Tuesday, December 18, 2012

BBQ chicken pizza

  The 5pm sunsets have not been kind to my amateur photography skills and my little point & shoot Panasonic. I meant to share a lot of the pizza recipes we've been making, but the yellowy light in our dark kitchen has resulted in some truly terrible photos, and I've been quite frustrated. These weren't so bad so I just cheated and sepia-fied them.

Do you like Sweet Baby Ray's Barbeque Sauces? I love them. SBR's is the absolute best BBQ sauce, in my opinion--and no, this isn't a sponsored post. Although I wish it was, so I could get free BBQ sauce to try. We had two flavors on hand (Hickory & Brown Sugar and Honey Chipotle) so I asked Dane which we should use. His answer? "Both." That's why I love him.

BBQ Chicken Pizza
makes one 12" round pizza

for the crust:
3/4 cups warm water (~110 degrees F)
1/2 tsp sugar
3/4 tsp active dry yeast
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp evoo, plus more for oiling the bowl

for the toppings (amounts are approximate, since I usually just eyeball how much of each topping I want):
1/4 to 1/3 cup BBQ sauce
1/4 red onion, sliced
1 1/2 cups cooked, diced chicken breast
3/4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

To make my crust, I followed Bobby Flay's recipe with a few modifications. I halved the entire recipe, and since I used active dry yeast, I first proofed my yeast by combining the sugar & water and sprinkling the yeast on top. I set this aside for five minutes (the yeast should become foamy) and then combined with the dry ingredients and evoo. I then followed Bobby's steps for mixing & rising.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. After the dough has risen, gently press into a 12" round pizza pan greased with evoo. Using a fork, poke many holes in the crust (so you don't get air bubbles!) and bake for 6 minutes. Carefully remove the pizza crust, top with your sauce and toppings, and return the pizza to the oven to bake for another 6-8 minutes, until the crust is starting to brown.

Public Service Announcement: Always prebake your pizza dough to prevent soggy, drippy pizza.

Friday, December 7, 2012

christmas tree by the books

Hi everyone! I was having some problems uploading photos to blogger this week, but I seem to have it figured out. 

Despite my mini holiday decorating spree this past weekend, we don't have a proper Christmas tree up yet (either fake or real). I saw a tree made out of books on Pinterest (but can't find it anymore!) so I decided to build a book tree for our bedroom! In Chicago, our living room (exposed brick) wall had two large built in bookshelves that we loved to fill, so we have a ton of books--now, our bookshelf in the living room is completely full along a dedicated shelf in the hall cabinets--so I had plenty to build my little tree!

I didn't take any step-by-step photos, because the construction of the tree was trial and error. I divided my books into three piles--large hardcovers (like old textbooks & coffee table books) for the bottom, medium hard covers & paperbacks (like biographies & novels) for the middle, and small paperbacks (like shorter novels & plays) for the top! I first stacked the bottom books in a circular configuration, trying to layer the corners of the books to look more natural. Then, I did the same for the middle & top layers and finished with an open book on top to make a point. It took me a few tries & re-stacks to get something stable that looked good (due to the ranging thickness of the books). Once I was happy with my tree, I wound a string of lights around the "branches" and topped it with a bow!

The tree is about 2.5'--3' tall. I wanted it a little taller, but I didn't want to pull all of the books out of our living room bookshelf. I used the books we had stored in the hallway--about 35-40 in total for the tree. This is a great project for you if you have a bunch of old college textbooks and readers that you couldn't (or didn't want to) sell back!

I still want a real tree with ornaments though :)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

pizza advent

For our advent calendar this year, Dane & I decided to try something kind of silly, kind of strange, but kind of awesome. The idea stemmed from a statement Dane once made: "I could eat pizza every day." So, to build anticipation for Christmas, we created pizza advent.

To defend myself against those of you who think this idea is unhealthy and gross, we have twenty varieties of pizza on our advent calendar. Some are the traditional, cheesy variety (pepperoni, Chicago style deep dish) but some are healthy (veggies & herbs, butternut squash, grilled fajita). A lot of these pizzas are dinners we already make--but now, they will be served on some sort of crust. The crust will change up a bit as well, and I'm looking forward to experimenting with different styles and tastes of crust.

We are also very active people and you can't tell me what to eat. So there.

To make the calendar, I simply cut triangles of white paper and decorated them in seasonal themes with markers. Then, I pinned them onto a cork board in a feathery, pine tree like manner. Can't beat that for simplicity.

