The Great State of Vermont Will not Apologize for It's Cheese

Have you seen "Thank You for Smoking?"  If not, see it immediately.  This is *actually* how all Vermonters feel about our cheddar:

Growing up in a dairy state like Vermont, there are few phrases in the English language that make my hair curl the way "reduced fat cheddar" does.  Runners up would probably be "processed cheese food" and "frozen dessert" in place of ice cream.  So when I set out to satisfy my ridiculous macaroni and cheese craving in a more healthy way, the cheese was non-negotiable.  The noodles on the other hand, are really just a vehicle to transport cheese sauce to my mouth. I don't know about you, but I am not in the business of wasting empty calories on bland vehicles. Pinterest swore to me substituting spaghetti squash was a brilliant idea, and shockingly (seriously. this sounded like an awful idea), they were right! I also substituted greek yogurt for the heavier milk and butter I usually use, and ultimately cut the calories down to about 263 per serving!  During baking the squash creates some liquid, rather than absorbing the way pasta does, so the sauce ends up thinner than the classic bechamel, but all in all this was freaking DELICIOUS.  Guilt free mac and cheese, I will probably be eating you weekly.

Guilt Free Macaroni and Cheese
Makes 5 Servings

1 large Spaghetti Squash
1 tbsp butter
1/2 Vidalia Onion
2 cloves Garlic, minced
8 oz Sharp (Vermont!) Cheddar, grated
1/4 C Water
1/2 C Plain Low Fat Greek Yogurt
1 Pint Cherry Tomatoes, cut in half (optional)
1 Cup peas (optional)
1/4 tsp Dijon Mustard
1/4 C Bread Crumbs
1/4 C Grated Parmesan
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
Dash of Cayenne Pepper
Salt and Pepper to taste

1) Preheat oven to 425

2) Cut squash in half and scoop out seeds.  Place squash (hollow side down) in a microwave safe dish with about 1cm of water in the bottom.

3) Microwave until tender (mine took about 11 minutes for each half).  Be sure the squash is *really* tender, it won't cook much more after this point and no one wants it crunchy.

4) When squash is cooked, use a fork to scrape out the flesh out of the inside - it should come out in strings that look just like spaghetti

5) In a heavy bottom sauce pan, saute the onion and garlic in 1 tbsp butter over medium heat until onions are translucent.  Add Cheddar and 1/4 C water, stirring constantly until the cheese is melted.

6) Add the greek yogurt, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper, and stir until incorporated.  Remove from heat. I have a weird dislike for onion chunks, and at this point I also used an immersion blender to make the sauce completely smooth.

7) Combine sauce with spaghetti squash (and tomatoes and peas if desired), transfer this to a large baking dish.  Combine bread crumbs with Parmesan cheese, and sprinkle all over the top of the pasta.

8) Bake for 30 minutes, or until topping becomes a golden brown, and serve!


Per Serving: 263 Calories, 6g Protein, 2g Fat


Easy Guacamole

I have to tell you a story about the time I studied abroad in Mexico.  It was a hot September afternoon, and my friends and I decided to take a side trip to see the Aztec ruins.  We'd been touristing all day, and I was tired, sweaty, and in need of a break.  I told my friends to carry on without me, and sat down on a shady patch of grass to drink some water and relax.  A few minutes later, a fellow tourist came and sat next to me.  He was a handsome man in his mid 40s with salt and pepper hair and a mustache to put all the hipsters in Brooklyn to shame.

Want some sunscreen?  He offered me the bottle he was slathering on his nose.
No, thanks! I actually reapplied a few minutes ago.
Ah, good.  I just figured we gringo's have to stick together! He chuckled to himself.

The two of us sat and chatted in this shady patch of grass.  His name was Paul, and he was an actor back in the states. We talked about movies and cars and, eventually, we began to talk about food.  I learned that Paul, in addition to his other talents, was somewhat of a chef.

