The Storybook Home of Grannie Annie and Gramps

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Since I was traveling to Washington, D.C. for a Monday-Tuesday work trip, I reached out to my “Grannie Annie” in Newport News, Virginia, near Norfolk, to arrange a quick visit the weekend prior. Ann was my mom’s stepmother for a few years during my mom’s childhood, but she and my grandfather Cavanaugh eventually divorced and she later married Arthur. My own mother was a single mom for a few years when my sister and I were very young and we didn’t have a lot of extended family. Grannie Annie and Arthur–now Gramps, to us–essentially adopted us as grandchildren and my sister and I spent years visiting them annually for two weeks at a time (we weren’t the only adopted grandchildren, either). Over time the visits got less frequent, but we remained in touch, and I even flew to see them once during winter break in college. Then in 2010, when I was in graduate school, I joined them on a group tour of Scotland they were leading (see this post!). However, since then I had only seen them one other time, and sadly Gramps passed away a little over a year ago at age 93.

Their home was a cozy and magical place to visit, like something out of a storybook. Their love of Scottish culture–Gramps even played and taught the bagpipes–is evident in every nook and cranny. I remember playing games like Pick-up Sticks and Monopoly in their den (pictured above), climbing the tree in the front yard, and Grannie Annie reading us Sherlock Holmes and Around the World in Eighty Days before bed, her narration elegant, melodic. We’d visit museums, see movies at the IMAX, and play on the beach. When I stayed with them as a college student, they had public radio playing constantly, watched BBC shows, spoke animatedly about local politics, and took me to a nice dinner where a historian extolled the history of a local battleship. Gramps had been slightly intimidating when I was a kid, a little strict and prone to saying sharply in his New York accent, “Oh for cryin’ out loud.” When I visited in college I saw right through the sly, gruff exterior and felt instantly at home with him; that’s his portrait on the wall, pictured below. He was healthy and extremely active right up until he suffered a stroke and passed away a few days later. Meanwhile, Grannie Annie writes and sings, is a member of multiple book clubs, travels (she’s leading another tour group in Scotland next month!), audits college courses, and is no doubt engaged in many other local groups and activities. As a child, I knew there was something special about visiting them, and as an adult, I have been inspired by the way Grannie Annie and Gramps embraced their passions, engaged in their community, and continued to pursue learning.

With all that said, it was lovely to get to see Grannie Annie again, to reminisce, walk on Buckroe Beach, drink tea at the kitchen table, and catch up on what one another’s life is like now. (Of course I eagerly told her all about the British detective shows I watch these days, especially a recent favorite set in Scotland, Shetland.)  And I was thankful to visit the home, itself, and be once again be enveloped in its spirit.

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A Vegetarian Spring Dinner Party

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My husband just completed his MBA, which he pursued from the fall of 2014 until this month, taking advantage of a free tuition program at a state university offered through his employer. It wasn’t easy, since he already has a demanding day job as an attorney and all but two courses were night classes, not online. School was a constant demand on his evenings and weekends for over two and a half years and I’m so proud he accomplished this goal — and did it so frugally! I’m also thankful he can now relax on his nights and weekends, or at least if he has to bring work home, it’s not competing with homework!

I figured we’d go out to dinner to celebrate with some close friends, but a few weeks ago I got it into my head that I wanted to host a little get-together. We don’t have people over often —  the most we’ve done is hold the occasional casual game night at our apartment, and it is admittedly a bit cramped, especially fitting people in our small dining area. But I just felt like this night deserved to be a little more special and personal than going out to a restaurant like we all do so often, and I was craving the hands-on DIY approach. With a few of our friends out of town this weekend, there ended up being 8 of us, so that sealed the deal that I would do a true “dinner party” with all of us sitting around the table together, a little more formal than our normal M.O.

