Tuesday, February 15, 2011

El Dia de Amor

In honor of the closing of February, I am highlighting the month's claim to fame.
Valentine's Day.

Throughout my life, it was just another day. Besides some chocolate from my parents or cardboard Aladdin & Jasmine valentines from my 2nd grade classmates, I never expected (or received) much else.
Until February of 2007.
The first "El dia de amor" of "Jordan & Jenny".

That February 14th, I had agreed to help the event coordinator at church with her Valentine's Day balloon deliveries. I mean, what else was I going to do on this "day of romance"?? I was currently talking to a guy who went to the University of Florida. Translation: Jordan was far, far away.

So, I go to her to start my first delivery.
To: Amanda Morris - Starbucks in Glenbrook
Okay. I've got this one. I pack the big balloon bouquet into the back seat of my Civic, (which I do not recommend for visibility's sake), and headed to Starbucks.

I walk in carrying the awkward bouquet of balloons that inevitably hit me in the face a few times and got caught in the door as I entered the coffee shop. After my battle with the floating mylar globes, I get to the counter and confidently ask, "Does Amanda Morris work here?" The twisted expression of confusion on the barista's face just made me think he assumed I was some weird circus act who happened to carry balloon bouquets around wherever I go just in case a performance opportunity arose.
Finally, a response. "No. I don't know any 'Amanda Morris.'"
Now I was confused.

Backing away from the counter, (slightly in fear he might call security on the balloon freak), I reread the card. I looked up to see if perhaps there was a girl who might look like an "Amanda Morris". Scanning the shop, I noticed someone walking toward me from the corner.

My jaw dropped simultaneously as I actually dropped the entire balloon bouquet in the middle of Starbucks.
"What are you doing here?!"
Maybe not the best response, but I was shocked! We had only been "talking" long-distance for a few months and he was supposed to be in Florida! I only realized it was "real" when he embraced me in a big hug. The initial surprise wore off a little, but I was still in disbelief...for pretty much the rest of the day.

He had flown up to Tennessee from Florida for a few days to spend our first Valentine's Day together! His decision to do this, (and that cheesy balloon bouquet), are kind of what started it all. Or at least made me realize this guy was serious!

Knowing my love of food, Jordan prepared a delicious dinner of homemade ricotta manicotti, salad, and tiramisu. I apologize for no photographic documentation but remember...I was still in shock...

An adorable strawberry chocolate cake from Whole Foods Market.

Jordan had made the decision to transfer to MTSU in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. I guess he didn't want to have to pay for another plane ticket to surprise me for Valentine's Day :)
Our second of the holiday together was another fun celebration. He cooked for me once again sticking to pasta - appeasing my Italian roots - and we enjoyed our sweet little cake.

We decided to celebrate the special day a little non-traditionally in 2009. We picked up smoothies from my FAVORITE smoothie bar, KEVA Juice. I had a "Wake Up Cup" - a comforting blend of peanut butter, banana, peaches, granola, blueberries, cinnamon, and milk. With our portable lunches, Jordan and I headed downtown to the Adventure Science Center. AKA - the children's science museum in Nashville. Young at heart, right?!
We had a blast walking through a human digestive system, learning about physics, and seeing what we might look like in 50 years. (Actually, that last part was more frightening than fun!)

After our adventurous day, we headed back to Hendersonville where we watched a gorgeous sunset from our favorite lookout. As our appetites became apparent, it was off to Jordan's house where we feasted by candlelight on a meal we had purchased from Whole Foods.
Grilled swordfish with roasted tomatoes
Broccoli rabe with whole garlic cloves
Cous Cous with pine nuts & raisins
Butternut squash risotto cakes
Pluots & blueberries

Our FIRST Valentine's Day as "The Johnston's"
On February 14, 2010, we decided to get all dressed up with no where to go! This was in part because we were Montanans now and the cold weather makes it all the more cozy to be indoors!
Fondue at our apartment was the menu of the evening. And it was delicious!

Gouda cheese, garlic, & beer fondue

Red pears, roasted potatoes, roma tomatoes, and hearth bread.
All delicious...but even more so when submerged in gooey cheese!!

J-squared is still living happily in Montana, but this year we celebrated at our own HOUSE!
2011 marks our FIFTH Valentine's celebration together! It is amazing to see how much has changed and how much WE have changed throughout this journey together!

Valentine's Day always seemed unremarkable to me until I found my "someone" to celebrate. I am still a believer that the card, candy, and stuffed animal industries are instigators of all the hype surrounding the day. However, I now see it in a slightly different light.

It is an opportunity to reflect on how much you are loved.
A chance to show you appreciate your beloved.
A day to show love to others.
And...an excuse to eat chocolate.

D'Anjou pear
Red pear
Black grapes
Aged parmesan
Apple paste
Dark chocolate
Le Corsaire port, Missoula Winery

Farfalle with artichoke, pesto, tomato sauce


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

I think I'll go to Boston...

It began as a whim of an idea. "Let's go on a girls' trip somewhere." I don't remember who suggested it first, but it stuck. You know when you start planning something with a group, and in the back of your mind there remains an inkling of doubt that you are
really going to go through with it?

