Tortilla Soup

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So it’s summer which means it’s definitely not soup season-but soups are just soooo easy to make, and can be saved for great leftovers. I made some tortilla soup and wanted to share as a simple, delicious weekday dinner that our family loved!

Tortilla soup is pretty standard, but, like most any soup, you can easily alter it to fit what you have in your own kitchen. I used this recipe as a baseline, but there are plenty of other that are easily google-able.

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Photo Credit

I was originally planing to make chicken tacos for dinner, so I had some chicken going in the crock pot. I covered two chicken breasts with taco seasoning. You can use any kind but this brand is my absolute favorite. You can get it from most grocery stores, Target, and (obviously) Amazon. (Their fajita mix is amazing too.) We had had Chipotle the night before and had leftover salsa (medium spicy) so I just dumped that over the chicken as well. I cooked it on low for about 6 hours.

Once I decided I wanted to do tortilla soup, I checked the pantry to make sure we had everything. Since most of the ingredients are pretty standard, we did!

Ingredients:

  • jalapenos (we only had canned so I just used that)
  • one onion
  • three cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 can corn
  • 1 can diced tomatoes with peppers
  • tomato paste
  • olive oil
  • chicken broth

Steps:

5c9b42d1-da71-468f-9d3a-2d7f72d51edbFirst, while the chicken was still in the crock pot, I chopped the onion, garlic, and jalapenos, and sauteed them in olive oil in a large soup pot. Then I just dumped in the rest of the ingredients. I drained the canned corn, tomatoes, and black beans. The original recipe calls for crushed tomatoes but I didn’t have any, instead, I used a small can of tomato paste and then filled the can with water to dilute it. The original recipe calls for 3 cups of chicken broth, which I first poured in.

Next, I shredded the salsa chicken in the crock pot and added about 2/3 of it to the soup. I also had to add about two more cups of chicken broth-but you can add more or less to make your soup thicker or thinner. I simmered the soup for about 40 minutes until it was all cooked through and warmed.

To top it off, I added shredded cheese and some tortilla chips. If you’re feeling really fancy, you can make your own tortillas by cutting flour (or corn) tortillas thin and frying them in oil. You can also add more or less of any ingredients, and top it off with cilantro, other spices, lime, avocado, sour cream-pretty much anything you want. You can also change up the chicken for a different protein, or even avoid it altogether and add extra beans, etc.

5e41706d-aef8-45b9-b4dc-a6c14b18ad07I love tortilla soup because it’s so easy and versatile. The taco sauce/salsa marinated chicken made it extra spicy which I just love. I made so much that we were able to enjoy this for about 5 days for lunch. I honestly think it’s almost even better as leftovers. The veggies, spicy chicken, cheese, and crunch of the chips just make it the perfect meal, even our 10 month old loved it!

So turn up the AC, and go ahead and make some hot soup this summer!

Installing Flooring

We recently moved our family to Texas for my husband’s job. We found a house that we loved and closed on it fairly quickly. While the house and neighborhood are great (location is key!) some of the aesthetics of the house definitely weren’t what we wanted. We had to paint (every single bedroom, a bathroom, and part of the main room), move a door, redo some electrical work, and put down better flooring in the master bedroom.

All of this, as you can imagine, was pretty expensive. We didn’t want to break the bank so soon after moving in, so we hired professionals for the electrical work (not about to mess around with stuff that can kill us), and found a good painter/handyman for an affordable price. With the amount of rooms we needed to paint, plus a 9 month old, plus Kermit, I just couldn’t do it myself this time.

The original contractors we had give an estimate to do the flooring were so expensive that I actually got mad and decided to just do the flooring my damn self. So, that’s what I did. This was definitely the most ambitious task that I’ve ever attempted, and I also ended up getting a bit of help from our Jack-of-all-trades painter, and my dad who helps build houses for Habitat for Humanity. I ended up doing most of the heavy lifting though, and the floors turned out pretty nice!

