Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Giving Back

Tuesday feels like Monday's hangover. Especially today, when it rained for 6 hours straight. And not just a light drizzle, we're talking pouring rain.

But I didn't plan to blog about the weather. Today, something exciting happened at work. Each year, our firm organizes and runs a 10-day campaign for United Way. You can learn more about United Way here, but in short, they're a not-for-profit organization, mostly run by volunteers, which aids people in need throughout Greenville County. The organization is nationwide (and international), and is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year.

My parents have been supporters of United Way since I can remember, so becoming involved with the organization in my new town is very exciting for me. One thing I miss about my church from home is the opportunity to volunteer (man, I miss mission trips). Since I'm finally settled in Greenville and work isn't as busy this time of year, I'm more able to take advantage of some of the opportunities to get involved. I got a chance to help out with Hands-On Greenville back in May, which is a community-wide "get your hands dirty" day. We beautified a local elementary school and I met so many fun, diverse people.

I jumped at the chance to help with the United Way campaign this year. We started the campaign this morning with a "kick-off" breakfast. I went and picked up 125 (!) chicken biscuits from Chick-fil-A controversy aside this morning. Our campaign coordinator spoke, we had people from United Way come, and two people spoke about how United Way changed their lives directly by its support of an organization for special needs children. Any touching story like that and I of course was tearing up!

So many biscuits!
Our theme for the event is "Going Wild for United Way." The interns spent all last week decorating the office with a safari theme, and Lauren and I acquired some new furry friends today.

We're hoping for 100% participation this year and over $100,000 pledged from our employees alone!

We adopted elementary and middle school kids to provide school supplies for them as part of the campaign. I had forgotten how much fun shopping for school supplies can be! Back to school shopping used to be my favorite time of year!! I'm coordinating a field trip to a children's shelter next week. We're taking donations and pizza and having lunch with the kids! We also have a wrap-up party (The "Zoohoo" event) next Friday to celebrate all our hard work, but Ryan and I are going to miss it because we'll be in Dallas (boo). I just really can't express how excited I am to help out with such a great cause.

Within United Way, there is a group called the Young Philanthropists. The YP20's, a subgroup, are those under 30 who currently give $500 annually with the pledge of giving $1,000 annually by the time they turn 30. This group will be such a great opportunity for me to get involved in the community that I'm really starting to love! They have community projects year-round and also social functions. 

I finally feel like I'm starting to get my bearings in this town and look forward to working more with United Way! I feel like a much more well-rounded individual when I'm able to give back!

Monday, July 30, 2012

{Recipes} ~ Cookout fare

As I mentioned yesterday, Ryan and I grilled out with another couple on Saturday night. They had already purchased some meat (bratwursts and chicken) so I volunteered to bring sides and appetizers! I made my favorite pineapple salsa and then tried two new recipes! I'm always a little nervous to try out new recipes on anyone other than Ryan (official taste-tester) or my family (because they'll still love me even if it tastes awful). But these were pretty foolproof and I think they were a hit!!

I love making fried okra with my mom in the summer, with a plateful of fresh tomatoes (ohmygosh, yum), but I'm always looking for healthier alternatives. I had pinned this oven baked okra recipe awhile ago, and decided this was the time to try it! It was so easy, and I was amazed at how well the breading adhered to the okra (this is always an issue when frying). With a healthy dash smattering of salt, I couldn't tell the difference in taste, and it still had the crunch without being fried!

I also modified this stuffed zucchini recipe and took them also! I kind of just winged this recipe (but included precise directions below) - I threw the zucchini in with the okra for the final 8 minutes or so. I didn't want potatoes like the original recipe called for, so I just used some of the scooped-out zucchini, tomatoes, and onions. I should've waited to put the cheese on once we got to Trent's house, because it was a little too melty. Oh well, you live (er, cook) and learn!

I liked how these sides included mostly veggies and didn't leave us all feeling overly full. "Healthy" eating for the win!