Here's a rundown of the pizzas that made the list. I'll be sharing the recipes for some of the more "special" ones:

cheeseburger pizza
s'mores pizza
grilled fajita pizza
dessert pizza
King's choice (Dane picks)
Lady's choice (I pick)
breakfast pizza
bacon & eggs (inspired by Elise's pizza)
taco pizza
butternut squash & caramelized onion pizza
BBQ chicken pizza
veggie & herbed cheese pizza
Chicago style deep dish (because we miss it!!!)
green chili pizza (this is the flavor we usually make when we have a regular "pizza night")
pesto pizza
buffalo chicken pizza

We put twenty pizzas on our advent calendar. I am pretty excited for this--not only do we get to eat some form of pizza every day, we also get to spend time together in the kitchen creating the recipes and save money by not eating out (since we have every meal planned until Christmas vacation on the 20th).

Did your favorite kind of pizza make the list? If not, share! I'll still need to come up with something good as my "Lady's choice" night!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Inspired by: Michael Jackson

image from here
On Thanksgiving evening, Dane & watched a TV cut of Spike Lee's documentary about Michael Jackson's BAD. Now, everyone has his or her own opinion on the controversies surrounding Michael's personal life, but his professional talent and accomplishments are mind-blowing.

Dane has always been a huge MJ fan, and has officially converted me. I did listen to some of his bigger hits growing up, and "Black or White" and "Billie Jean" were on heavy rotation in my college playlists, but it wasn't until I saw Michael Jackson's This Is It in 2009 that I really started to see his behind the scenes work and appreciate him as an artist. He had such a specific vision for his shows, and worked so incredibly hard to make sure every single detail was perfect. And now, after seeing Spike Lee's doc, I must say: WOW. There's a part in the film when Quincy Jones (his producer) tells a story about the writing of "The Way You Make Me Feel" in which Michael recorded the melody then stayed at the studio all evening and wrote and recorded every single voice part for the backing vocals (ten voice parts in all). He was there for every single instrument recording session. He would also have late night dance sessions in his hotel rooms during the filming of the "BAD" short film with his dancers to come up with new moves and choreography.

image from here
You could tell through the interviews how much his producers, dancers, co-writers, musicians, and entire artistic team loved working with him. And how much he inspired and pushed every single person he worked with. I think that's what affected me most: how his hard work and passion inspired those around him. Thanks to Dane's record collection, I've also learned that MJ wrote and produced most of his siblings' records as well, keeping their careers afloat.

image from here
It's bizarre and kind of sad to me to think that current artists like Katie Perry and Rhianna are breaking records set by Michael Jackson. Our current pop music landscape is just so vastly different than in MJ's time. Michael Jackson worked years to perfect an album, carefully choosing the songs and fine tuning every detail to put out something spectacular. Now, artists release a new album every year with a few singles that will top the charts and little regard for the deep cuts. Michael Jackson studied old movies and dance styles and stayed up late night developing new moves that pay homage to the greats. Now, when a trend is established, it is ridden to death in the hopes of becoming a one hit wonder or having the most Twitter followers. Michael Jackson's shows featured his band, backup singers, and him performing, and were electric and mesmerizing (although the This Is It tour did have more spectacle planned). Now, few artists actually sing during their shows, and a good show is determined by the number of wigs and costume changes and set spectacles.

image from here
Michael Jackson is inspiring to me because he was a true student of his craft, who pushed himself and those around him to innovate and create fantastic music, shows, and short films. Even after just watching a documentary about the BAD album, I wanted to start on some of my own work.

Monday, November 26, 2012

yellowstone part 3 : what's that smell?

I know that the holiday season is in full swing (I think the leaves are even starting to turn in Southern California!) but let's take it back a few months and return to Yellowstone and our last leg of the visit to this National Park. On the southeast route, we hit a few tourist grabs--the Sulphur Pits and Yellowstone Lake.

The pits were the second prehistoric flashback I experienced in the park (the first, The Petrified Tree, you can read about here). These pools of mud and steam abruptly disrupted the smooth dirt of the forest floor. The odor emanating was absolutely disgusting--yes, it really does smell like the most rancid rotten eggs. It was almost like a game to see how long you could withstand the stench to snap some photos.

Yellowstone Lake was much cleaner. And stench-free. And, even though we were just coming from our city on huuuuuge Lake Michigan, this body of water was impressive. Lake Michigan doesn't have any of those shadowy mountains in the background, either (on a clear day, though, you can see the smokestacks of Gary).

Exiting Yellowstone, you practically drive directly in to Grand Teton National Park (hint, hint--that's what I'll be posting on next in this series).

Want to remind yourself of the whole shebang? You can read my posts on Yellowstone here and here. I can not recommend a visit to Yellowstone enough. I can't wait to go back and stay for a week--camp, hike, see the geysers, see more of the lake. There are so many gorgeous mountains, lakes, rivers, forests, falls, plateaus in this one National Park. I would even be so bold as to call it THE quintessential American National Park. That's right, I said it.

