April 29, 2014

White Pimento Cheese Spread

When you move around a lot, you start missing things from all over the world. Of course, I always miss  the food! And places. And cool shops. And a whole host of other things.

But mostly the food. And the people.

You feel me here, peeps? I miss Mexican food from El Paso, and crumb cake from New York. I already have a list of things I know I'll miss from Germany. One of the things I crave the most comes from the town I grew up in, in Virginia. A local company made a "gourmet white pimento cheese spread" that was absolutely to die for.

Like the crumb cake, the cheese couldn't be shipped. Something had to be done! So I re-created it at home, and now I eat it whenever I want.  

White Pimento Cheese Spread

Because that's how I roll.

Oddly enough, I used to be prejudiced against pimento cheese. I thought it was weird. But then I tried the "gourmet" version, and I was hooked. I bet you will be too. Come on, give pimentos a chance…

The ingredients are pretty basic:

The ingredients

And the method is pretty easy. Start by mixing a few spices into ½ cup of mayonnaise: ¼ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper, and an ⅛ teaspoon garlic powder.

Then, whip 3 ounces of cream cheese until it's all light and fluffy. I do this with my hand mixer, the process is much quicker this way. Blend your mayo mix into the fluffy cream cheese.

This goopiness may look weird, but it's the binder for your cheeses and it's going to taste delicious when everything is put together, I promise. The most important ingredient in your spread is the cheese. Don't by the pre-shredded stuff, people! Grate your own, it's worth it. Trust me.

So, to your goop, add 2 cups of freshly grated white cheddar cheese. You can use the yellow kind, but then it wouldn't be white pimento cheese anymore. The white cheddar has a slightly different flavor too, try it one time and you'll see.

Also add 1 cup of freshly grated Monterey Jack cheese, and ¼ cup of fresh grated Parmesan. Grate the Parmesan on the littlest hole of your grater, kay? Also on the smallest opening, grate 2 teaspoons of onion.

The smallest grater side

Stir in 2 tablespoons of minced green onion as well, and 1 jar (4 ounces) of diced pimentos, drained of the liquid.

Mix it all around, and viola! White pimento cheese. I suggest chilling the mixture for at least 2 hours before serving, but you don't have to. To be honest, I always taste test a couple bites before the cheese makes it into the fridge. Don't tell!

I make this for parties, or weekend snacking. Or weeknight snacking. And I always make a double batch, because the Hubs is a pimento cheese hog. If you want to spice things up a little, try adding a bit of minced jalapeƱo to the mix.

Until next time, happy cooking!

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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The Standard Form: 

White Pimento Cheese Spread


½ cup mayonnaise
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
3 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 cups sharp white cheddar cheese, grated fresh
1 cup Monterey Jack cheese, grated fresh
¼ cup Parmesan cheese, grated fresh
1 (4 oz.) jar pimentos, drained
2 teaspoons finely grated onion
2 tablespoons green onions, minced


Mix the garlic powder, salt, and black pepper with the mayonnaise. Beat the cream cheese until light and fluffy, then add the mayonnaise mixture to it and beat until well combined. Stir in all three types of cheese, the grated onion, pimentos, and green onions. Mix until well blended. Chill before serving. Serve with crackers, or as a sandwich.

April 28, 2014

Pinterest Tested: Dandelion Fire

I know I've been gone for a week, and I'm super sorry. I fully intended to have several new posts, including a fun party appetizer recipe and a new post about London.

BUT. I've been sick all week.

Usually, even when sick, I can keep up with blogging. That's what laptops are for, right? Sometimes though, I have flare ups that knock me out and leave me sleeping 18 hours a day. Which is what happened this week.

I'm back now though, and I'm doing my best to catch up! Keep an eye out for several new posts coming soon. To commemorate my slide back to blogging, I tried out a Pinterest Tested moment with the Hubs on Saturday…

Nailed it??? NOT.

Ever since I saw this colorful picture of a flaming dandelion (left) on Pinterest, I've wanted to re-create that moment (right). New flash: I lit up half a dozen dandelions, and not one of them made pretty colors.


I guess not every Pinterest trick can work.

So that's all for now, peeps! Check back soon (like, tomorrow) for a new recipe. Until then, happy pinning!

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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April 19, 2014

Adventures in Polish Pottery

Last week, my next door neighbor (Boo-Dah-Washy) arranged a day trip for some Polish pottery shopping. This is a long day, since the drive is a little over 4 hours each way. But we were game, the shopping bug had bitten.

I didn't plan any of this excursion myself, I was along for the ride. I'm so glad Boo-Dah-Washy did her research. She came prepared with maps, GPS addresses, and store names. She even packed a picnic dinner! Her best source of information was Bavaria Army Wife Travelers. If you're headed to the pottery too, you should definitely check them out.  The "file" section on their group page is an excellent resource for all kinds of travel through Europe, not just Polish pottery.