Food-wise, I took my inspiration from some of my favorite dishes I am comfortable making (savory galettes/tarts and puréed roasted vegetable soup), spring-themed menus on Pinterest and elsewhere online, and wanting to feel a little fancy while still keeping things quite simple. Must be all the French-themed cookbooks I’ve been reading! As a vegetarian, I also want the food I serve other people to be particularly hearty and satisfying, more so than I might really need for myself. I served:

  • Appetizers:
    • Basic cheese board type stuff (cheese, nuts, fruit, etc.)
    • White bean dip with fresh herbs
  • Dinner:
    • Chilled soup (made of assorted puréed roasted vegetables, predominately tomato, red pepper, and cauliflower)
    • Radish and shaved Parmesan salad
    • Carrot orzo
    • Three savory tarts:
      • Tomato and goat cheese, made in a tart pan
      • Rustic-style potato and Gruyère galette (with celery and onion)
      • Rustic-style kale and Asiago galette
  • Dessert:
    • Flourless chocolate cake with a chocolate glaze and strawberries
    • With freshly whipped cream

I have recipe links and notes on the menu below (um…extensive notes) but first, a gazillion pictures, some of which my friend took, but I’ll leave out photos of our guests here:

Cooking:

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The apartment:

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The final products:

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Notes on the menu below! To skip the novel, you can also see most of the recipes and menu inspo on this Pinterest board.

*Fresh rosemary, chives, and basil sprinkled throughout almost everything…

Appetizers:

  • A quickly thrown-together platter of Parmesan cheese, walnuts, crackers (I love these “Everything Flatbread” crackers), strawberries, celery sticks, and rolled lemon wafers on the side. Our friends brought another nice cheese too.
  • White bean dip with fresh herbs, made from dried beans I cooked, with a little homemade walnut-basil pesto in the middle, following a suggestion in the recipe comments.
    • I almost didn’t put this in the processor and thought I’d just serve it extra chunky, but I’m glad I did because the texture had a really nice whipped feel to it and tasted better to me afterward.

Dinner:

  • Chilled soup served in 6-ounce Ball jars; I referred to it as gazpacho but I don’t think that’s technically accurate.
    • I didn’t follow a recipe but this one is similar. I roasted a head of cauliflower, a sweet onion, some whole garlic cloves, a couple of tomatoes and radishes, and a red pepper drizzled with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, dried herbs, and nutritional yeast. Then I cooked the roasted veggies in 4 cups of water, a spoonful of vegetable Better than Bouillon, a can of coconut milk, a box (26 ounce?) of Pomi chopped tomatoes and more herbs and spices–heavy on red pepper flakes–and finished up with the immersion blender. I appreciate that this is made with coconut milk since I served a lot of dairy elsewhere.
    • I served the soup in jars because I originally thought we might have more than 8 people and that we’d be spread out eating around the living room, so jars would make for a portable soup (inspired by images like these). I’d ordered them on Amazon and decided to stick with them even though we’d all be at the table together. They kind of complemented the Mason jar flower arrangements. That said, I swear I’m not one of those huge Mason jar lovers!
  • Carrot orzo
    • I used this recipe (subbing in vegetable broth), in part because the colorful carrots looked sort of spring-like and cheerful, but it was good. I’m glad I have a little bit leftover.
  • Radish and shaved Parmesan salad
    • Similar to this recipe, with my own thrown-together vinaigrette. I was drawn to the pretty pink color of the radishes, but also genuinely liked the salad.
  • Three savory tarts/galettes
    • Tomato and goat cheese tart
    • Rustic potato and Gruyère galette (with celery and onion)
      • David Leibovitz’ dough recipe from above, but similar to this overall (using a blend of red, white, and purple potatoes…again for some color!)
    • Rustic kale and Asiago galette
      • David Leibovitz’ dough recipe from above, but similar to this overall
      • This was my least favorite dish of the night; I’m not sure if other people agreed. I think maybe I don’t really love Asiago cheese, and the kale became chewy in the oven. I almost feel like it would be good to just bake a crust, and pile sautéed kale on top. I did mix some herbs and cheese into the crust of this one, which was good.

Dessert

  • Flourless chocolate cake with a glaze, topped with strawberries and freshly whipped cream
    • I liked the idea of doing this dessert because it still had the celebratory feel of cake, but since it was flourless, it was a change from the bread-y entrees
    • I looked at a lot of flourless chocolate cake desserts and this one from King Arthur Flour called out to me in both its simplicity and decadence. I even ordered their fancy espresso powder online, along with some Dutch processed cocoa powder.
    • I made this in my other tart pan, and it worked perfectly! Anytime I bake and the final product stays in one piece after I take it out of the pan, that’s a success in itself. I knew this would be incredibly rich, so I felt that strawberries were a really important addition (inspired by images like these) to add some refreshing relief to the dense chocolate. And of course, they’re pretty, adding more visual interest to a thin, pie-like cake.
    • Each slice got a dollop of homemade whipped cream. I’d added some vanilla and only a tiny pinch of powdered sugar to the whipped cream, so it almost had no sweetness; again a nice balance to a very rich, fudgy dessert.

