Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thanksgiving Week

We spent Thanksgiving week with Bo's family this year, at their home in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. They have a gorgeous cabin with plenty of space for all of us to stay in one place. We had the usual crew - his parents, his older sister Dudley, and his oldest sister Charlotte, her husband Doug, and their two cute little boys, Baker and Stuart. This year we also had Bo's Uncle Bruce (his dad's brother) stay with us - we hadn't seen him in years so it was great to spend a lot of time with him last week.

After Round 1 of Thanksgiving dinner with our friends, Bo fried another turkey for all of us. While he manned the fryer and his parents setup the house, the rest of us went on a hike to Beacon Heights. Talk about working up an appetite - good thing we had plenty of yummy food to eat for the rest of the day!

on our way up to the trail

me and my girl :)

Charlotte and her boys

Charlotte's dog, Chloe - Molly's new BFF

Dudley and her dog, Madison, and her mom's dog, Eloise

tired puppy

After a shower and a nap we spent the rest of the day cooking and eating, of which I sadly do not have any pictures. Bo's mom's cousin John, his wife Ashley, and their two sons Avery and Jack were also in town so they joined us for dinner - so great to see them for the first time since the summer before our wedding!

My favorite thing that I made for Thanksgiving dinner is this pumpkin pie.YUM! Charlotte found the recipe a few years ago, and it is the pie that converted Bo from a pumpkin hater to a pumpkin lover, so it is now a Thanksgiving staple for us. I also made it the previous week for a work potluck dinner and it's been a hit with everyone so far. The only bad thing about it is that there are never any leftovers.

The boys brought turkey hats...aren't they just the cutest nephews ever?!



We also managed to get a few family pictures on the deck before the sun went down. Christmas card sneak peak :)

sunset view from the back deck

We didn't do much on Friday other than eating a lot of leftovers and taking naps. It was a good break for us. We attempted to go into town but there were so many people and the lines were too long to get in any stores or restaurants. So we took a walk around this little pond on the way back to the house and hung out here for a while enjoying the surprisingly warm weather.

We had a nice dinner that night to celebrate Bo's parent's 30th wedding anniversary. John and his family came over again for dinner and to hang out before their long drive back home to Florida the next day.

Saturday was Bo's 27th Birthday! I got him a new iPod, and for the first time ever I let him open it a few days early so that he could set it all up before we left on our trip. We do NOT like surprises at all, which works out because the unofficial rule in my family is that you have to tell people what you want or else your chances of getting anything at all (much less something you like) are pretty slim-to-none. It's pretty awesome and it works for us, since it makes shopping super easy and you already know the person is going to love what they get! Needless to say, Bo was very happy with his new iPod :)

The morning of his real birthday, we went on a hike with Charlotte, the boys, and the dogs on the Glen Burney trail, part of which goes right behind their cabin. It was a beautiful hike, and we got a great workout since it was pretty steep for most of the trail.

Uncle Bo and his mini-me, Stuart. Scary how much these two are alike

Afterward we had lunch at Bistro Roca, and then went to see the new Muppet Movie which we all thought was great. Bo has always loved the Muppets so it was perfect timing that the movie came out a few days before his birthday. We came back home from the movie to some fun surprise decorations for Bo's Bahamian Birthday Bash! Some of our favorite memories with his family are from their annual trips to the Bahamas when we were in high school / college, so his sisters decided to have a Bahamian themed night since we haven't actually been to the islands together in years. (Note to self: get back to the Bahamas!)  Stuart brought his Bahamian flag and hung it up for the party.

We had Kalik (unfortunately could not find Kalik Gold - the best) and Planter's Punch, and Dudley crafted Goombay Punch for the boys by printing out labels and gluing to pineapple soda bottles - she was going to order some from the Bahamas but it was ungodly expensive. I thought it was cute :)

We found conch at the Dekalb Farmer's Market in Atlanta (that place is amazing!!) and brought it up with us to make cracked conch, conch fritters, and conch chowder. Served with peas and dirty rice - yum!

crackin' that conch!

