Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Where did the last 7 months go?!

The first sentence of a blog post after taking a 7 month hiatus is perhaps the biggest hurdle to writing again. But I finally decided it's time to buck up and get started. I have a few ideas swirling in my head and blogging holds me accountable for making those ideas reality. I also have a lot of updates health wise -- too many for one post.

I'm pretty sure I'm down to two readers (Hi Kelly and Carol!), or maybe even just one (Hi Kelly!), but I've felt so lost lately and I couldn't quite put my finger on it until this week. I'm missing my creative outlet. I've still been cooking (don't worry, no one was starved by my lack of blogging) and working on a few home-related DIY's here and there, but I miss sharing the back story, how-to, and/or experience surrounding each project. While I know I can call my bestie at any moment and she'll listen to me ramble about even the smallest details of my day, something has been pulling at me to write again. So here I am ... and I'd say you're stuck with me, but the decision to read this is really up to you. :) Is anyone still on board?

A lot has happened since I've been gone, but I'll spare you the gory details for now. Here is a quick summary to catch you up on my life since April:

May: I traveled home to KC to visit my family for the first time in a year! I use FaceTime with my nieces and nephews whenever possible, so they definitely remembered me, but I sure did miss them! I also traveled to Chicago on a business trip and let my sister and one of our friends tag along to enjoy the perks of a free hotel room.

my mom and me in KC
spending time with my sister in KC
FaceTime with Jack - singing Kermit the Frog

June: I had one business trip to Salt Lake City in the middle of the month and then I spent the next two weeks stuck at home with some of the worst migraines I've ever experienced. After a few tests, it was determined that my spinal fluid leak was back. On the plus side, Jesse and I managed to get away for a long weekend with two of our friends down at a riverside house in Virginia. I couldn't indulge in all of the fun (i.e. boat rides and adult beverages), but I had a really relaxing weekend and was grateful to be out of the house!

view flying into Salt Lake City
view from the river house

July: Half of this month was spent with migraines and the other half was spent coming to terms with the fact that I'd be having another surgery in August to fix the spinal fluid leak again. It would be the same surgery I had in February, but with a few minor tweaks to see if the doctor could get the packing to hold better. I tried to work ahead as much as possible so my colleagues wouldn't have to take on too much of my work in my absence.

August: We started out the month with a weekend trip to Virginia Beach for Jesse's soccer tournament. It was a really fun weekend and it was nice to have a small break before my surgery. Once we got back in town, my parents drove out to be here for the surgery. The rest of the month was consumed with surgery and post-op recovery. It was really nice to have my parents here to take care of me and to spend so much uninterrupted time with them. Once they left town, Kelly came to visit me for a long weekend. I was so happy to see her and she definitely helped with the healing process -- they say laughter is the best medicine. :) Jesse and I celebrated our 3rd anniversary at the end of August (despite the actual date being July 25th) by going to Totem, a Cirque du Soleil show that was live at National Harbor.

relaxing at Virginia Beach
before surgery (x marks the spot)
after surgery
check-up appt. with my dad
enjoying time with my parents
Totem for our anniversary

September: September really flew by! I had a conference in DC at the beginning of the month. I stayed downtown for the duration of the event because I was working really long shifts, but I felt so odd staying at a hotel in my own city. It was actually really nice to enjoy the city views and a few nice meals all without worrying about traffic, money or getting home. After the conference, we went to a 10-year anniversary party for Jesse's work and had a really nice time staying at National Harbor for the night. The next weekend was Jesse's birthday, which meant a full weekend of sports, friends and food!

Nats Bash for Jesse's birthday
DC United game for Jesse's birthday
Birthday party at our house

October: Another really busy month for us was October. We spent the first weekend in NY for a family member's memorial service, which was bittersweet. It was really nice to see and meet some of Jesse's family, but the main reason for the reunion was not forgotten. The second half of the month was spent with back-to-back house guests. Hosting our friends is a lot of fun, but it was around this time that my headaches returned, making it a bit more exhausting than expected. I did manage to put up a few autumn decorations this month, which seemed to make the season much better!

driving to NY
Enjoying time with Jesse's family
VA Brewfest (with friends) 
Port City Brewery Tour
autumn gourds
Happy Hallow-rooney!

