Thursday, May 14, 2015

all about that brunch

I don't know that I ever capitalized on Meghan Trainor's ear-buggy song, so I thought now was the time.

I hate eggs, but I love breakfast. Something about good coffee, heavy, sweet food, and knowing I still have a whole day ahead of me is incredibly appealing. Sadly, I have yet to find something close to home to fill that void, but luckily, Houston is a huge city with tons of options a bit farther away.

One Sunday, we ended up at Pondicheri for breakfast. It's an Indian restaurant and as someone who loves Indian food but has no idea what makes an Indian breakfast, I was a bit skeptical; I was craving pancakes that particular morning. The menu had crepes, which I decided was close enough, and so we went. For whatever reason, I thought that I would have three separate crepes, so I chose nutella, strawberries, and blueberries as my toppings. When one large crepe arrived, oozing with nutella, I was a little disappointed. It wasn't the restaurant's fault (I should have asked), and I do love nutella, but it's so overpowering, it's all I tasted. Fortunately for me, Andrew didn't realize how large even the side items would be, so we had many other things to try on the table. He got a Morning Thali. There was something eggy in the center of the plate, which I ignored, but the things in small metal dishes surrounding that were amazing - a chutney, some cooked carrots, and some lentils. I ate those on top of the aloo paratha that we ordered, which is a savory, pancake-like thing made from carrots and potatoes. It was delicious and satisfying in a way I wasn't expecting from breakfast.

Another weekend, after trying two different places nearby unsuccessfully for brunch, Andrew and I drove into town to have brunch at Tout Suite. It's close to my office so I get coffee there often and have been for lunch, but this was my first brunch trip. I was craving waffles (pancakes' textured cousin), so my choice was easy. These were fantastic, and waffles are really easy to screw up. They were served with a little whipped cream and some strawberries and blueberries - no syrup needed. They were crisp enough to keep their texture under the toppings and had a different taste to them that Andrew identified as nutmeg in the batter. I was in love. Andrew ordered a Norweigan egg dish, which I even enjoyed a bite of. The eggs were on top of toast and topped with smoked salmon and blood orange creme fraiche - atypical of the norm of bacon and eggs, but still delicious.

The Pondicheri spread, going clockwise from the top: the Morning Thali, a tortilla-esque bread thing perfect for the Thali accompaniments, aloo paratha, my dud of a crepe, and something else Andrew ordered that he thought was small but ended up being a burrito. | Tout Suite waffle - more amazing than it looks in the pic.

A new donut shop just opened in town. The owners of one of my favorite food trucks has closed down (RIP, Shorty Mac) and focused its energy on breakfast. We had time to kill one morning, so we waited in line for 45 minutes to try the donuts and kolaches at Hugs and Donuts. I wasn't in the mood for sweets that day, so I ordered a spinach and artichoke kolache and a lox bagel kolache. The spinach and artichoke was good - flat, with the toppings in the center. The lox bagel kolache was round, with the same toppings as an everything bagel over the top, a dollop of cream cheese in the middle, and a piece of smoked salmon folded over the whole thing. It was good, but not as good as I remember the Everything Kolache from last year's Fluff Bake Bar pop-up being.

While Andrew was out eating barbecue one Sunday, I made plans with friends to check out Lowbrow. I had no idea what to expect, but basically this place was hipster paradise. There was a random western playing on a projector screen and a DJ spinning everything from 80s new wave to 90s hip hop. It was open air (and the weather was fantastic) and tons of weird, Houston-specific kitchsy things adorned the walls. I loved the atmosphere and would go back for that alone. My friend and I shared the special Juicy Lucy burger - stuffed with fontina and topped with arugula and pickled onions - and the churro waffles (just call me Lauren Knope). The burger was great and worth a return try, but the waffles lacked the aforementioned crunch I adore. It was just a fun place, though - definitely a great spot for a little hair of the dog after a rough Saturday night.

Juicy Lucy | Churro waffles, chocolate sauce topping not pictured.

And, since drafting this post, I realized I've eaten waffles twice more - on back-to-back days, no less. Since I was driving out to the southeast side of town, Sarah suggested that we meet at Seabrook Waffle Company. This place only serves waffles topped with all kinds of things and instead of being made with batter, the waffles are made with dough. I wanted something from the savory side of the menu, so mine had peach preserves, bacon, and gorgonzola cheese. I know it sounds weird, but the sweet/savory thing worked really well. I could have lived without the bacon, though. Sarah's waffle had mac and cheese with red pepper flakes and it was good, too. The next day, I had a pecan crusted chicken with a waffle and molasses cream sauce at Pecan Creek Grill, which I have talked about many times. The chicken was great and the waffle was fine, but the cream sauce was kind of awful. I used it sparingly, mostly because I was too lazy to go get myself syrup.

