the consistency was just as described - a nice crisp outer and gooey inner, and walnuts added a nice bit of crunch. I know most cookie batters are delicious, but this one in particular was ah.ma.zing. Even Ben ate a spoonful and licked the spoon clean (leaving me to the business of scraping the bowl and other utensils clean). The instructions say to let the batter thicken up for 15 minutes before baking ... let's just say I'm lucky we had any batter left to bake after waiting those minutes had passed.

So without further ado, here is the recipe, adapted from the Skinny Bitch: Ultimate Everyday Cookbook, which I recommend checking out, vegan or not, for some creative and (mostly) healthy dishes.

1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dark chocolate cocoa powder, unsweetened
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons arrowroot or cornstarch
1/2 cup almond milk (I'm sure soy or dairy milk would also work)
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup evaporated cane sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2/3 cup chopped walnuts
2/3 cup vegan (or not!) white chocolate chips (I think butterscotch chips would also be tasty)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 C)

Sift together flour and cocoa powder in a medium bowl; then add baking powder, baking soda, salt and arrowroot. I used a cup of white flour and 1/4 cup whole wheat flour, and may go heavier on the whole wheat next time since it didn't seem to affect my outcome.

In another (fairly large) bowl, whisk together milk, oil, cane and brown sugars, and vanilla extract. Stir in the flour mixture until everything is well combined, then add your walnuts and white chocolate chips. I went light on the walnuts (closer to 1/2 cup) and thought it was plenty!

Then you wait ... only 15 minutes, but it is torture to not a) eat the batter or, b) go ahead and bake your cookies ASAP. But I think this step really does help set the dough better.

After 15 minutes of self-restraint, drop tablespoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet, 2 inches apart, and bake for eight to 10 minutes. I erred on the side of less-cooked and pulled mine out after eight minutes. They were cooked, but still gooey, just the way I like my cookies! I flattened my first round a little with the back of a spoon, and they cooked more evenly and looked prettier than my second batch, which I got lazy with and just dropped on in clumps.

This made about 20 really delicious, medium sized cookies for me.

Stay tuned for our beer of the month ... I'm trying to convince Ben to do a write up this time around!

Jun 22, 2012

What a {Fri}day for a Daydream: Toddler Lovin'

After a truly fabulous but hectic week of wedding festivities, Max and I are back to our regularly scheduled activities. Yesterday afternoon I had so much fun just hanging out with my little wild man. We played with friends in the morning, and spent the afternoon reading books, lounging outside (for as long as we could stand in this heat) and trying on hats (Max's latest obsession).

So this Friday, my only daydream is to spend the rest of my day blissfully enjoying my sweet little man. These are some shamelessly indulgent photos of our afternoon :)

Nobody makes it out of our house lately without wearing a silly hat. Maybe I should make this an official house rule...

Jun 21, 2012

The Writing on the Walls

For Easter this year, we decided to surprise Max with a chalkboard wall in the kitchen, and a box of chalk in his Easter basket. When he woke up at 5am (yes, I said 5am. The photos are so dark because the sun wasn't out yet), this is what he found...

It was so much fun that Max was big enough to really enjoy discovering a basket of goodies from the Easter Bunny. He quickly opened eggs (which were filled with healthy snacks like cereal and crackers) and scattered the "grass" from the basket, and then got down to the business of drawing.

I used Annie Sloan chalk paint in charcoal. Three coats gave me a nice functional chalkboard. I realize now that I could have bought a much cheaper chalkboard paint and mixed it to be a bit lighter, but this paint has a beautiful matte finish to it, and the color is a nice warm charcoal that fits nicely in our kitchen. I had snagged it months earlier at a local boutique , and I always like to support local and small business, even if it was a slightly more expensive route. Might I add that Max made the cutest little Easter baby? :)

Max still likes to draw on his chalkboard almost daily, and Ben and I enjoy it, too, to let out our creative sides! Here's what it's looking like these days. You can see it through the doorway of the den, so it's a fun way to greet visitors to our house.

Jun 20, 2012

Wedding Tease

As I mentioned earlier this week, my sister's wedding was amazing - the ceremony couldn't have been sweeter or more suited to her and her new hubby. They were both all smiles and laughs and tears and the intimate group made it all the more perfect. I was pretty blubbery myself for most of the day! It all started at the rehearsal - here are the sisters of Cookies & Beer after the successful trial run!

And it continued when I saw my sister in her hair and makeup the morning of the big day ...

And up until right before the ceremony, I was still getting verklempt watching my little sis looking so gorgeous and grown up!