Oven Baked Okra
from Tasty Kitchen


1 cup Yellow cornmeal
1/2 cups Panko Bread Crumbs
1 Tablespoon Kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoons Fresh Ground Black Pepper
1/2 teaspoons Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
1/2 cups fat-free Buttermilk
1 whole Egg, lightly beaten
1 pound Fresh Okra Pods, trimmed and cut into 3/4 inch slices

Preparation Instructions

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
2. Combine cornmeal, panko, 1/2 teaspoon salt, black pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes in a shallow dish. Set aside.
3. Combine buttermilk and egg in a large bowl; stir with a whisk.
4. Add okra to buttermilk mixture. Let stand 3 minutes.
5. Dredge okra in cornmeal/panko mixture.
6. Place okra in a jelly roll pan coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle remaining salt over the okra.
7. Bake 30-35 minutes, stirring once, until golden brown and crispy.


Stuffed Zucchini Boats

4 medium zucchini (about 8 ounces each), washed
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow or red onion, chopped fine
5 large cloves garlic, finely minced
3 medium tomatoes (about 1 1/4 pounds), seeded and chopped
1/3 cup shredded fresh basil leaves or 1 tablespoon dried
6 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (about 1 1/2 cups)
Adjust one oven rack to upper-middle position and second oven rack to lowest position, then place a rimmed baking sheet on each rack and heat oven to 400 degrees.
Meanwhile, halve each zucchini lengthwise. With a small spoon, scoop out the seeds and most of the flesh so that the walls of the zucchini are about 1/4-inch thick all the way around. Season the cut sides of the zucchini with salt and pepper and brush them lightly with 2 tablespoons of the oil. Set the zucchini halves cut-side down on the hot baking sheet that has been preheating on the lower rack. Roast the zucchini until slightly softened and skins are slightly wrinkled, about 10 minutes. When the zucchini has finished baking, remove it from the oven and using tongs, flip the zucchini halves over on the baking sheet and set aside.
While the zucchini is roasting, heat the remaining tablespoon oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat until shimmering, about 2 minutes. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes; cook, stirring occasionally, until heated through, about 3 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the basil, 1/2 cup cheese, and salt and pepper to taste.
Divide filling evenly among the zucchini halves on the baking sheet, spooning about 1/2 cup into each, and packing it lightly; sprinkle with remaining cheese. Return the baking sheet to the oven, this time to the upper rack, and bake the zucchini until heated through and cheese is spotty brown, about 6 minutes. Serve immediately.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Weekend Update ~ Snapshots

Finally! A lazy weekend with no plans. I failed miserably at my home decoration project, but that's okay. I've got time to find a new desk; plus, South Carolina is hosting a tax-free weekend in August, so that'll be the perfect time for a big purchase.

This weekend was uneventful, but just what I needed. We played bar golf on Friday night, grilled out on Saturday with Trent and Holly (I tried two recipes I'll post this week), and Lauren, Sarah (our third roomie for a week), and I had brunch this morning, complete with mimosas.

The only thing missing from this weekend was running. It's just so hot. The last thing I want to do on a weekend is get up with the sun to beat the heat. I'm starting to think I'm the only one who's whimping out in this heat. I pass people out running at noon and I'm thinking, "Are they out of their minds??" I've got one week until half-marathon training officially starts, and my endurance isn't quite where I want it to be. But I'm not panicking yet. I'm in better shape now then when I started training last year, and I have 13 weeks to kick it into high gear! I'm just hoping some fall weather makes an appearance sooner rather than later!!

Time for snapshots!

Greenville has the best sunsets
Bar golf! I came in -12 and Ryan won!
This was early on in the night, obviously
John Daly's in mason jars
Sarah and I dancing our faces off to an awesome DJ
Hope everyone is enjoying the end of the weekend and the Olympics! Go USA!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Wednesday Randoms

It's no secret I love to travel, and recently I've especially been bitten by the travel bug. Of the last 9 weekends, I've only spent 2 of them in Greenville. 7 weekends in 5 different states. Even I agree it's a little excessive. But that doesn't mean I haven't planned a few more trips for this year.

Ryan and I just booked flights to Boston!! I'm so excited to cross another state off my list and Boston has been on my list of cities to visit for a while now. Everyone I know who has visited loves it, and we're going this September for the Clemson/Boston College football game. Fall in Boston?! I'm practically giddy already. I've already bought Fodor's Boston Travel Guide in preparation. We're thinking of staying in Cambridge near Harvard, and we'll definitely be stopping by Fenway Park. Here's where y'all come in: I need suggestions! Food, sights, anything!