I make a lot of sauces, he said, my marinara is pretty famous, but I also really like making salsas, salad dressings, you know, stuff like that.
Oh ya? I'd love to try them sometime! I've been struggling to come up with a salsa recipe for a while.
Well that's the secret to great guacamole you know.  To make great guacamole you have to make great salsa.

And then, my friends, he gifted me with the most amazing guacamole recipe of all time.  The secret, is in the salsa.

-Recipe after the jump-


Strip Tease

Relax!  I’m keeping all my clothes on! ….maybe….

just kidding I am.

A while back I was gifted this little number (read: my roommate moved out and left it behind), and I absolutely love it except for one itty bitty detail.  It's black.
(We’ll address those safety goggles in a moment)
Now I have nothing against dark furniture, it's great for some people, but I am just not a black bedroom dresser kind of gal.  In addition to being black, the paint on this guy had a shiny finish that thwarted all of my attempts to paint over it.  If I wanted to keep the dresser, my only option was to refinish.

Like any good millenial, I trusted that the google gods could teach me how to refinish like a pro, and you know what I discovered?  There is not one decent "how-to" for this on the interwebs.  Not one. So I *gasp* went to the library, read some stuff, and now I'm here rectifying this awful internet wrong.

Hey! Google! This is how you refinish things!

It's definitely a project that will take some time, but it's weirdly meditative and the results are absolutely worth it.  So pick a piece of furniture you like (preferably in an awful color), grab some stripper, and cue that Genuwine.

Step one: Assemble everything you’re going to need.
  • paint stripper
  • turpentine
  • a flat edge scraper (something like an old spatula or spreading tool)
  • Paintbrush
  • Empty paint can
  • Old rags
  • Sand paper
  • Swiffer pads
  • Your favorite paint
  • rubber gloves (the heaviest duty you can find)
  • Long sleeves and pants you don’t mind destroying
  • Eye protection
Step two:  Remove hardware and move the dresser to a well ventilated area
Keep the hardware all together with screws etc. so nothing gets lost in this process (it’ll be a few days before you can put it back on)
Ideally you want to do this outside.  Stripping chemicals smell to HIGH HEAVEN and you don’t want to breathe those fumes for any longer than you have to.  If you care at all about the surface you’re stripping on, be sure to use protective covering on the ground….this gets MESSY
Conveniently for me, my porch already isn't in the most beautiful condition, so I felt confident I could get away with just a few pizza boxes underneath…you should probably use something bigger.
Step three: Put on your safety gear
These chemicals are Nasty (capital N) and you do not want their carcinogenic, smelly, and corrosive selves getting onto you.  The stripper will literally eat through paint and it will also literally eat through your jeans.  Cover up!!! AND all this protective equipment is a good second use for those chemistry goggles from college you never threw away!
Step four: Cue the Marvin Gaye and start stripping!!!
Lay the furniture piece horizontally with the first side you’re going to strip facing up.  Spread a thick layer of stripper on with the old paintbrush.   This is not the time to be stingy, put on as much stripper as you think is enough, and then add some more. It’s best to do this in an area less than 3′x3′ so the fumes stay at a minimum, but if you’re outside or wearing a charcoal filter mask you can get away with a little more surface area at a time.  Let the stripper sit on the furniture for at least 20 minutes.  Don’t touch it, don’t look at it, don’t think about it.  Go inside and have yourself a nice glass ‘o lemonade.  When you come back out, like magic, the paint should be blistering up
Use the scraper or old spatula to *gently* remove the paint.  It should slide off very easily.  If not, apply more stripper and wait longer.  The edges of the spatula can easily cause scratches to the softened wood, so be careful not to press too hard.
Collect the paint/stripper sludge in the empty paint can, then continue to the next section, repeating until the whole piece is stripped of paint.