Having to go into town for good breakfast is definitely a first world problem, though one that I wish my suburb would remedy. Who wants to start a diner in northeast Houston? Perhaps we can name it JJ's?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

diy diaper bouquet tutorial

When craftiness strikes, I do everything in my power to oblige. I like being creative, but I often lack in execution. When my boss offered to throw a baby shower for another coworker, I stepped up and offered to make a diaper cake without giving it much thought. It looked like a fun challenge.

Do you know how many diapers go in that thing and how many cute little toys you need to make it look good? A lot. So I went to my frenemy Pinterest for an alternative and saw a diaper bouquet. It still used diapers and still served as decor, but it seemed easier. Sold!

And it was super easy. A little time consuming, but so, so simple. Even easier than the candy bar bouquet I made a few years ago. So, by popular demand, mostly because my coworkers kept asking me how I did it and I thought you might too, here's a tutorial.

First, here's what I used, with prices, because does anyone really know what a roll of tulle costs?

Vase (purchased at Goodwill for $1.99)
Small pack of diapers (I got a pack of 37, Up & Up brand at Target for $6.39 using Cartwheel)
Styrofoam ball that fits in the mouth of the vase ($2.99 after Michael's coupon)
Wooden Skewers (I already had these but I think they were around $2. I used the longer, thicker ones for extra support)
Burlap Ribbon (Dollar tree!)
Tulle (I used a roll of white purchased at Dollar Tree and roll of aqua purchased at Michael's for $2.99 with a coupon. It was much larger. Find it in the wedding section - took me forever!)
Vase filler (I got a Johnson's Baby on-the-go travel product set for $3.99 at Target)
Ribbon ($1.50 at Michael's)
Wooden "C" (.59 at Michael's)
Tissue paper (already on hand)
Clear hair elastics ($2.48 for 75 at Walmart. Worth every penny and I'll use the leftovers!)

Most of the materials you'll need

1) Roll up a diaper, grab some tulle, and figure out the look you're going for. I liked for the tulle to go about 3/4 of the way up, so about 8 inches of tulle was a good amount.

2) Cut tulle the length you want it (so, 8" sections for me) and set aside.

3) Place the styrofoam ball in the vase. With any luck, gravity will keep it in place and you can attach it more securely later. Determine how long you want the skewers to be, allowing for space for it to go into the styrofoam and into the diaper, and cut them down accordingly. I only did a few at a time since the ones on the sides were longer than those on top. I found it easiest to "score" the skewer to the length I wanted it, break it by hand, and then trim off the splintery edges.

4) Make the flowers. Roll the diaper about halfway. Place the skewer inside your roll, pointy side out, and roll up completely. Push the skewer through your preferred amount of tulle. I used a piece of white in between two pieces of aqua - so, three total - and made sure they weren't straight for maximum fluff-ability. Arrange the tulle around the diaper and then secure the whole thing with a hair elastic.

Rolling the skewer into the diaper | Pushing tulle on to make a flower (and you can see my stacks of cut tulle in the background).

5) Grabbing the base of the flower, push it into the styrofoam. Repeat until you're happy with the look. I used 33 diapers on a 5" ball.

Filling in with "flowers"

6) Now, decorate the outside of the vase. I hot glued the burlap ribbon to the vase, attached the C to white ribbon, and then wrapped it around the burlap.

7) For the inside of of the vase, I arranged the travel products and then rolled up the remaining diapers and tied them with tulle. I was lucky that my vase was squat and I was able to fit a lot inside!

8) Now, you'll want to secure the ball to the vase. You could hot glue it, but I wanted everything to be reuseable. I got four of my discarded skewers and placed them in the center of the vase. I wrapped them loosely with my leftover tulle so they weren't visible. Then, I got two pieces of tissue paper, laid it flat across the mouth of the vase, and pushed down through the skewers. Finally, I got the ball and pushed it on top of the center skewers for some extra support.

Outside of the vase | To make a puffy tulle bow, tie a regular bow and snip the loops | Testing to see how things would fit before I decorated

I was really happy with how this came out. It was a thoughtful, easy, DIY gift for not a lot of money ($25 for me since I had very little of the needed stuff on hand, but for anyone with a decent craft stash, it could be a lot less). I looked online and there weren't many step-by-step tutorials, so I did get frustrated in the process and had to go back to the store many times. I was going to use ribbon around the rolls instead of the clear elastics to save money, but the elastics were much easier, kept the size of the rolls uniform, and likely saved me loads of stress. Everyone at the shower was really impressed with the gift so I'll definitely make this again.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

april books

My cat goes through different phases of behavior. This month, it was laying on my head the second I laid down for the night. Instead of drifting off with a book in hand, I had to twist and turn my neck to breathe through Bauer's fur. Eventually, I would find a comfy position and his warmth was actually quite nice. But, it made it nearly impossible to read.