November: We spent the first weekend of the month up in PA for an annual Fall party that my sister-in-law and her husband host. I had such a great time seeing Sunny, our newest nephew, and catching up with them. I was supposed to go to KC the following weekend, but after an eventful appointment with a neurologist at Johns Hopkins, I was advised not to fly because he was worried that the change in pressure might lead to more migraines. Not only that, he mentioned that all of my recent headaches might be due to another spinal fluid leak. He scheduled more MRIs and CT scans, which took place the week of Thanksgiving. After an awful sinus infection took me down in the middle of the month, I haven't been able to do much since. My headaches have gotten worse as the month progresses and the test results were inconclusive. Womp womp. The doctor scheduled another test for next Monday, which scares the bejeezus out of me ... it involves a spinal tap! Oh, on the plus side, my birthday was yesterday and while the celebration was very low-key, I had a wonderful time. I celebrated once with my in-laws while we were there for Thanksgiving and again with Jesse last night. He brought home Thai food from my favorite place and I got to open my presents! I feel so grateful to have so many friends and family members that love me! :)

The food at Corina and Neil's party
hanging out at Corina and Neil's house
Evan's baptism
I spent way too much time here this month
Thanksgiving dinner in PA
all gussied up for Thanksgiving
birthday loot round 1
Birthday loot round 2
blowing out my candles w/ my niece, Emily, via FaceTime.
Her birthday is one day before mine. :)

So there you have it ... that's my life as of today. It's been a long year, which I suppose is a good excuse to take a blogging break, but I really miss writing. I hope that I can post a little more frequently than every 7 months and I'll do my best to keep you guys updated on my health status as things continue to progress. Is anything new going on with you? Are you gearing up for the holidays? I'd love to hear if you have any plans! And really, I'd just love to hear from you if you're reading this. :)

Friday, April 27, 2012

Sunday Dinner: Southwestern Stuffed Peppers

Something about a good home-cooked meal makes me giddy. I get a feeling of joy in preparing and eating something so wonderful. I've also found that I get the same sense of joy when I can share my home-cooked meals with others. (Anyone want to come over for dinner?)

I host a Sunday dinner every weekend for my husband and two of our friends. I've learned over time that I really enjoy cooking for them and seeing the enjoyment that everyone gets from a home-cooked meal. While a majority of my weeknight dinners are on the healthier side, I break the rules on Sunday. The rule for Sunday dinner is 'There are no rules!'

That being said, sometimes I get lucky and find a dish that not only warms the soul, but keeps my waistline in check too. The recipe below is a great example of one of those meals - Southwestern Stuffed Peppers. It's a simple concept that yields amazing results. It's basically like eating tacos, but instead of a tortilla you eat it in a pepper. And you don't miss the taco shell at all. Promise. It might help that I served the stuffed peppers with a big ole dish of cheesy corn casserole (see, no rules!), but as far as I could tell everyone really enjoyed my new take on tacos.

I wrote out a few tips/recommendations at the bottom of the recipe, so check them out if you have any questions about quantity. I hope you get to try this recipe, and if you do, let me know what you think in the comments section. Oh, and if you make as much filling as I recommend below and only buy 5-6 medium peppers, you'll have enough leftover filling to make some amazing nachos later in the week!

Broiled nachos with leftover taco filling,
cheese and fresh tomatoes

Southwestern Stuffed Peppers
Serves: 6-8
Original recipe proportions 
can be found at Simply Love Food

6 bell peppers, halved and seeds/stems removed
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1.3 lbs. lean ground turkey breast
1 cup chopped onions (optional)
2 tbsp. of homemade taco seasoning (or an entire package of store bought seasoning)
2 cups of cooked rice (I used instant brown rice)
1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup of frozen corn
1 (12 -16 ounce) jar of salsa
Shredded Pepper Jack cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly coat the peppers with olive oil and roast in a baking dish for 20-25 minutes. Remove the peppers from the oven and allow to cool until you can handle them.