Friday, November 23, 2012


Although Dane & I celebrated Thanksgiving with just the two of us, we still wanted to go all out with our dinner menu. So, we decided to make most of the traditional Thanksgiving--after all, aren't leftovers one of the best parts of Thanksgiving?

Our menu included a roasted turkey breast, mashed potatoes, gravy, rolls with honey butter, cranberry sauce, sweet potato casserole, Brussel sprouts, jalapeno cornbread dressing, and pumpkin pie. The cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie were store-bought, but everything else was made from scratch (we had to cut a few corners since there were only two of us).

Someday I'll figure out how to take properly lit photographs in this kitchen...

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

10 things I'm thankful for

I've been participating in a "Gratitude in November" event created by my friend on Facebook, in which members post something they are grateful for every day of November (even after Thanksgiving). It's been a good exercise in looking beyond the immediate & typical things I'm thankful for (which are no less valid) and really examining what I value in my life. This post is by no means a "top 10" list, but just ten major things in my life that I feel incredibly fortunate to have. Beware, it's a little sappy... :)

1. My parents. I have two wonderful parents who were incredibly supportive when I decided to move to LA. The same way they were supportive when I declared as a theatre major, decided to pursue a creative career, and every other decision I've made in my adult life. They put my happiness first, and I'll never be able to thank them enough for making me feel so good about myself.

2. Dane. My partner in crime (not literally, mom). I love him, and I make sure I tell him every day just how much. We had a big adventure together this year on our road trip and are still getting adjusted to living in LA, but I couldn't imagine any of it without him. Not many people would listen to my sometimes out-there ideas ("wouldn't it be cool to do a movement piece with long red balloons as human muscles?!") and encourages me to pursue my dreams. He seems to know me almost too well... and still puts up with me.

3. Dane's family. They too were so supportive during our move, and they have always welcomed me with open arms. I love visiting them and hearing stories about their families and growing up in western Pennsylvania. They are interested in my life and my goals and truly care about me. I am so lucky to have them in my life!

4. My siblings. I have the coolest big sis and little bro that a girl could ask for. I love visiting them and having them visit me, and even though we live thousands of miles away from each other, we remain close. They get excited about my successes and encourage me through my failures. I really look up to both of them.

5. Inspiration. This might seem strange, but I am so thankful that I am passionate about my career. I can still look around me and see fascinating and complex people, beauty, ugliness, music, movement, color--all things that spark ideas and fuel my creativity. If anything, life experience has softened me rather than made me callous. I feel fortunate to still see the world this way.

6. Mobility. I am able to travel, move, and venture around town fairly easily. I have access to planes, trains, busses, and a car. I have two working legs and able feet. I often overlook this, but the ability to move around is a luxury for many people around the world.

7. My healthy body. There are endless articles, news stories, and ramblings around the internet about women's bodies. I am thankful that I am able to keep myself healthy. I am thankful that I can run long distances and exercise and eat good food. I respect my body and choose not to harm it, and I am thankful that I have the resources to support that.

8. Security. I am not financially secure by any means (hello, student loan debt), but I try to manage my money as wisely as possible. Beyond that, I have a home that keeps me out of the elements and a job that earns my income. I do not feel threatened by war or my government or my community--which places me among the most fortunate people in the world.

9. Animal Welfare Workers. If you haven't noticed, I am a huge animal lover. I am so thankful for those who work in any level of animal welfare-- protecting endangered species, working towards humane farming conditions, or volunteering at a local animal shelter.

10. Goals. Forward motion and intention. Taking the small steps that lead me towards the big picture. Never resting on my laurels, and surrounding myself with people who think the same way.

I love this time of year precisely because I remind myself to count my blessings. Too often we--myself included-- only see what we don't have: that designer bag everyone seems to be carrying, the perfect body, a six figure income, celebrity status. But, during the holidays, I can check in with myself and be honest about what truly matters to me.

Have a very happy & thankful Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 16, 2012

eggless chewy chocolate cookies

I have a confession to make to all of you: I am terrible at baking cookies. I consider myself a very good cook and a good baker. For some reason, when it comes to making cookies, something goes wrong. My cookie disasters have ranges from rock-hard-can't-scrape-them-off-the-pan to so-soft-they-can't-be-picked-up-without-falling-apart. Failure comes in many varieties.


This recipe redeemed me. These cookies turned out amazing--rich and chewy with the tiniest hint of crunch at the edges. Like a brownie in cookie form. Without eggs! And I even went out on a limb and modified the original recipe! I must say I am pr-e-tty chuffed.