This month, I've listed the books in the order I liked them (favorites come first) rather than the order I finished them:

(A) Dark Places - In Gone Girl, I thought that Gillian Flynn, who wrote both books, made Amy start as a likable character and then revealed who she really was. In this book, Flynn paints her main character as a total jerk from the beginning. As I was reading, I loved to hate her. I thought the twist ending was a good surprise and loved that teeny tiny clues were placed throughout that I realized at the end. In the audiobook, the female voice (voices?) were fantastic but the male voice was terrible and sounded like he should narrate a science video or something.

(A) That Night - A recent high school graduate and her boyfriend are convicted of killing the woman's younger sister. The book takes place both in the present, as the woman is getting released from prison, and in the past, during her high school years, and touches on a lot of time in between. Other than the fact that the mother of the girls is a completely ridiculous individual and some of the other characterization was a little flat, I liked this book. It kept me entertained and I really wanted to find out what happened That Night. It takes a while to get there, and some of the plot points are a little silly, but this was a book I always looked forward to listening to. 4.5 stars, if Goodreads would allow it.

Wonder - Though it was a YA choice, the cover sucked me in. I liked that this story was told from different perspectives. The incredibly short chapters made it hard to put down and I flew though it. Great reading for a middle schooler with a good lesson on kindness, tolerance, and bullying, but I don't think it's a must-read for an adult. The characters were likable, though, so it got four stars from me.

The Rosie Effect - This book was very sitcom-y. Whereas The Rosie Project introduced us to Don and made his quirks somewhat endearing, this book made him look like a buffoon who learned nothing from his previous experiences. Everything that could go wrong went wrong, and while I don't expect a book like this to be grounded in reality, the complete idiocy of so many of the characters was ridiculous. Plus, part of the fun of the first book was the interaction between Rosie and Don, which was almost completely gone this time around.

(A) About Alice - This was a super short audiobook (less than two hours!) that started out as a piece in The New Yorker. It was written and read by Alice's husband, who was also a writer. He apparently gave readers a sense of who Alice was through his works. Had I read something of his previously, I would have likely felt a strong connection and loved this peek behind the scenes at their real lives. Since I was unfamiliar with them, I found this an interesting reflection on a long marriage. One could hope to be remembered for such simple things so fondly after they've passed away.

Girl in Translation - I breezed through this book in a night because I thought I had another book at the library waiting for me. It was meant for a younger audience, which isn't always my favorite. It was an interesting perspective - told from the POV of a teenage Chinese immigrant living with her mother in deplorable conditions and spending all of her free time working in a factory. I thought the part of the story that could have been the most interesting - the high school years - were completely glossed over and the character became flat, boring, and typical. The end was interesting...  I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it, either. I gave it three stars on Goodreads, but the more I think about it, the more I kind of think it should have been 2.5.

Fangirl - I don't know why I trudged through this book because I kind of hated it. The fan fiction and excerpts from the book series that the main character was obsessed with was completely pointless. Once I realized that, I skipped those parts. The story was pretty weak; many of the main character's problems could have been solved by doing what she knew was right and actually talking to people when she had a problem. Perhaps others live life like that, but I just can't relate to knowing how to fix something and not trying to fix it. I'm also not a fan of chick-lit-esque, idealized men who are total doormats who just pine away after some woman. Maybe I've been in the real world for too long, but that's neither attractive nor something to look for in a partner. Should I bother with the other Rainbow Rowell books on my list?

The Happiness Project - It was my turn with this book when Bauer was at the peak of his face-laying, so I didn't get to finish it before my time expired! I thought a few of the points were interesting - at work, how do you strike a balance between striving for more (which makes you unhappy since you aren't where you want to be) versus accepting where you are (which can make you feel like settling)? The author was a seemingly upper-middle class woman so I was often wondering what she had to work on being happier for - her life seemed pretty good. I don't think I'll bother waiting for another turn with this one.

I'm currently listening to The Art of Fielding, which I mostly love- the narrator for the audiobook is fantastic. I have Stolen ready to go, which someone recommended in last month's link-up. I really like seeing what other people are reading, and even if I don't comment, I definitely add people on goodreads and add some of their favorites to my list.

Many thanks to Steph and Jana for hosting...

Life According to Steph

Monday, May 11, 2015


I like currently posts as an excuse to share what's going on with me, so here goes.

Planning... our Napa trip in September. 2015 is flying by. We (let's be honest, Andrew) have most of the details ironed out, but a few things are up in the air. The area is known for its mud baths, but I can't decide if I want to do one or not. They aren't exactly cheap and I don't like removing my clothes in front of strangers. At the same time, I feel like this is a YOLO moment and I should try it.