The ceremony took place in a glass walled space overlooking the green trees and hills of Nashville, and then some walls were opened up to make way for the adjoining room where the reception was set up, complete with candlelight, a bounty yellow flowers and amazing food and beverages :) The big surprise of the night was that after my father chose a song for the father/daughter dance, he discovered that the songwriter, James Slater, lives in Nashville (go figure!). Through his ever-convincing ways, my dad swayed Slater to actually perform the song live for the father/daughter dance. It was such a perfectly Nashville touch, and a really beautiful song to boot ("In My Daughter's Eyes," check out the video below of Martina McBride singing it).

The whole wedding was emotional, high-energy, and really, really fun! Such a reflection of the couple themselves. My sister was stunning in her Vera Wang ballgown that only she could pull off so well, and us bridesmaids all actually really liked our infinity style (same dress, about 100 different ways to tie it) gray wrap dresses, purchased from Etsy seller The Jersey Maid. The lovely photographer has posted a sneak peek of the photos on her own website here. I can't wait for more!!

Jun 19, 2012

'Round the House we Go

While things are still spruced up around here for all the wedding-related visitors, I snapped a few more photos. This time of our living room! I moved some furniture around and finally hung a few things on the walls, even though this room will get a paint overhaul soon (white paint, of course!). It's probably our favorite room in the house, with the fabulous morning light it gets and the way it opens to the dining room and entryway, so I wanted to make it into a comfortable, welcoming space.

We call this our "Danish Room," since almost everything in it came directly from Denmark. The sofas and chairs are by Hans Wegner, an iconic Danish furniture designer. They sat in my grandparents' home in Denmark for as long as I can remember, and I was lucky enough to have a space for them and move them into our new home last summer. The hutch is also from my grandparents' home - it was a wedding gift to them. And even the rug came from Denmark! So needless to say, this whole room is a very special place for me. We plan to eventually redo the chair and sofa cushions, which are ever-so-slightly worn :) Even the artwork over the hutch is Denmark-related - it's a photograph of the Copenhagen skyline that Ben gave me as a gift years ago.

The lampshade was a find on one of my favorite pop-up sale websites, One Kings Lane. The lamp base was in my stash, and luckily it worked nicely with the new shade.

This is the view looking in from our dining room. I think it will all tie together nicely once the living room is painted white.

Jun 18, 2012

A Little Kitchen Love

Well my sister's wedding was amazingly beautiful and touching, and we're still enjoying the company of some out-of-town visitors. But I just had to share these new photos I took of our kitchen a few days ago, all spiffed up and clean for once! There are some projects I'll have to give more details on, like my redo of our chandelier and the dining table switch-up, so stay tuned for more on those :) One of my favorite finds for our kitchen so far has been the blue flower tea towels - 88 cents apiece on clearance at Target! And I'm in love with the turquoise Le Crueset tea kettle that was a Christmas gift from my parents. The framed art in the breakfast nook is scrapbook paper in 12x12 inch frames, all inexpensive finds from Michael's.

Jun 15, 2012

Church Bells are Ringing...

Festivities have begun for the lovely wedding of my very lovely sister and husband-to-be! I'll be back next week, hope everybody has a wonderful weekend!


Jun 13, 2012

Kitchen: Making it Shiny

I'm trying to catch you guys up on the house projects we've done over the past year - and we're almost to present day with the kitchen! The last tweak we did was to swap out our dark and dated hardware for brushed nickel knobs. I think they really make the space look more streamlined, and the contrast between the knobs and white cabinets is much less stark now. I picked up the knobs at Lowe's - check them out here. I mentioned in an earlier post that we removed that panel over the window. Now the not-so-attractive fluorescent light is exposed, but that will be replaced with a pendant as soon as we can decide on one! Be sure to take a look at those rad linoleum floors in the before photo!

before new knobs (and floors)
after new knobs

Just ignore the glaring old knobs on the right photo (very front cabinets)! Those doors are faux, and we will have to pull our dishwasher out from the other side before we can swap out the knobs!
We also replaced our refrigerator, strictly out of necessity. When we got home from our beach vacation last September, the old (possibly 30-year-old?!) fridge had leaked everywhere. The ice maker was totally kaput, and our home warranty didn't cover the repair. So rather than risk more leakage all over our brand new hardwood floors (more on those here), we decided to bite the bullet and get a shiny new refrigerator. As much as I loved our harvest gold 70s model fridge (can you hear my sarcasm through the computer?), I was pretty excited to have an excuse to shop for a stainless steel modern-day version. Because our refrigerator is located in a walkway into the cooking area, we opted for a counter-depth model. It doesn't stick out nearly as far as the original, so we lost a bit of storage capacity, but the inside is organized so well that we have never missed the extra space. And we have a spare fridge in the basement for overflow (it's usually just stocked with beer!), so we weren't too worried.

the ancient old refrigerator
shiny new fridge!
I have a long list of kitchen wishes, the first of those being to replace ALL of our harvest gold appliances. I have a long term plan in mind, so we will update a few things here and there as we can afford it, and then in a few years will hopefully be able to deal with the major components like the counter tops, back splash, and maybe swapping out the upper cabinets for open shelving.