Meanwhile, brown the ground turkey until cooked through. (If using onions, sauté them for about 5 minutes prior to adding the turkey to the pan.) Drain any remaining liquid from the pan.

While the turkey is cooking, cook the rice according to package directions.

In a bowl, combine taco seasoning, cooked ground turkey, chopped onions, black beans, corn and rice. Add in the jar of salsa and mix well.

If the peppers have any cooking liquid or oil in them, drain into the baking dish prior to stuffing. Carefully spoon the turkey mixture into each half of the bell peppers and place back into the baking dish. Sprinkle the tops of each pepper with shredded cheese.

Cook the peppers for an additional 15-20 minutes or until the peppers are cooked all the way through and the cheese is melted.

Remove from the oven and top with fresh cilantro, avocado slices and/or sour cream just before serving. (I didn't use any toppings and we didn't miss them!)

The original recipe is written for 4 servings, but I increased it to ensure we'd have leftovers for later in the week. Plus, I buy ground turkey in 1.3 lb packages, so I wanted to use an entire package. I used six peppers for my recipe and I had enough taco filling left to contribute to a Choose Your Own Adventure night (aka leftovers). If you don't want any taco filling left, I would recommend buying 8 peppers, depending on size.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Back at 'em

Hi Friends! After a much longer than expected hiatus, I'm back in action. I'll keep today's post short and sweet, but just wanted to let everyone know that I didn't fall off the face of the earth. I had every intention of posting right after surgery, but my recovery took a little more time than expected. And, by the time I felt better, the last thing I wanted to do was sit in front of a computer and rehash my surgery experience. All that to say I am feeling much better now and almost completely back to normal! I'm hoping to follow-up with a more complete post-surgery recap soon, but I can't make any promises. So in case I fail, here are a few photo highlights to fill you in. (don't worry, nothing graphic)

In typical Susan fashion, I went into surgery smiling and came out smiling. No surprise there!

I was rocking a pretty sweet outfit after surgery ... thank God I packed a robe!

I got so many wonderful gifts from friends and family, including cheesecake! Rooney was probably more excited than I was - I'm pretty sure he's licking his lips in this picture.

And the worst part? All of the freaking pills I had to take! I'd be happy never taking another pill again ... ever.

Like I said before, short and sweet. It's good to be back and I'll try to get another post up soon!


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Back in the Kitchen: Southern-Style Chicken and Dirty Rice

Hi, friends! Can you believe I'm back for the third week in a row? I'm pretty proud of myself! It's a lot less than I was posting this summer, but better than once a month. I'm hoping to keep up the once a week post from here on out. But I make no promises.

Let's start with updates first, and then we'll get into the chicken and dirty rice. My TOMS arrived yesterday! Holla! (I hope the exclamation points adequately display my excitement!!)

Aren't they adorable? I am sooo ready to bust these out this spring. Bring on the warm weather!

In other news, Jesse and I went to Johns Hopkin's for the day for my pre-op appointment. We heard about what to expect the day of my surgery, I filled out a bajillion-page packet about myself, and gave some blood. Everything went pretty well, with the exception of the wait times between each part of my appointment (we were there for nearly 4 hours!), but the scariest part was finding out that I'll be in the neuro-critical care unit for the first night after my surgery. I guess it's good to know that they'll be monitoring everything so closely, but I have a feeling it means I'll be in a lot of pain. Boo. On the bright side, I'll have Jesse, my parents and his parents all there taking care of me. I feel very lucky that I'll have so many people nearby!

Enough of the scary stuff, let's talk about chicken and rice. I love that there are so many variations of this combination. When my mom was here a few weeks ago, she not only made my favorite chicken and rice casserole, she also made an amazing chicken and wild rice soup. You would think that two chicken and rice meals would be enough to satisfy my cravings, but as you can probably tell by the title of this post, I still wanted more.