Listening to... Mumford and Sons' Wilder Mind. I love it. I miss the banjos, but I like the swell of the music and the way the songs were written. I checked it out of the library for free but it's worth the money to get on iTunes.

Thankful for... blog friends who explain my blog to strangers for me. It's still not something I'm comfortable talking about away from the computer, but Sarah and I were at Miranda's wedding shower and one of her friends asked how we knew each other. Sarah jumped in with the story, and when I tried to say that I barely blogged anymore because explaining it was too weird, she said nice things to validate my sporadic internet rambles.

Thinking about... work stuff. It never ends. Graduation is next weekend. I got a promotion last month (woo hoo!) but of course it comes with more to do, so it's getting harder to shut my brain off. But, I would rather be busy than bored, so it isn't the worst problem.

Wondering... if my husband sends me flowers and I don't post it to social media, did it actually happen? My poor photography skills caused me to never instagram a pic of a very pretty bouquet he sent to my office a few weeks ago. The fact that that almost makes me feel ungrateful makes me wonder what the internet is doing to me.

A non-IG worthy shot I took to let him know they arrived. My desk has been covered in papers for far too long.

Wondering (part two)... why it's now a "thing" to instagram a pic of yourself holding something in front of a white wall. You all look ridiculous. Your life does not take place inside a photography studio. I know I have some friends who feel the same way. We might send evidence of your ridiculousness to each other, but I'm not naming names...

Wishing... that I had confidence/desire to cook. That the weather wouldn't get any hotter. That it was easier to make a cat lose weight.

Wearing... cheap running shorts from Walmart that come in great colors. Wet N Wild Grasping at Strawberries because it's kind of red, kind of orange, and kind of pink (and so cheap). And Banana Boat self tanner, recommended by Steph. It works overnight but will definitely leave you splotchy and looking like you have a skin disorder if not applied correctly. Not like I look like a leper today or anything. (None of these are affiliate links because I'm not that fancy.)

Loving... that my cat has to lay on my head at night before I go to sleep. Bath and Body Works candles (alternating between lemon mint leaf, eucalyptus mint, and beautiful day). Clean floors, low humidity, our new car, making time for friends, the book I'm listening to, judgement-free group texts, and writing blog posts because I have something, albeit inconsequential, to say.

I know you've missed pictures of my cat looking sad for no reason. Don't worry - I've got plenty.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

when your husband is a blogger

My husband started a blog. It's a blog about food in Houston. If you want the URL, I'll share, but this isn't about him. It's about me.

I started blogging two years ago. Most of my blog friends I met, oddly enough, before I actually read their blogs. I met them at blog meet-ups and here we are, years later (in some cases), real life friends. And it's awesome.

Andrew has liked twitter for the information aspect for as long as I can remember. I don't remember where or when he started tweeting or replying to people and I don't exactly remember what it was that made him decide to start a blog. Since he's been doing both, he's made his own twitter friends: mostly, other men who eat barbecue, tweet, and sometimes write blog posts about  it.

(It's kind of weird, right? Don't blogs seem like such a female habit? But they aren't.)

So he made plans to meet these guys in person and it was really funny to me that he had to tell them his name beforehand because they only knew him by his twitter handle.

And he has hung out with them multiple times, but it took them weeks to exchange phone numbers; they made plans via twitter DMs. It's still their primary source of communication.

We text during the day, but if I want to know what he had for lunch, I check his instagram.

I also search his twitter handle while I'm at work during the day to creep on the witty banter he's exchanging about food. I'll text him when he's funny, or when I think his tweets are lame. I like that I can peek at his conversations with others.

I proofread his posts and set up his google analytics.I add in the Oxford comma whenever necessary. And I edit photos, which must mean I love him, because I barely edit them for myself. When a poorly written post by another blogger is getting a lot of undue praise, we commiserate together.

We share a laptop and have to plan our blog posting nights accordingly. Some posts take longer to write than others, and if inspiration strikes both of us simultaneously, the one who gets to the computer last is left whining for the other to hurry up all night.

I wonder if our weekend dinner plans to try somewhere new are a fun date for us or fodder for his blog. Now, I'm the one who pauses before taking a bite to make sure he doesn't need a photo of my dish for his blog. I go along with him on barbecue trips and laugh when he introduces himself to people he "knows" online as "Andrew... um, I mean (twitter handle)."

I think it's fun and it's funny. I like that we can share some things, but they're still our own. The blog worlds we're in are so different and we have different metrics of blog success. I see the way I am, when I'm a little internet crazed and I won't look away from the screen, at times when I look at him. It's nice to have it in common, but it's even nicer when we put it away and just live life.