Flooring is definitely doable by a novice, but it was also definitely more difficult than I expected, so know that going in, and be prepared that you will make mistakes and it might take longer than you think.

What You Need:

  • crow bar (to pry up old flooring)
  • Dremel Saw
  • gloves
  • flooring kit
  • rubber mallet
  • moisture barrier
  • tape measure

What I Did:

dd9471d9-15e7-4ac5-821b-b623ab3c9417Our floors were originally a light wood color, but they had warped over time and it had gotten really bad on one spot in the room. The walls were also a dark purple. We knew we definitely wanted to paint the walls, and figured since the floor was warped we might as well replace it before we moved all of our furniture into the house.

We went to Home Depot and found the flooring we wanted. We chose Crestwood Gray and it was only $1.50 per square foot. Our new master is pretty big (almost 300 square feet) so we ended up needing to buy 19 cases of flooring. Home Depot’s website is great for figuring out how much you need. You just enter in the dimensions of your room and it tells you how many cases to buy and how much it will cost. The general rule is you want about 10% more than you’d need for the exact square footage of your room so that you have enough for mistakes and other waste when cutting the boards (Home Depot’s website automatically factors this in).

Once we had the flooring we wanted, I started ripping up the old flooring. I started at the warped section and used the crowbar to pry it up. Once I got up the first section, the rest was pretty easy. Be careful of the baseboards, you don’t want to damage them. You should also wear gloves so you don’t cut your hands.

 

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Concrete, ready for flooring!

Once all the flooring was up, we had to put down the moisture barrier. This keeps moisture out of the flooring so that it won’t warp. After taking up the old flooring we saw that the previous owners didn’t do this, which explained why the floors were so warped. I followed the directions and unrolled the barrier down on the concrete. There is a sticky strip on the side of the barriers so they stick to each other; once they are laid down you need to stick them together. I also taped the ends down around the walls because they kept coming up after I had cut them to size. This was the most frustrating part for me because it took some adjusting for it to lay flat and straight.

 

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spacers

Once the barrier was down came the real work: laying the flooring. The first row was the hardest. You need to set up spacers (they come in the flooring kit) around the edges of the wall. The first row has three edges touching a wall, so it’s a lot of spacers at first. Our walls weren’t totally even so some of the spacers were really tight while some were much looser. I just went with it. I used the 1/4 inch spacers. Spacers are important because the flooring will swell with humidity and you need to leave room for it to do so.

The flooring has edges all around it so that each piece can snap into place. The directions told me to cut off the edge lengthwise on the first row, which is what I did, but looking back, it probably wasn’t necessary. The width of your room is probably not going to come out to an exact number of flooring pieces. Our room was 4 full pieces, plus a little bit of a fifth piece, wide-so there would be an extra bit left at the end. I tried to start with a full flooring piece, then cut the last piece at the end. This took lots of measuring, and trial and error. When you cut the flooring, you need to make sure that the edge you cut is the edge that is going to go up against the wall. Since each flooring piece has edges around it to snap it, once you cut it to fit the width of your room, you end up cutting an edge off. If you cut off the wrong edge, it won’t fit with the flooring next to it. I was using a jigsaw to cut the flooring pieces. This worked, but wasn’t the best option. A Dremel saw is best because it only cuts in straight lines, which is what you need when doing flooring.

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coming along

As I went down through the room, it got easier and I found a rhythm. I just went row by row, snapping the pieces in and cutting the edges. I continued to put the spacers at each wall. You want the ends of the flooring pieces to be staggered by each row so that it’s more secure. I would start every other row with a full piece, and every row in between those with a half piece. You really aren’t supposed to have pieces of flooring that are less than about a foot long, but sometimes I just had to have a smaller piece to fit in, and it ended up being fine. Going around doors was a bit hard, and you should try to get as close to the edge as possible. I was kind of farther away at some points and had to cut smaller pieces to cover up the concrete.