In an attempt to ease back into the kitchen, while also getting more of my chicken and rice fill, I decided to try a slow cooker recipe for southern-style chicken and dirty rice. I found the recipe in the cookbook Slow Cooker Revolution, which was a Christmas present from my sister-in-law and brother-in-law (thanks, Corina & Neil!).

This recipe takes a little more work than some slow-cooker dishes, due to the fact that you brown the kielbasa and vegetables before adding them to the slow cooker, but it's definitely worth the effort! Sautéing the kielbasa makes everything smoky, meaty and deep in flavors. YUM!

I was really happy with the results of this dish and I'm excited that I have one more recipe to add to my slow cooker repertoire!

How about you, do you think you'll give this version of chicken and rice a try? Do you have any go-to slow cooker recipes? I want to add more slow cooker recipes into the rotation, so I'd love to hear about some of your ideas!

Southern-Style Chicken and Dirty Rice
Adapted from Slow Cooker Revolution

Serves: 6 to 8
Time: 4 to 6 hours

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
8-12 ounces turkey kielbasa, cut into 1/2-inch pieces*
1 onion, minced
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper**
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth***
2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed
salt and pepper
2 cups instant brown rice
2 scallions, sliced thin (optional)

Heat oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Brown sausage well, about 3 minutes. Add onion, bell pepper, garlic, thyme, chili powder, and cayenne and cook until vegetables are softened and lightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in flour and cook for one minute. Slowly whisk in broth, scraping up any browned bits and smoothing out any lumps.

Meanwhile, season chicken with salt and pepper and add to slow cooker. Pour the vegetable and kielbasa mixture over the chicken, stir, cover with a lid and cook until chicken is tender, 4 to 6 hours on low.

Break-up chicken into bite-size pieces using wooden spoon (or two forks). Stir in rice and 1 teaspoon salt, cover, and cook on high until rice is tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Sprinkle with scallions and serve.

*The original recipe called for 8 ounces of regular kielbasa sausage, but I substituted with the Trader Joe's 12 oz. turkey kielbasa and couldn't tell the difference.
**Cayenne pepper adds spice to this dish, but we found that 1/8 teaspoon wasn't enough for our liking. If you like mild dishes, I would leave the recipe along. Otherwise, I recommend adding another 1/8 teaspoon to the recipe.
**The original recipe called for 1 1/2 cups chicken broth and white rice, but I used brown rice. I noticed that the rice absorbed all of the cooking liquid before the 20 minutes was up, so I wish I would've used more chicken broth. If using brown rice, I recommend adding another 1/4 cup chicken broth to the mixture.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Checking-In and TOMS!

Let's start with the exciting news ... I got TOMS! I've been dying to get a pair for more than a year now, but after months of agonizing over which pair to get I decided to ask for them for my birthday. Jesse did the smart thing and rather than picking out the wrong ones, he told me that I could pick out whichever pair I wanted. I originally planned to get Gilded Herringbone in the classic style, but the more I looked at them, the more I worried  that they'd be too fall/winter-y. Rather than splurging on them halfway through winter, I agonized for yet another month-and-a-half about which pair to get. I went to four different stores looking, and narrowed it down to Ash or Olive, but couldn't decide between the two. Oh the agony! 

When my mom was in town, we went to their website for one more round of browsing and came across one of their newer designs - Burlap Triangle - which caught my eye. I was a little hesitant about the woven soles at first, but ultimately decided that they'd be perfect for spring. 

I'm not sure why buying a pair of Toms feels like such a big deal (it's not a new car or anything!), but just to be sure I was making the right decision I slept on my decision before clicking purchase. I woke up yesterday morning, started working, and then had one of those "OH YEAH" moments when I remembered them. Once that moment happened, I knew I was making the right decision, so I went to their site and ordered my very first pair of Toms. I sort of love them. Sigh.

In other news, I got another update from the doctor. At my last appointment, there was talk of surgery, which was quickly shot down because the location at which he would need to operate is very difficult to access (where the skull base and inner ear meet), and he's not sure how to fix the problem once he gets there. (Background: my brain lining is herniating into my inner ear, creating a gap for infection to enter my brain. Hence, meningitis.