Step five: Turpentine!
Most strippers leave behind a waxy residue you may not immediately notice that will stop the new paint from clinging to the wood.  To get rid of the residue, apply some turpentine to a clean old rag, and gently wipe down the freshly stripped piece.  The turpentine will also help to eliminate any small bits of paint left clinging to the wood.  Because you’re removing the waxy build up, switch the section of rag frequently so it is still effective.
Step six: Wait.
Put the piece in a well ventilated area, and allow it to dry COMPLETELY.  This will take at least 24 hours, although leaving it longer never hurt anyone.  Bare wood absorbs water like craaaaazy so be sure where ever you leave it is dry, and the piece won’t get, for example, rained on.
Step seven:  Dispose of the sludge
Fun fact: paint stripper sludge can spontaneously combust
Fo realz.  Set the paint can full of sludge in a *cool* well ventilated area and allow it to dry out completely.  Only once dry, put the lid on the paint can, and then call your local waste disposal to find out how to dispose of it properly (you can’t just throw it out with your regular trash).
Step eight: Sand
To get this beauty in tip top shape before painting, sand her down to get rid of any last remaining paint, and any ridges that may have been caused by your spatula scraping.   While you’re at it, go ahead and give her a name.  You two have spent a lot of time together, and now you’ve seen her naked.  It’s only fair.

Step nine: Wipe off the dust
Use a swiffer pad to gently wipe all the dust off the newly sanded piece so the paint can stick properly.  Do this a few times, you’ll be surprised how much comes off

Step 10:  Paint!!!
After all this work you’re finally ready to finish!  Apply your favorite paint all over, re-attach the hardware, and voila! A brand new dresser!!


Summer Orzo with Basil Pesto

All of the tell-tale signs of autumn are ever so slightly starting to appear.  It's not quite light out when I wake up, the morning walk to my car is getting a little too brisk to be sleeveless, and many of my favorite summer food prices at the supermarket are beginning to drift back up (why can't we just have $2.50 pineapples forever??). I love love love fall, but I'm not sure I'm ready yet to say good-bye to long days and abundant sunshine. 
When summer nostalgia hits, the only thing to make is pesto.  There is nothing more summery than fresh basil. It's like those bright little leaves have stored up all the flavors of sunshine and are just waiting to burst out into a party on your tongue. This particular pesto is very easy to make and, tossed with an assortment of summer foods, was the perfect dinner to remind me that warm days are still here.

Side note: Patrick would like me to inform all of you that this is "So so good. Want more in my belly. Now." ...So there's an endorsement for 'ya.

-Recipe after the jump-


Wine Crate Shelves DIY

This is actually a DIY from a while ago, but I have gotten SO many compliments on it I thought I'd post a how-to in case you'd like to try it at home!

Back before I started living solo, I had three of the absolute best roommates a girl could ask for. We shared shoe sizes, we shared clothing sizes, and perhaps most importantly, we shared a similar interior design aesthetic. Trust me, this is imperative when 4 girls are trying to decorate an apartment together.  After we graduated college, we moved to a new big girl apartment, and launched an initiative I like to call, "Pottery barn chic on a student loan budget."  We wanted to look like grown ups living some sort of utopian "Friend's" lifestyle, but we absolutely did not have the money to fund it.  So what did we do? We DIY-ed.  A lot.  Well, specifically my roommate Becca DIY-ed a lot because she is by far the most artistic.

This particular DIY was born after I saw some similar shelves on an interior design website.  I brought the idea to Becca and, of course, she knew exactly how to make it happen.

How-To Wine Crate Shelves

1) Contact a local wine shop to ask for any spare crates they may have lying around.  Apparently only really expensive wines are still shipped in crates, so there were only a few available (good thing we didn’t want franzia crates anyway).  BONUS: the crates are essentially trash to the wine shop, so they're free!

2) Clean the crates and then stained them with a light wood stain, let them dry overnight

4) Decide on a layout for your crates.  You really only get one chance with the wall, so be sure you know how you'd like them arranged before you move on to the next step.

5) Mount them on the wall using a power drill and wall anchors.  Since we didn't own a drill, we rented from home depot. Voila! Enjoy accessorizing your new shelves! 
Total cost: <$30
Total apartment impact: $9,834,209

*In addition to wine crate shelves, Becca has many other design talents.  If you'd like to see her work, you can check out her website here