The very last row needs to be cut lengthwise to fit (unless your room happens to fit the flooring exactly). You snap it in place and use the tool in the flooring kit to pull the flooring secure.

Once it was all done I was proud of my work, but exhausted. It took me about 2.5 days to finish everything. The first day was the hardest since I was just figuring it all out, but the second day passed quickly.

By the time it came to finish it all up, I was exhausted and a bit overwhelmed. We asked our painter, if he could do the final touches and, luckily, he said yes. The spacers left about 1/4 inch around the flooring. So that space needed to be covered. We bought quarter round from Home Depot, and had our painter install it around the edges of our room. Since he was already painting the trim, he just painted it white along with the baseboards.

Lastly, the areas around the doors to the hallway, bathroom, and closet weren’t finished. My dad came to the rescue here. We had bought some T-molding to cover the space between the flooring in the bedroom and the flooring in the hallway, bathroom, and closet. My dad cut it to size and glued it in.

While I’m not totally sure I’ll be installing flooring again any time soon, I’m definitely glad that we ended up going (mostly) DIY for this project. Bottom line: flooring is a big task, but it’s doable, so don’t be scared.

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The final look

Midland Beer Garden

We were totally spoiled in Birmingham with all the dog friendly spots. Bham had shopping, breweries, (and more breweries, and even more breweries) restaurants, events, and more, where Kermit was welcomed with lots of pets, and doggie treats. One of my first goals when we moved to Midland was to find places where we could take Kermit out with us.

Midland Beer Garden is one of the first places we found, and we love it! It’s a beer garden that also has actual green houses, with beautiful flowers that you can enjoy as you sip some beer or wine (yes, they also have wine!). It’s located off Highway 80, so we definitely can’t walk to it, but I’ve quickly learned that Midland is much less walkable than Bham in general, so it’s no big deal.

efcc6b86-f2d0-47a4-9665-02771e211305Midland Beer Garden has a large variety of beer. They offer craft beer, as well as Bud Light, and even gluten free ciders. The last time we went, Phil and I ordered a Pineapple Upside Down Beer-a combination Blue Moon and ACE Pineapple Cider. It was refreshing, and not too sweet.

Food is also served, and you can get everything from light snacks, to a full on meal. Tacos, nachos, and BBQ are popular menu items, which, I’ve quickly learned, is common in West Texas.

There is plenty of seating-we like to sit in the green house and be near the plants, but it does get more hot/humid in there than outside where you can feel the breeze. Near the entrance, there is a large turtle who sometimes pops up from his hiding spot to be fed (Kermit, however, is not a fan).

For us, the best part about this beer garden is how dog friendly it is. They have dog treats at the bar and plenty of dog water bowls to make sure that your furry family members stay hydrated in the Texas heat.

On the first Thursday of every month, Midland Beer Garden offers a Yappy Hour. This is hosted by the Midland Humane Coalition and Freelance Rescuers. You can get your dog microchipped for only $20. If your dog is already chipped, you can have them scan it just to be sure that the chip is still in the right place and easily found.

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Kermit was ready to hunt for some eggs!

So far, we have only been able to make it to one Yappy Hour, and it was such a blast! In addition to microchipping, there was also a doggie Easter egg hunt. Dogs got to sniff around to find eggs filled with treats and toys. Soul’s Pit Crew was there as well taking Easter pictures of dogs. It was so much fun to get out of the house with Kermit like we used to do so often at home in Birmingham.

Midland Beer Garden is a popular place, and if you’re new to Midland (like us!) and have yet to check it out, I highly recommend it. It’s already a favorite of ours and I can see it being our go-to in the winter as well when we can sit in the green house. And, yes, it’s also human kid friendly, though they are not allowed past 9:00 at night (our human kid is fast asleep by then anyway). In my experience, dogs are usually better behaved, so don’t be that guy and let your kids run wild; so, as always, make sure you’re keeping an eye on your human kid as well as your fur babies. Cheers!