I really don’t drink much, so I can’t comment much on the alcohol. I usually just have 1-2 glasses of whatever wine other people are having in social situations. We had some beer and rosé, but our friends brought other wines we opened instead of the rosé, and a few people brought liquor and we all tried some nice bourbon.

And that’s it! I really enjoyed the evening and I think the others did too, including my husband, who was initially a reluctant guest-(host?)-of-honor. Our friends brought games and after dinner, we played Exploding Kittens and then several rounds of Resistance. We gave ridiculous orders to Google Home, with about a 50 percent success rate. My dog was loved on constantly. All in all, a wonderful night!

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Overflow

I’ve never been one to practice restraint on Instagram; just yesterday I posted an astonishing seven photos from a single event, not using the new little slideshow-type feature (come on, any picture after the first one is basically lost to the world), but seven individual posts. I know that is not how these things are supposed to be done.

It finally occurred to me that I might enjoy going back to randomly documenting this and that on my blog again. In fact, the idea really grabbed hold of me and I was inspired to pull out my real camera, not just my iPhone, over the last few days.

I don’t care to bother with “catching up” on the blog in terms of what’s going on in my life or what has happened of note over the past couple of years. I used to periodically try to do that with long-neglected journals as a kid, and nothing kills any hint of creative inspiration faster than all that obligatory back-tracking.

(Anyway, I did make many of my old posts private too. Maybe they’re still accessible, they just didn’t “spark joy,” to apply the KonMari decluttering style to a blog…)

Herman and I went to “the big park” today, the one that’s a whole four miles or so away from home and therefore quite the road trip in terms of dog walking excursions.  I’d vowed to get up and take him first thing in the morning but then suddenly it was 1 pm, oops, but it’s an overcast and breezy day so the afternoon still felt nice enough. (Edited to add: Apparently, I covered the same “big park” just a few blog posts back in June 2014, lol. God I’m boring.)

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The event from yesterday–that of the seven photos–was an “English Fayre” hosted by an Anglican church. A local chef (who runs a cooking school I attended for a fantastic anniversary date night) was catering an afternoon tea so I made the reservations and eagerly anticipated this little festival for days, superficial Anglophile that I am. It was very cute and I was probably loving it all just a little too much if you ask my husband.

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I honestly have so many things I want to write about or show visually that I need to slow myself down. Sometimes I get a little ambitious with this sort of thing, as demonstrated by the seven new books I’m trying to dive into all at once, on top of 62 hours of Sherlock Holmes audiobooks I’ve just started working my way through. (Did that segue make enough sense for me to post a few more photos?)

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I suppose I could conclude with this latest iteration of MANY vegetable soups I’ve been making over the past few months. I kind of struck gold two batches ago when I blended roasted cauliflower, garlic, and onions into a broth of water, coconut milk, chopped tomatoes, vegetable Better than Boullion, and spices. It was heavenly, so I made a similar soup yesterday that also includes some roasted broccoli, carrots, and radishes alongside all the original ingredients. I even tried it cold this morning, gazpacho style. Still delicious.

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Hopefully, I’ll be back posting again very soon!

Inspiration Overload

Sometimes I need a break. I don’t need another lovely photo of a home or a suggestion for how to declutter my closet or a tip for a great at-home workout. I have all the tools I need. My inspiration cup runneth over. I know myself, I know my life, I know what I need to do to live well.

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Solo in Thomasville

Thomasville, GA

Thomasville, GA

Yesterday I drove about 45 minutes to Thomasville, GA to spend a few hours strolling alone through its downtown shops and antique stores.

Thomasville, GA

I know it’s nothing terribly exciting, but I don’t usually take off on that kind of excursion by myself, at least not that far from home. I should more often.