Boston skyline, we'll meet soon!
I also planned another trip. I'm not usually one for spontaneity (let's face it, I'm Type-A by nature), but when a Living Social deal came up for a two-night stay at The Inn at Middleton Place, I knew I had to scoop it up. I stayed here with my parents several years ago for a hopsital meeting my dad was attending, and it's a really neat location. It's an old plantation, but the Inn is really modern.


I wanted to surprise Ryan with the trip for our one-year anniversary, but he's not big on surprises so I went ahead and told him (I know, I'm a terrible secret keeper)! I can't wait to go back to Charleston since it's been awhile and our deep-sea fishing trip got scrapped a few months ago.

What am I going to do with myself once my travel calendar is sadly empty? Fortunately for me, by the time December rolls around (our anniversary), it'll be time for busy season to get into full swing. So I'll just continue to dream of vacations for next year!

But in the interest of a weekend in Greenville, I have a few to-do projects that have been neglected far too long. 

I'm on the search for a new desk. I have my old chair and desk from college, and frankly, it's not very mature. I wasn't sure if I would use the desk when working from home during busy season, so I just moved the setup from college to Greenville. I was right in thinking it wouldn't get used, but I still want to have a pretty place to keep my laptop and store straw baskets to hold all my junk for decoration.

Here's the current setup which I'm even embarrassed to post:

That black office chair? My gosh, that's tacky.

I only paid about $50 for this desk a few years ago, and it got its use in college, so I don't really have a problem parting with it and donating it.

I have my eye on something similar to this desk I found at Target:

Looks much more grown up, doesn't it? Perhaps with a cute yellow chair, like this:


Or how pretty is this bright workspace?

I really don't want to spend a lot of money, mainly because it'll be an extremely underused area of my room. But I still want it to look pretty, because I see it every day (I don't have an office where I can just shut the door). Once I get an idea in my head, it's all I can think about! Is everyone else the same way with home decor? I just want to get it over with and all settled the way I like it! Of course, there's some organization that will have to be done, but that'll give me some motivation for a new workspace! 

Here's to marking a few things off my to-do list this weekend!

Monday, July 23, 2012

San Antonio!

I've been home less than 12 hours and I want to go back already. We had so much in San Antonio this past weekend, and it was great to see Ryan in his own environment, with his family and friends who have known him his whole life. It also helped that Ryan's dad's house was the most beautiful house I've ever stayed in. I felt like I was in a movie all weekend.

The trip was a whirlwind, with people arriving all weekend and a party for 30 with Ryan's extended family at the house on Saturday. Ryan's brother Mike's birthday was on Saturday, so we were celebrating both his and Ryan's from last week. Most of Ryan's family is bi-lingual (and his stepmom speaks 5 languages!) so there was a lot of Spanish being spoken. I had homemade chicken tortilla soup and authentic huevos rancheros made by their housekeeper, Lupe, and I was in heaven.

The only downside to the entire trip was the food poisoning (or some kind of virus) I came down with about an hour before our flight was supposed to take off on Sunday. I was in a ball on the bathroom floor at the same time we needed to leave for the airport. I just couldn't bear to get up and no one would've wanted to stand next to me in an airport in that condition. Ryan and his family were so sweet, giving me medicine and soup, and Ryan and his dad moved our flights to Monday morning to allow me to rest and feel better. Ryan made it back to work for the afternoon, but I just stayed in bed sleeping on and off. Hopefully I'll be able to make up the time later this week!

Now for some pictures from our trip!

Welcome to Texas. It was worth all Ryan's hype. 4 words: Honey butter chicken biscuit
The cupcake tower Juliana made for Ryan and Mike!
Huevos Rancheros
Hello Heaven 

Wine wine wine! 

The little fluffball Parker (and thanks Tyler for that face)
Texas Tequila!

The Alamo 

"Remember the Alabro"
The Riverwalk 

Chicken Tortilla Soup (who cares if it's 100 degrees outside?) 

Dining room table all set for the dinner party!
Family photo (I failed at stealing this dog and bringing it home)
Bacon-wrapped quail 
Papa Berndt manning the grill 

Parker looks creepy. Haha 
Birthday boys!

And bring on the cigars 
Sunday morning naps while watching The British Open

Take me back

It's unfortunately back to reality..