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Kermit’s Easter picture.

More Oils and a Hair Mask

So since moving to Midland one thing that I’ve definitely needed to adjust to is the humidity-or lack thereof. It’s “only” gotten into the 80s here so far (I know it will get much hotter in the summer) but it really hasn’t felt that bad outside, especially in the shade. The humidity here generally hovers around 50% or less so when you move to the shade, you actually feel cooler. Unlike Birmingham which was like living in a sauna from May-October.

That said, it is super dry here and my hair and skin are already feeling it! I’m trying to up my water intake even more, but I’ve also found some oils that have really helped keep my skin and hair from shriveling up and becoming brittle.

f9bf7544-03a3-4c39-a71b-ec9736ceb9e3My hair is wavy/curly and can definitely get unruly, especially if it’s not moisturized. I’ve started using hair masks and wow do I notice a difference! I’ve done a few and so far the masks with argan oil seem to work the best for me. I know I’ve written about the magic of argan oil before, it really is an amazing head to toe product! I like the one time use hair masks-they can be a bit pricey (this single use mask goes for about $2 at Target) but I like to mix up my masks. I found that it’s best if you shower and shampoo as normal (I don’t wash my hair every day but I make sure to do this one a shampoo day). The very last thing you do in the shower is put on your hair mask. Just apply like conditioner and use the entire package. It will be a lot. I put my wet, mask soaked, hair into a high bun with either an elastic or a hair clip, then I cover it with a plastic bag and tie the ends around the nape of my neck (Yes, I probably need to invest in a shower cap.) I secure the whole thing with a wide headband. I go to sleep with this odd hair ensemble and then shower again, no shampoo, just rinsing the mask out, when I wake up. I like to let my hair air dry, but you could also blow dry it if that’s your thing. Once my hair is dry it’s the softest, sleekest ever. Seriously, I’m talking smoother than salon smooth. I try to do this once every other week or so and I’m already seeing a difference.

257eee4a-08db-4fb3-ace3-c09039ef18f2While I’m still an argan oil fan, my new favorite oil is Derma E Vitamin E Oil. I found this at a nearby natural grocery story (a pleasant surprise find in Midland, TX!) but you can get it at some Walgreens stores or order it online. I use this on my face morning and night-it’s been about two weeks and my skin is already looking brighter. Vitamin E is said to help your skin combat the signs of aging, as well as brighten up sun spots, scars, and helps soften skin. I wrote a bit about my skin routine here, and I’ve added oil as my last step at night. It does make my skin a bit shiny at first but it sinks in throughout the night and I wake up glowing. Since it’s so dry in Midland, I do mix a little bit of this in with my oil-free TJ’s lotion in the morning before I put on my sunscreen. It doesn’t make my face as shiny when it’s mixed with lotion but I still get that extra bit of moisturizer.

ed2618fb-437c-4630-98d6-48bf77467286Last, but not least, is sweet almond oil. I started using this daily over a year ago when I first got pregnant and I’ve been using it ever since. This definitely came in handy when I was “big pregnant” and I used it to moisturize the bump. Now, I put a few drops in my regular lotion after my shower for extra moisturizer. It helps keep my skin soft, but doesn’t leave me feeling greasy as just straight oil does (though sometimes I’ll just use it straight if my skin is extra dry). You can get this at Target for about $7.00.

 

All of these products are cruelty free! What are your favorite skin care products?

Wicked River

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Wicked River  by Jenny Milchman is a fast paced, adventurous, but light read. A friend passed this book along to me a few months ago, and when I finally got around to reading it recently, I couldn’t put it down!