Thomasville, GA

It was nice to meander as slowly as I wanted without guilt, lingering to take pictures of the old buildings and browsing through the goods for sale inside them. For the record, I didn’t buy anything except a late lunch at a Mexican restaurant.

Thomasville, GA

Even the drive there and back was time well spent, giving me time to think and daydream away from the normal distractions and routines of daily life.

Thomasville, GA

It’s really eye-opening to spend that kind of time with yourself. I guess that’s part of the appeal of travel; having the time and space and privacy to get a sense of who you are. Away from your  normal environment and all the patterns, stresses, and assumptions that are so engrained in it.

Thomasville, GA

I felt like a slightly different person yesterday. And there’s no reason I can’t get in touch with her more often.

Thomasville, GA

Thomasville, GA

Thomasville, GA

Thomasville, GA

Thomasville, GA

Thomasville, GA

Thomasville, GA

Ribbet collage

A Welcome Return

Where do I begin? So much has happened since I last updated – most notably, my wedding! But that will be a post for another day. Today I am just excited to find myself revisiting favorite blogs with interest for the first time in a long time. To be thinking about ways to make this fresh start with my husband special. To see my dog again soon, who’s been staying with my parents while we are on our honeymoon.

Our honeymoon. We both agree it has been our best trip together and it helped solidify a stronger emphasis on travel as we start our married life. In particular being surrounded by French speakers gave us a little thrill of being out of our comfort zone (though just about everyone was bilingual). Of the excessive number of photos I’ve taken, below is a comparably tiny selection.

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A few favorite memories off the top of my head:

We met a couple from Maine named Lillian and Angelo in a Quebec City pub one night. We chatted as they ate dinner, my husband drank a beer, and I had a cappuccino with a slice of “sugar pie.” They first came to Quebec City and Montreal for their honeymoon 53 years ago!

Another night a group of college freshman approached us on a pier in Montreal to tell us that we looked very romantic. They were five days into their “frosh” orientation, most were new to the city themselves, and their excitement was contagious. I felt old but not totally uncool. 😉

We had the best seats in the house at the Chinatown restaurant where noodles were made from scratch (which onlookers could watch through the window from the street) and the food seemed to inspire conversation. Many friendly folks approached us to ask about our meals and a lovely Vietnamese woman sat with us for dinner. Though I am a vegetarian I tried to be adventurous for the sake of travel and give the noodles a shot, but I really couldn’t stomach more than a few bites due to the beef broth. A vegetarian option would have been SO good. I am still glad I made the effort as it was a really fun experience, down to the comically over-sized bowls we inadvertently ordered for ourselves.

I also loved taking the train between the two cities and enjoyed the slower pace we began to adopt after the first few days of frenetic exploring. More than once we stopped to read or simply lie in the grass and I treasured those peaceful moments. We did a river cruise, a double decker bus tour, and of course spent many hours on foot each day. Both hotel stays included a fabulous breakfast I looked forward to eagerly each morning, and I got into the routine of soaking my tired feet in a hot, luxurious bath most evenings, a habit I hope to keep up at home. The weather was absolutely perfect the entire trip. Coming from Florida in August it was a relief from the extreme heat, but was warm and breezy, and we did not have a single drop of rain.

On another note, I’m giving Instagram a shot. I set up an account early this year, mainly to look at wedding vendors’ photos (IG is apparently the place to be for florists, makeup artists, bakers, and so on..), but during my honeymoon I decided to go more active. Several friends uploaded photos of our wedding on Instagram that I wanted to see and it seemed like a fun way to help document the trip. My username is ErinToniRose.

There is still about a week before I return to work and I think I’ll be blogging again soon as I happily shift gears to this new phase in my life.

Weekend at the Beach

I’m in Jacksonville Beach for the weekend and staying busy! My fiance and I have our high school reunion today and his birthday is tomorrow, plus we fit in some wedding-related stuff including menu and cake tastings. Today I was out on the beach by 6:30 a.m. for some quiet time before the hustle and bustle starts.

Some day we will live near the beach again.

Jax Beach July 2014

Jax Beach July 2014

Jax Beach July 2014

Jax Beach July 2014

Jax Beach July 2014

Jax Beach July 2014

Jax Beach July 2014

Jax Beach July 2014