Jun 12, 2012

Snapshots of a Pre-wedding Week

Things are about to get crazy around here. And I mean that in a really and truly wonderful way. Crazy like when you were a kid and got to go swimming and go to a birthday party and eat ice cream cake and play with your best friend all in the same day.

Family will start arriving for my sister's wedding tomorrow, and then life will get really fun around here! So in the name of expedience, here are a few photos of the past few days in my life. (Note how Max has helped me scratch things off the to-do list with his green crayon!)

Here's the basement guest room. About a month ago, it was piled with old clothes and dismantled furniture that was missing pieces. I finally ordered an inexpensive metal platform frame for the spare mattress we've had sitting around and cleared out the junk, so that the room looked like this:

Then I went "shopping" in our storage unit garage, and found a few accessories from our old house. Now the room looks more like this. We're ready for visitors!


Oh, and here is Max's first ever photograph. He snapped it this morning. I think it has sort of an abstract, artsy feel to it :)

Jun 11, 2012

Now You See Me, Now you Don't

This is the week of my lovely sister's sure-to-be-lovely wedding! As such, we will have relatives staying at our home and are pumped to be doing some dinner hosting, too. I am a deadline driven person, so I love knowing that we're going to have house guests. It's one of the few things that really motivates me to deep clean the house and finish up all those little projects that sit on the back burner for ages!

Needless to say, this was a busy weekend for domestic Jennifer. I washed windows, did laundry, organized clutter and re-arranged shelves, scrubbed out trashcans and hung artwork :) A project that had been on the to-do list for a while was to deal with our bathroom windows, which overlook the back driveway/patio area. The master bath has had no window covering since we moved in, and the guest bath had a dilapidated yellowing roller blind that we rarely used. It wasn't a big problem, since our back yard is really private, but I wanted guests to feel comfortable. I also wanted to be able to shower if somebody other than Ben happened to be hanging out in the back yard. No peep shows here!

To keep things simple and cheap, I simply bought some textured contact paper ($20) at the hardware store, cut it to size, and followed the instructions to place it on the bottom half of both windows. It's great because tons of natural light still streams in, but it's nice and private. It's hard to tell in photos, but you can kind of see in the difference it makes in this before and after of our master bath.

This was one of the easiest projects I've done in a while, and I like the streamlined look of the hall bath without a dingy roller blind. We still need to remove the old hardware from the window frames, but putting a fresh coat of paint on all of our doors and trim is on my to-do list, so I'll spiff up the frames at that point.

Jun 8, 2012

What a {Fri}day for a Daydream: Hippie Dippy

Nine years ago, Ben and I drove separately to a farm in Manchester, Tennessee. It was the perfect meeting point between our respective homes (I was in Nashville on summer break from college, and Ben was in Chattanooga job-hunting after graduating). We were beyond broke and had nothing but the clothes on our backs and a box of Clif bars, which I'm pretty sure was stolen from my parents' house.

We made this pilgrimage for none other than the Bonnaroo Music Festival, a four-day, camp-out in the grass, dirty hippie type of event (and yes, that used to be me!). We mostly treated it as a spectacle - we wanted to see what all the fuss was about, spend some time together and go home. But once there, we found ourselves scalping tickets with the last $90 we had between the two of us and praying to the heavens that the tickets were not counterfeit!

Of Montreal concert at Bonnaroo 2009

Well the tickets were real, and Ben and I spent the next few days sleeping in my car, eating Clif bars, listening to music, laying in fields and unplugging from the stresses of the real world. It was the beginning of a grand tradition. I think at last count, we'd been to five Bonnaroos, mostly with close friends after that first year. Some of my favorite pre-Max memories are from that hot, muddy, crazy festival!

with amazing friends at our last ever Bonnaroo, in 2009
Bonnaroo 2012 started yesterday, and I have definitely caught myself daydreaming about those hippie days of roaming around, covered in mud, and sipping beers in the sunshine with music and happy people all around. I was a bit nostalgic, until I realized that today Max was actually channeling Bonnaroo. Check it out, we spent all morning playing in the Tennessee mud with friends!

Max is my own little long-haired, barefoot hippie - his free spirit doesn't need a festival to break loose. He is unabashedly excited about life, easy to laugh, to cheer, to stomp his feet and clap his hands to the music. I wouldn't trade a thousand Bonnaroos for the chance to be Max's mommy, and that's a fact. Happy weekend, everybody!!