Doug and Natalie are newlyweds who decide to go on a camping trip in the Adirondack Mountains for their honeymoon. (For the record: this sounds like my nightmare. I enjoy need creature comforts, and mimosas while camping, glamping, ok I just like tailgating in RVs.) As the week goes on, Doug and Natalie need to lean on each other to survive in their environment. Not only are they discovering things about each other as newlyweds, Doug may be hiding something that makes Natalie question the man she thought she married.

While Doug and Natalie are on their honeymoon, someone else who has made his home in the woods is watching them, and he is desperate for company.

Wicked River shifts points of view throughout the book, which kept up the suspense chapter by chapter. Readers got to see through Doug and Natalie’s eyes, the eyes of Natalie’s niece, who is trying hard to be mature and grown up, the eyes of the mysterious stranger in the woods, and others. I enjoyed getting to see each different point of view, and it kept me hooked and wanting to get to the next chapter where I could find out what happened to each character.

With a little bit of mystery, lots of suspense, and some sweet moments, this book is a great quick read.

ec6b237a-d6e2-4ea1-a936-0a65bfb33f4eWine Pairing: Dark Horse Rosé

This book is a perfect summer/almost summer read. It’s not too heavy, it’s fun, it’s a nice escape from everyday life-much like this rosé. This wine is crisp and fruity, but not sweet. You can’t take it too seriously and it’s the perfect wine to relax with outside in the shade with a not-so-serious book. I picked it up from our local Albertsons Market for only $7.99. (No, I’d never heard of Albertsons until we moved here, but I’m sure you can find this in a grocery store near you.) It’s almost officially summer, so kick back with this refreshing rosé and enjoy Wicked River. Cheers!

Quick Update

967623e7-ad2b-48a9-818f-106068fdea8fHello Friends!

So it’s been awhile. I know I’ve been totally slacking. I thought I’d post a quick update on what’s been going on (for those of you who might not know) before I dive back into business as usual.

Our family has officially moved to Texas! We are now in West Texas, specifically, Midland. (You can google it, I’ll wait.)

Phil was transferred here for his job and we all made the move in early April. Things have happened rather quickly since then. We are in temporary housing for now, and we move into our new house at the end of May. We’re still somewhat settling in, and I know we’ll have another transition at the end of the month, but overall it’s gone as smoothly as I think it could have. While on blog hiatus, I’ve been helping house hunt, clean and paint said house, get Mim and Kermit settled, and try to find the local hot spots. This time around, we are hiring people to help us with the bigger cleaning and painting projects before we move in so we only have to do the smaller stuff. (Did you know it’s much harder to get a house move-in ready by yourself with an 8 month old?) However, it’s still been a process.

So far, Midland has been pretty good. The climate is definitely hot but it’s also very dry, which really isn’t too bad. I’ve heard it described as “walking outside into an oven, not into a dishwasher” which is surprisingly accurate. I’ll take oven hot over dishwasher hot any day. Kermit has been adjusting well. We’ve found some fun dog activities and dog parks nearby that he’s been loving.

We’re definitely still adjusting but I feel settled enough to start blogging again. Thank you for bearing with me while I took a break to figure out our new life. I’ll get back to posting every Wednesday. I’ve been reading some great books I just can’t wait to share! I’ve also found some cool products that have really made a difference (especially in this new climate), and for those local to the area (or anyone who fancies a vacation to West Texas…?) I’ve found some cool spots worth visiting. Though I’m pretty sure Birmingham wins the “Most Dog Friendly City Ever” award, there are dog friendly places everywhere if you look hard enough.

I look forward to getting back to it. Talk soon! ❤

Shops at Crestwood

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Kermit perched on the wall at Crestwood Park. We love walking the track and running zoomies.

Crestwood is a hidden gem in Birmingham. We bought our first house here a couple of years ago and we knew we’d like this neighborhood, we just didn’t know how much we’d end up loving it. Crestwood is walking distance from Cahaba Brewery, and Avondale (a bit of a hike but on a nice day it’s so doable) but the best part of Crestwood is that there is so much to offer right in the neighborhood! And it’s super dog friendly!  Unfortunately, we are moving to Texas in a few short days (Which is why I’m so late on this blog post!) but we’ve so enjoyed our time here and I wanted to highlight some of our favorite Crestwood spots.