Eggless Chewy Chocolate Cookies (recipe modified from here)
makes about 26-28 cookies

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup natural cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda  (if using dutch process cocoa, DO NOT add the baking soda!)
1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp maple syrup
1/3 cup skim milk

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and cocoa (and baking soda if using natural cocoa) with a whisk. In a separate bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the white & brown sugar to the butter and beat until creamy. Mix in the maple syrup. Add half of the flour mixture and beat on low speed until just combined. Add milk and beat until just combined. Add the remaining flour mixture and beat until just incorporated. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes (or, in my case, for the length of one episode of Parks & Rec).

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking pan with parchment paper and spritz with a little cooking spray. Drop rounded teaspoons of dough onto the pan. Bake for 16 minutes, then remove pan from oven and allow cookies to cool on the pan for 10 minutes. After ten minutes, you can transfer the cookies to a cooling rack.

With chocolate cookies, it is difficult to see when the are "browning" and done. I removed mine at 16 minutes and, like I said, the cookies turned out fudgy and chewy. If you are looking for a crisper cookie, I'd suggest keeping them in the oven for 17 minutes and then watching them like a hawk until they are close to your desired crispness (the cookies will continue to cook slightly as they cool on the pan). Don't burn these because you will regret it.

While making these, I learned some interesting things about cocoa powders. The original recipe called for dutch process cocoa, but I only had natural cocoa powder (Hershey's) on hand. After some googling, I found out that you can not directly substitute one for the other. Dutch process cocoa involves washing the beans in a solution which reduces acidity. Therefore, when substituting, you must convert like so:

Dutch Process to Natural Cocoa Conversion
3 Tbsp dutch process cocoa= 3 Tbsp natural cocoa + 1/8 tsp baking soda
3 Tbsp natural cocoa= 3 Tbsp dutch process cocoa - 1/8 tsp baking soda

Recipes with natural cocoa should include baking soda to neutralize its acidity.

Happy (chocolate) baking!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Hi there! I've been MIA the last few days, celebrating my 26th birthday! I made a delicious rhubarb & peach pie for myself instead of cake. I have yet to feel "old" on my birthday as the numbers go up, so that is either a good sign or I am slipping into delusion. This year I've decided to do a "26 before 27" type goal list (like Elsie, Elizabeth, and lots of my other favorite bloggers have done). My first goal is to have it written by Friday so I can share it with you (I won't count that as a goal on my list).

Anyway, I can't do a post without adding in some photos. My birthday excursion this year is going to the drive-in movie theater later this week! I am so excited. But, since that hasn't happened yet, I'm sharing some photos from my birthday last year. Dane & I went to Washington, DC to visit some of our best friends and see our alma mater play Maryland (GO IRISH!). I hadn't been there since my 7th grade field trip, so it was exciting to see the city with adult eyes.

Alright, now that we looked at last year's birthday, time to look forward to next year and make my list!

Friday, November 9, 2012

yellowstone part 2 : rise & fall

Two of the biggest attractions we saw at Yellowstone were the Petrified Tree and Tower Falls. It seems kind of silly to park in a little lot, climb a path, and take a photo next to an preserved tree, but it's also awe-inspiring to be so close to something so ancient and rare. It evoked a feeling in me that was a cross between putting my foot into a 40,000 year old footprint in Australia and watching the mosquito scene in Jurassic Park.

Tower falls was decidedly more touristy, with its paved viewing platform and proximity to a gift shop.

National park gift shops are a treasure trove for odd items with "Yellowstone" printed on the side. You have your usual mugs, aprons, magnets, but also artwork like this, titled "A Mother's Pride":

A Yellowstone magnet did make its way onto our fridge.

I think I may have already used the photo below, but I like it so I'm putting it in again. 

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

canyon hike

I had hoped that this hike through Big Santa Anita Canyon would have been more "fall color"-ful than it was, but that might be the only complaint about this absolutely beautiful hike (do the trees EVER turn in Southern California?). Since I had worked out near the beach that morning, I had one of those California moments: I can say, "I was on the beach in the morning and in the mountains the same afternoon."

I really love how hiking is so popular and available in Southern California. I've been on a few trails so far--one in Malibu, Topanga Forest, and Santa Anita Canyon--and all are different but gorgeous in their own way. Big Santa Anita Canyon feels like a world away from the hustle of LA, with mountain views, cool riverbeds, and isolated campgrounds.

This is not an easy hike by any means--crossing the river on logs and boulders, steep climbs, narrow trails around the edge of the mountain--and to top it all off, the shortest hike option is 5 miles. I would love to camp at the campground by this old hearth (this may be the only time I've ever used that word), a 3.5 mile hike from the pack station. No trailers, campers, or RVs here.

I'd love to visit more hiking trails, so if you know the area & have any suggestions, let me hear them!