I made Bo a cookie cake (recipe here - soooo good! and ridiculously easy to make) but ran out of time to decorate it since frying the conch took us forever. It was delicious all the same.

We watched part of the UF/FSU game, which usually involves a lot of banter between Bo and Dudley since she went to FSU...but it was such a terrible game for both teams that we eventually just turned it off. Next year HAS to be better...right??!

Before heading back home on Sunday, we went to a Christmas tree farm to get our tree this year. Charlotte's family goes there every year and I finally convinced Bo to go. I am slowly building him to my level of excitement for Christmas. In my family, Christmas is a BIG deal. The day after Thanksgiving, I'd go with my dad to pick out the largest tree that could possibly fit into our house, and somehow every single year we needed about 20 more strands of lights for the tree and for decorating the house and yard. When I was younger, I was always bummed that I had to decorate on my day off school instead of playing with my friends, but now I absolutely love it. And now, Bo is the one asking me every year why I need a bigger tree and more lights, etc etc.... looks like I am carrying on my dad's tradition!  Anyway, back to the tree farm. It was incredible! There were so many trees to choose from, and it's so much better to see how it looks when it's still planted in the ground instead of trying to pick one from a pile of tied up, halfway dead trees (which is how they usually were in Florida and they aren't much better in Atlanta).

For anyone else like me who has never been to one before, this is how it works: they give you a pole to measure the trees, you walk around and find the tree you want, put a tag on it, yell out "chainsaw!!", they come cut it down and bring it to your car, and tie it up for you really good so it doesn't fall apart on the drive home.

our tree!

This one's for you, Dad - it was over 20 feet tall!

They even give you free hot chocolate while you wait!

all tied up and ready to go home

I was in heaven. We definitely plan on making this a tradition from now on :) After a great Thanksgiving week in Blowing Rock, the Christmas season has officially started in the Commander household!!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving with Friends

Thanksgiving is Bo's absolute most favorite holiday, so we really make the most of it. When we got married a few years ago, we decided to host a potluck Thanksgiving dinner with our friends, since we were the only married couple and therefore the only ones who had enough space for everyone and all of the appropriate supplies (thank you, wedding registry!). It's been such a fun tradition with our group of friends. We ask everyone to contribute something to the meal, and we all enjoy trying everyone else's recipes and seeing how similar or different everyone's family traditions are.

We love hosting events, and this time we had 23 people over for dinner! It was our largest crowd yet, as the number of "significant others" continues to increase and now that Ginny & JM are finally back in Atlanta. And we still have just a little more room to grow for the next event, if needed. We even brought out the fine china for the occasion, which was a first (I may have just a little Monica Geller in me when it comes to my china). Dinner was quite an enormous feast. Everyone did such a great job and it was all so delicious. Bo and I spent a majority of Saturday preparing the meats and got up way too early (in my opinion) on Sunday to start cooking them and getting the house ready for everyone to come over later that afternoon.  Bo cooked the turkey in his laser fryer (a-mazing!) and the special this year was a massive tenderloin. Since he was using the fryer and the grill, it was so nice to have the oven open all day for everything else.

Fried Turkey

Grilled Tenderloin

Drew and Lizzy dressed up in these awesome costumes for the event, so we had a few pilgrims join us!

Chris and Shawn were really sweet and brought me flowers :)

Everyone finally enjoying the meal we all put together...

yours truly :)

the all-couples table: Ginny & JM, Jessica & Josh, Bo & me, Lauren & Shawn

the all-girls table: Katie, Ana, Shara, Sarah, Kim, Margaret & EJ

the hodge-podge table: Drew & Lizzy, Matt, Chris, Nick & Jenna

Until we started hosting dinners ourselves, I never truly realized just how much work it takes. It makes me that much more appreciative of all the years I've gone to Grandma's house for the holidays - especially since she does everything by herself (except for the desserts, which my mom makes). It is very impressive! Hopefully she'll teach me a few of her tricks when we are with her for Christmas :) hint, hint Grandma...!! One thing I secretly love about hosting events is that it gives me a good excuse to move around the furniture and do a really good cleaning of the house a few times a year. I know, call me crazy, but I do love it. Bo thinks I clean too much in general (again, I might be crazy...), but I guess in his mind having guests over to our house justifies my cleaning frenzies. Although in my experience I have learned that it is really best to just do basic cleaning before the event, and save the deep cleaning until after the event. It tends to last a bit longer :)