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The sweet grapefruit is my absolute favorite scent

Elements and Trxi Vintage. This local shop is two in one! Elements and Trxi share the space and offer really cute clothes, jewelry, candles, cards, drink mixers, and so much more. It’s very dog friendly and Kermit loves to go in and sniff around. Sometimes their dog, Lowe, is there to greet you. The owners of Elements, Johnnie and Mallory are welcoming and helpful. This place is perfect for picking up a gift for someone, or just to find something for yourself. We love to pop into Elements to browse around, and we usually end up leaving with something. I love the soy candles, and my husband loves their old fashioned mixer (it’s not too sweet, and when you add an orange rind it’s perfect). Trxi Vintage has tons of vintage women’s clothes, hats, shoes and jewelry. There really is something for everyone.

Right next to Elements/Trxi Vintage is Crestwood Pharmacy and Soda Fountain. Taylor and Tyler are the owners and they are very friendly and knowledgeable. They offer over the counter medicines, prescriptions, toiletries, etc-I was even able to get my flu shot there last fall. They also sell locally brewed kombucha (I’m currently obsessed with the lavender flavor), ice cream, and shakes. If you need something and they don’t have it, just let them know and they will special order it for you. I get all of my prescriptions from them and it’s so convenient to just be able to walk and pick them up! Taylor even dropped off a prescription when I was unable to get it-this was soon after our daughter was born and it was an incredible help. They are a wonderful addition to the Crestwood community!

Seasick Records is another two in one located in the shopping center. They are both a record store and a barber shop-my husband gets his hair cut there often. They offer a wide variety of records, new and old, and CDs. It’s so fun to poke around and see what you can find. We don’t have a record player, but I got an old Bruce Springsteen CD that my dad had when I was younger. There’s nothing quite like the The Boss with the windows down on a summer day. Seasick Records frequently hosts different events, meet and greets, etc. Each spring they have Record Store Day with giveaways, a DJ, new releases, and a live performance. (Man do we wish we would still be in town for that even this year!)

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Checking out a vintage phone.
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Our entertainment center

Urban Suburban is another favorite of ours. They have been around for a long time and have everything from antique furniture to vintage knick knacks, to locally made Birmingham clothing and decor. We love to browse around and see what’s new and on sale. We’ve gotten some smaller pieces of art for our home there, as well as a beautiful, versatile, entertainment center. Urban Suburban hosts a Christmas Party every year with drinks, snacks, and lots of great sales. It’s a fun time to meet some neighbors and get some deals before the holidays. I believe they also host a similar party in the summer months. Kermit loves checking out all the different things and he usually even snags a treat or two from the front desk.

0True Story Brewing is a new addition to the Crestwood Shops but we quickly came to love it. It used to be a vape shop (you can still purchase vape products) but they currently brew their own beer as well as offer local beer from other Bham breweries. It’s small, but the bartenders and the owner, Craig Shaw, are all outgoing and friendly. They have a fenced in back patio that is still a bit of a work in progress, but we love to sit out there on warm spring evenings. My favorite beer they offer is the Coconut Porter, definitely unique and refreshing! They have local art decorating the walls and offer fresh food on the weekends.

Crestwood Shopping Center is really a bright spot in the community. They also have a wonderful coffee shop, a market with a huge wine selection (and a great place to pick up that one think you forgot but you really need), and a tavern/dive bar. I love that there are these amazing, locally owned, places for neighbors to have a drink, a bite to eat, and shop around. Even if you don’t live nearby, it is definitely worth a drive to check out these spots. We will certainly miss Crestwood but feel so lucky to have been part of this wonderful community!