That inkling was never allowed to exist.
We were women determined.
We were going on a trip.

Where to was the question. We brainstormed some ideas, but once someone verbalized the words "Cape Cod", (again, I don't remember who suggested it), there was no turning back.

Cape Cod...October leaves...Bed & Breakfast...
Boston...Four of my favorite women in the world...
What more could I ask for?!

The trip was planned for early October in hopes of some leaf peeping opportunities. Besides, it just seems RIGHT to go to Cape Cod in the fall.

My best friend, Elizabeth, her mom, Sheila, my mom, my sister, and I packed our bags while singing along to Augustana's "I think I'll go to Boston".
Or perhaps that was just me who did that....

Our non-stop Southwest flight arrived in Providence, Rhode Island later in the evening. Therefore, we had booked a hotel there for the first night with plans to drive to our bed & breakfast the following morning.

With a flight behind us and nothing in our future for the rest of the night, (besides the La Quinta Inn and a typical hotel bed adorned with a gaudy comforter), we decided that dinner out was in order. Don't all normal people eat when there is no other option?? :)

We had done a little research (of course!) before the trip, so we picked up our rental Jeep and made our way to LEGAL SEAFOODS. Contrary to the implications of its name the restaurant was not boring, the waiters didn't use confusing jargon, nor was it a cover up for a Mafia-run establishment. Just to clear things up.

It was around 8:00, and my stomach was hungry for some seafood!
I savored my lump crab cake, grilled shrimp, and blackened scallops. Between my satisfied hunger, quality seafood, and good company, the first meal of the trip was a sign that good things were to come...

Welcome to Annabelle!
My mother...she is magical sometimes. I don't know how she does some of the things she does. One mystery is how she cleverly utilizes coupons to where the store pays her to buy a product.
Another is how she found a place like Annabelle's.

Tucked away in Sandwich, Massachusetts, (the name of the town alone is remarkably appropriate and slightly entertaining), this GEM of a bed & breakfast beholds an experience that I cannot even begin to explain.
If a building could be an action, Annabelle would be a bear hug from your best friend.

The Sandwich Police are out to get those soggy subs and cheap cold cuts. The world is a safer place.

Our first breakfast at Annabelle's:
Classic Belgium Waffles with berries & peaches with thick cut bacon.

Breakfast was lovingly prepared each morning by Paula, the delightful innkeeper. One is sure to make friends with Paula and her husband, Brian. When someone feeds you so well, you can't help but like them!

I always enjoyed the attention to detail given to each dish. The edible flowers on my plate each morning also made my day a bit brighter.

Into the big city...
We decided to take the train into Boston for a day of exploring "Bean Town". What a historical, interesting city Boston is! It did not feel overwhelmingly big - like New York, for example. Yet there was so much to see and so many stories to be told!

At Quincy Market, we stumbled upon a gelateria.
Fresh gelato + sunshine = delight

One thing I truly LOVE about metropolitan areas is the diversity of culture that is reflected not only in cuisine but in music, art, community events, festivals, and overall feel of the city.
Elizabeth suggested we find a Thai restaurant for dinner since it would probably be authentic. And so the search began...
"Drunken Noodles" at Bangkok Blue
Wide rice noodles stir-fried with chili peppers, garlic, bean sprouts,
basil leaves, and thick sweet soy sauce.

Dinner was incredible...all that we had hoped it would be!
However, we were enjoying our time together so much, that we left the restaurant with only about 20 minutes to get ACROSS town in order to catch the LAST TRAIN back to Sandwich!!

Mom, Sheila, and I led the pack with our mad power-walking skills. Actually, mom and Sheila decided to make it a race making the entire situation comical. Mental image: my 5' tall Asian mother out-walking Sheila and me (who are both at least 5'8" tall) as we struggle to keep up the pace. (I might have had to jog a bit to catch up once or twice...) Elizabeth and Julie huffing and puffing a good 8 feet behind us only made us laugh harder. Which, in turn, made it more difficult to keep up.

We like to live on the edge.
Or sometimes, it just works out that we have to.

Good thing we caught our train back to Annabelle's that night. It would have been a crying shame to miss breakfast!
Crepes filled with cream cheese & blueberries and served with homemade vanilla cream syrup and honey-cured ham.

The gardens are seemingly endless on the grounds of Annabelle's. Each morning I would take a walk to explore and enjoy the variety of flowers. There was also a neat old grist mill at the bottom of the hill where grain was ground into flour years ago.

One day of our trip, we devoted to driving up the cape to the very tip at Provincetown, Massachusetts. It was a leisurely drive filled with life stories, genuine laughter, honest conversation, and a relaxed sense of exploration. Along the way, we made random stops anywhere that seemed interesting. One of these occurred when we noticed a wooden building with a lot of character. It seemed to be an old general store.

Upon entering, we were overwhelmed with the feeling of stepping into the 19th century! We were engulfed in walls of iron skillets, pans of homemade fudge, shelves stocked with yo-yo's and wooden toy tops, jars of marbles, tin advertisement signs, and a soda shop counter where a chocolate malt was just an order away.