Later today we are packing up the car and heading up to Blowing Rock, NC for the real holiday tomorrow. We are spending the rest of the week with Bo's family, and we are doing a similar potluck Thanksgiving dinner, so our dinner with friends was good practice for us :)  After the big meal on Thursday, Bo's parents are celebrating their 30th anniversary on Friday, and then Bo's birthday is on Saturday! It's going to be one heck of a week and we are very much looking forward to it!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Another Foodie Weekend

Last weekend was probably one of the most relaxing weekends we've had in a while. And most likely the last one we'll have this year as we head into the holiday season.

Bo was out of town all last week for work, and since Friday was the 11th we had a nice dual anniversary-and-welcome-home celebration meal. I made a lasagna - nothing special but always a delicious home-cooked meal, which he really needed after a full week of eating out. And for dessert I made a key lime pie at Bo's request. I know, not your typical dessert for fall in Atlanta. But the rule in our house is that when you're gone all week you get to pick whatever you want when you get back. So, key lime pie it was. And it was pretty darn good, if I do say so myself. Recipe here. So good that we wouldn't even tweak the recipe next time.  We usually have a bottle of Chandon on our anniversary each month, but we were still working through the bottle of wine when we decided to call it a night. So we decided to wait until the next morning, and yes, we had key lime pie and champagne for breakfast. It was pretty wonderful. Though I wouldn't recommend it any other day of the week besides Saturday :)

The only time we left the house all weekend was to go watch the Gator game, which I used as an excuse to try out two appetizer recipes I found on pinterest. They were both pretty quick and easy to make, so I'll be keeping these two in my recipe book.

The first was Potato Rounds (recipe here) and I would give this 4 out of 5 stars. It was a hit with everyone and made for good finger food. I didn't use green onions because that would have required leaving the house and putting on real clothes to go to the grocery store.

The other recipe was a Beer Cheese Dip (recipe here), which I would give 3 stars. It was good but not spectacular and I'm not anticipating any future requests for it. I made the full recipe which is really more for 10-15 people....not the 4 of us who attempted to make a dent in it. Next time we may try adding some hot sauce or something to give it a little bit more of a kick.

We spent the rest of the weekend in our pajamas eating leftovers and reading. I'm glad I had a full weekend to read the rest of the Hunger Games series because I could not put it down. And because I'm not sure how much reading and/or relaxing I'm going to get done with all the festivities coming up over the next 6 weeks!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Recent Reads

I've had another good month or so of reading, so I wanted to share the books I've read lately. To clarify, Kim and I are brave souls and are in two book clubs together... I am not in one super-crazy-club!

Kim also gave me a few other book suggestions that I have on my up-coming reading list. Along with that, she got me addicted to yet another website, http://www.goodreads.com/. You can share book recommendations, track which books you've read, rate books to find personalized suggestions, list books you want to read, see what other people are reading, and so on. It's like a virtual bookshelf. They also have a pretty good iPhone app, which is going to be pretty handy for my next Barnes & Noble shopping trip. If you like reading you should check it out. And become friends with me so I can stalk your book list :)

The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd

I love this book. This was our September book club choice - see Ginny's post about our meeting (and her beautiful & delicious bee cake pops!!) here.  I read this book several years ago, but remembered liking it so much that I decided to read it again for our meeting. I tend to forget what books/movies are about, so it was almost like reading it for the first time all over again. Luckily my mom still had her copy that I had read years before and she let me borrow it again. I didn't realize this until after she gave it to me, but the back of the book even says it is "a story that women will share and pass on to their daughters for years to come" - in our case, very literally! :) If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it.

 Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer

This was also a book club choice (book club #2, keep up people!). I thought it was a very weird book at first but ended up liking it. It's told from the point of view of a nine-year-old boy, Oskar, whose dad died in the World Trade Center on 9/11. It's written just the way a nine year old speaks and thinks, which took a few chapters to get used to (as in, endless run-on sentences and funny childhood thoughts) and took me a while to get through. Oskar finds a key in his dad's bedroom and sets out on a secret mission to find the matching lock as a way to become closer to his dad. There are a few other stories intertwined throughout the book as well, that all end up coming together at the end - in a good way but not how I expected them to. It was definitely not a book I would normally pick up on my own, which was my main purpose in joining the book clubs.

 Half Broke Horses, by Jeannette Walls

Kim recommended this one to me. We seem to have similar taste in books (see above: we are in two book clubs together), so she sent me a list of some of her recent favorites. This one did not disappoint. It's not exactly a feel-good book, but still a good read. It is a true-life novel about the story of Lily Casey Smith, the author's grandmother, who grew up on a ranch and had what I would consider a pretty rough life. She still manages to look for the best in everything and I really enjoyed it, especially since I am not usually into reading about horses and the ranching lifestyle. I also surprisingly liked the mini-chapters, each just a few pages long. I thought that would make it easier to put down, but instead as I was reading I'd think "oh just 2 more pages, well how about another 3 pages, okay just one more..." and an hour later I'd finally go to bed. Thanks for a great recommendation, Kim!

Catching Fire (Hunger Games #2), by Suzanne Collins
Mockingjay (Hunger Games #3), by Suzanne Collins

I read the first book of this series and was hooked! But since I extremely dislike hardback books, and we are anti-electronic-device-reading (no kindles, nooks, ipads for us) AND since I prefer to buy books than borrow from the library (lots of reading restrictions here...), I was just going to wait until it came out in paperback. But then we decided to read the series for book club, and I borrowed the second and third books from my friend, Ginny. She and a few others had read them and said how good they were during our meeting for the first book, and I couldn't wait. We didn't have any plans last weekend and I read the second one in a matter of hours. It was my favorite book of the series. I finished the third book in two days, which I thought wasn't quite as good as the first two but still pretty good. Besides, you have to read it to find out how the trilogy ends. I don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't read them yet, because I can't really talk about what happens in these two books without giving away the ending to the first book. Such a good series!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Decatur Wine Festival & Foodie Weekend

Since we are such big fans of the Decatur Craft Beer Festival, we decided to check out the Decatur Wine Festival last weekend. It was in the exact same location and had a pretty similar setup, so we had high hopes for it. There were over 500 wines to taste and some of our favorite restaurants from Decatur were there as well - and once we got there, we found out all of the food was free. Score! Not. Oddly enough, free food turned out to be a major downside of this event for us. The lines were unbelievably long, and once you finally got through the line, all you got was one teeny tiny sample. There was no where to buy food if you wanted to. This could have been disastrous if we hadn't eaten breakfast that morning, and we will definitely have to remember this if we go back next year, since we usually count on eating at festivals where the food is so good. The weather was perfect once again and we all had a really great time.

Other than going to this festival, we never left the house all weekend. It was fantastic. We finally got in a lot of much-needed rest after the whirlwind of a month we had in October. We spent most of our time in our PJ's, reading, watching movies, cooking, and eating. We even tried a few new recipes.

Friday night I made fried green tomatoes with shrimp remoulade (recipe here). It was a great recipe, a definite keeper. The only change we would make for next time is to serve it all warm rather than refrigerating to serve cold.

While we were at the festival on Saturday, I had italian chicken cooking in the crockpot. I absolutely love coming home and having dinner ready. I found the recipe and picture here on pinterest (I used the much simpler recipe below the picture, not the one from the original link). We had a few friends stop by that night and it was a huge hit for everyone. It was incredibly easy to make, delicious to eat, and I have a feeling we will be making this one pretty often!

On Sunday we went with an old favorite - tomato soup (recipe here) and grilled cheese.

It was a yummy and wonderful weekend. Plus there were plenty of delicious leftovers that lasted me through the week while Bo was out of town. And so far, this weekend is shaping up to be pretty similar. I'd be okay if this was a new trend for us :)