The solution last week was that I needed to become a vigilant hand washer, stay away from sick people and germ-y kids, and watch for any signs/symptoms of meningitis. My doctor was hopeful that scar tissue would build-up and cover the gap, but since nothing else has gone according to plan, he wasn't confident that it would work. Understanding that surgically fixing the lesion wasn't an option, I had to deal with the doctor's short-term decision, knowing that he would be meeting with the rest of his skull base team to develop an alternate plan. (Side note: I'm very fortunate to be seeing a doctor at John's Hopkins who runs the Otolaryngology (ear/nose/throat) Department and specializes in skull-based surgeries

Not expecting to hear anything else from him until my next MRI in April, I was really shocked to get a phone call from his resident last Thursday. She explained that he'd been talking to the rest of the team and they all agreed that a new plan would be better than leaving it alone, and ultimately came to the decision of entering via a different route and protecting the lesion by creating a barrier in my middle ear.

First I had to come to terms with the fact that I might have surgery, then I had to settle with the fact that surgery wasn't a possibility, and now here I was coming to terms with surgery again. Can't they make these decisions before sending me on a roller coaster of emotions?! That being said, it's been about a week since I got the last call, so I'm definitely more comfortable with the idea of surgery now. As one of my friends said, I'm especially comfortable knowing that a bunch of doctors sat in a room talking about my case, working up a plan to fix everything.

While the last month has been full of unknowns, I'm trying to keep a positive outlook. I found a saying on Pinterest that seems perfect for my situation, so I used it as inspiration for the print below. It's a good reminder to stay calm and not worry about the things I can't control, so I'm hoping it will help me get through these next couple of weeks as I prepare for surgery.

Surgery is scheduled for February 10th and the recovery time is expected to take about 10-14 days. I'll try to keep everyone posted leading up to the surgery (and hopefully right after), but if you don't hear from me for a few weeks, now you'll know why. I know it won't be too much of a change since I haven't been the most faithful blogger lately, but at least this time I have a real excuse! :)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Happy 2012 and a Few Projects

Happy 2012 friends! I know I'm a little late to the party, but I hope you can forgive my absence. After going through meningitis and then finding out that there's an underlying health issue at fault for everything, it's been an exhausting couple of weeks. I'm pretty much on the mend now, but I have two more doctor's appointments to get through this week. One of which involves shots. No fun.

But let's move past the un-fun part and talk about something totally fun ... I updated the header on my blog! If you're reading this post from a feeder, you'll have to click over to my blog to see the update. :) I'm really proud of the new header because it's something I did all on my own. I used Picnik and Pixelmator to create everything, and I found the amazing background at Sprik Space

In addition to the new header, I switched the body around so that the posts are on the left and all of my information is on the right. And since I was making so many other changes, I decided to add my Instagram feed as well (keep scrolling down to see it right below my Pinterest link). It's a good way to see what I've been up to, especially when I'm slacking on the blog!

On top of all the blog updates, I recently finished another artsy project. My good friend, Meredith, got married on New Year's Eve (how fun, right?!) and I wanted to do something really special for her. (I was supposed to be a bridesmaid in her wedding before all of the meningitis crap started, but that's neither here nor there.)

I was brainstorming ideas with my boss and she told me about a wedding gift she recently ordered from Etsy -- it was a funky print with her friend's wedding details. I thought it was a really neat way to remember such an important day and a perfect idea! I considered buying one for Meredith, but decided to take a stab at creating my own first. It took several drafts to get it right, but the end result is just what I was hoping for!

Once again, I got the background from Sprik Space and used Picnik to create everything. After I was happy with everything, it was time to print my project. I thought about using a photo site like Shutterfly or Snapfish, but ultimately decided that a canvas would look best. I wanted to print it in a size that Meredith could easily hang somewhere in her house without it overwhelming the space, so I ordered it in an 8x8 from my favorite canvas site, Canvas on Demand.

This canvas was the first time I've printed my own work, so it was a proud moment when it arrived in the mail. In fact, I think I was just as excited to open the box as Meredith was when she received it as a gift. :)