Julie couldn't resist getting a "Whoopie Pie" - creamy sweet filling sandwiched between two soft cookies. Think a gigantic Oreo...only more nostalgic...and delicious...

Photo opportunity along the cape.
This was one of the neatest feelings I have ever experienced - surrounded by water, seeing endless blue, a clean breeze swirling all around us, feeling peacefully content in the silent presence of people who truly KNOW me, being STILL.
If I could have bottled up this moment.

Otherwise known as "P-Town" and proud of it!

Lunch at The Lobster Pot included lobster tail, red potatoes, corn on the cob, lobster bisque, and of course...bibs.

Where the magic happens each morning.

Our last dinner in Cape Cod started off with a small glass of hot, fresh apple cider.
This dining establishment was a splurge, but "go big or go home", right? Well, unfortunately
we went big but still had to go home.

Slow cooked lamb shank with root vegetables.
A warm and satisfying farewell meal.
Reflective of the feel throughout the entire week.

I was so excited about tasting this dish that I forgot about the existence of my camera! This picture may be missing a few bites, but it is still enough to make my mouth water.
Cinnamon Oatmeal Pancakes with streusel, apples, & blueberries
Homemade herb sausage
Fresh fruit & yogurt smoothie

We made some British friends from "across the pond" during our stay at Annabelle's. It is amazing how much you can learn from people when you are in an environment where sharing seems natural, boundaries are forgotten, and honesty ensues.

Not only was all the food delicious, but the opportunity to spend quality time with these incredible women satiated a much deeper hunger within me. It was a chance to share experiences, newness, excitement, precious memories, funny moments, and LIFE with one another for an uninterrupted week.

My only question is - when is the reunion??...

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


There has coincidentally been an "Elizabeth" present in various stages throughout my life...My college roommate, my "Big Sister" in my sorority, our pastor's wife at our home church in Montana (where Jordan also happens to work)...

However, there is one Elizabeth who has stood the test of time and holds a slightly unique place in my heart.

Some may know her as Elizabeth Anne Yarbrough Nunnally.
I know her as a fellow, card-holding foodie.
I know her as the girl who will NEVER pass up a hot chocolate chip cookie.
I know her as someone I have traveled, worried, grown, shared, cried, laughed, and EATEN with for nearly 12 years of my life!
I know her as the girl who introduced me to chocolate gravy & biscuits...I'm forever indebted...
But most importantly, I know her as my BEST FRIEND.

Eliz and her husband, Josh, came out to Missoula this past September as one stop of many on a road trip out West together. I know that they had an amazing time on their adventure, and we LOVED having them here in Zootown! They drove into town on a Sunday afternoon - the last leg of their long trip from Denver. I decided on the perfect place for a welcoming meal...Caffe Dolce for BRUNCH!!

Dolce's Prosciutto Parmesan Egg Sandwich:
Fried egg, Prosciutto, Caramelized onion, Parmesan cheese, & salsa on a baguette

Simple sandwiches = perfect accompaniment for welcome hugs
and excited catch-up conversation

"Elizabeth Yarbrough, How do you do?"
That is a quote from my dear mother that we have a little inside joke about. But I thought it was appropriate for the picture above. She looks like she's been caught in the act...
...The act of eating Big Dipper for the first of THREE times during her THREE DAY stay in Missoula!!
This expression is classic - Elizabeth gets pretty enthusiastic about food. Especially ice cream.

After talking to Josh and Elizabeth, I got the impression that they wanted to experience some "Montana" specific things. I came to the conclusion that one cannot come to Big Sky Country without a taste of some sort of large game animal. This brought us to JAMES BAR downtown where they offer small sliders allowing you to sample meats such as elk and bison.

James Bar Montanan bison burger: juicy & flavorful
House salad with pumpkin seeds and pickled onions

An afternoon off of work allowed me to take Elizabeth to a place I knew she would fall in love with. The boys were off happily fly fishing, so us ladies had the chance to bask in the glory of the GOOD FOOD STORE.
Here, Elizabeth is grinding her own fresh almond butter.
Enough said.

I don't know if this has been publicized yet, but the pizza at BIGA has addictive qualities that cannot be explained. And quite frankly, I need no explanation. I just need pizza.

"BIGA Antipasto Plate"
If you ask me, there is nothing in me that is "anti" any of this!!
Meats: Salami, Soprasata, Pepperoni, Prosciutto de Parma
Cheeses: Provolone, Reggiano, Fresh mozzerella
Roasted red peppers, Pepperoncini, Olives, Hot cherry peppers, Fresh basil, Pears, Focaccia

How did we end up here again?
Alien abduction, I tell you.
Or maybe we just needed a pint of out-of-this-world (pun intended) Big Dipper Vanilla Reese's ice cream for our dessert on our visitors' LAST NIGHT with us.
Vanilla Reese's ice cream + Warm, gooey chocolate chip cookies

In honor of my best friend...this is her favorite dessert of all time!
It is actually befitting of her personality - warm, comforting, sweet, not frilly or uptight, to the point & honest, and always there for you.

However, my sweet tooth can be satiated.
I'll never get enough Elizabeth.
Love you friend!