The ride may have been a little long, but the scenery was beautiful. After crossing the Polish border, we drove under several of these wildlife bridges, which allow animals to cross the highway without danger of being hit. I love these.

Our GPS addresses didn't quite work the way we expected, but after a bit of fumbling, we found the restaurant we were looking for. Our plan was to eat a nice lunch, then shop, shop, shop until the stores closed.

This cute restaurant had great food and was so inexpensive, we were shocked. The price was easily ⅔ less than what we normally see in Germany. Though Polish currency is the zloty, the restaurant and all the pottery outlets accepted our Euros.

I was so excited to try traditional pierogi, and I wasn't disappointed! We also enjoyed a variety salad and goulash. Everything was seriously good.

With full bellies (so we could make good decisions), we began our shopping spree at a strip of shops.

Some of the stores are neatly organized, and others are a complete free-for-all. We learned prior to travel about the ranking system. See, the pottery is ranked from 1 to 5, with 1 being the best and 5 being the worst. I've looked for an online guide that explains the ranking system better, but I haven't found one yet. I've been told to only buy quality 1 or 2, especially if you're using these items to cook in the oven.

Inside look at a few shops, plus a fun car! 

The pottery all contained a sticker with the price, and another with the quality level. I fell in love with several patterns, but not all the patterns have every piece available for purchase. For example, I may have found a baking dish I LOVED, but the soup tureen in that same pattern wasn't there. Or I spied a great tea set, but there were no baking dishes.

I specifically wanted a large soup tureen and some baking dishes, so even when I found cute patterns I moved on if those items weren't available.

Some of my favorite patterns
At the end of the day, I bought several gifts and a soup tureen (plus ladle and bread bowls!) for myself. The prices were right, though not as inexpensive as expected. We were all happy with our finds, and ready to head home.

Simple, right?


See, we plugged 'home' into our GPS and were on our way, when… we passed a man walking his goats on a leash. This was, of course,  VERY distracting. Hence, our driver didn't quite watch her speed as well as she should and before we knew it…

We were pulled over by the cops!!!!


Luckily, between a little German and a lot of hand gestures, Boo-Dah-Washy only had to pay a small fine. This meant a quick trip to an ATM, but then we were on our way again. I guess now we can check 'get pulled over by cops in foreign country' off our bucket lists, ha!

I can't wait to head back for shopping again. I was conservative in my purchasing, and I already have a long wish list when I return.

Until next time, peeps, happy shopping!

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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April 17, 2014

Hiatus in Amsterdam

The Hubs and I are off for a weekend adventure today, prepared to explore Amsterdam! I'm quite excited to visit the Keukenhof Gardens. Keep your fingers crossed that we see lots of blooms, ok?

Since I'll be gone for several days, don't be surprised if you don't hear from me for a bit. I've written a few posts that will automatically publish, but otherwise I'll likely be off the grid. The Hubs and I haven't had a chance to explore much together, so this is extra special.

Have you been to Amsterdam before? If yes, what are your recommendations and suggestions? I'll see you on the flip side, my friends! 

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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April 14, 2014

Not Your Average Date Night, Part 1

The Hubs and I are pretty terrible when it comes to date night. We always do the same old thing, watch a movie at home. Occasionally we go out to eat.

Well, no more! Not that I don't like movies and eating out, but we're making a commitment to try new things. Every couple likes different things, and sometimes you don't like the same things as your partner. So the Hubs and I are going to mix it up, doing some of what he loves, some of what I love, and some things neither of us has ever tried before.

I've searched Pinterest and the rest of the internet diligently. I've spoken with my girlfriends, my family, and the Hubs. I've asked all of you (via the ArmyLife Facebook page), and I've tuned in to what I see other couples doing. This is the list I've finally come up with. I hope it helps you come up with some new "date night" ideas as well. Or a "date day". Not all dates need to be at night!

Date Day at Neuschwanstein Castle

Here goes:

1. Movie Night In - Since I mentioned this above, I figured I should start with it. Movies at home are not a bad thing, but I do find that the Hubs and I get stuck in a movie rut. To spice things up, try creating a themed evening. Print up 'tickets' for your spouse. Create food dishes around the movie. For example, if you're watching The Smurfs, make all the food blue!

2. Geocaching - I just recently learned about this interesting pastime! I think this would be a really cool way to spend a weekend afternoon. Basically, you plug in your zip code and are given coordinates to find "treasure". These can be easy to find, or moderate to hard. After finding the stash, you leave something new behind. Have you been before?

3. Spice Up  "Dinner In" - Having dinner at home doesn't need to be boring. In our house, I do 99% of the cooking. The Hubs will help me prep, but he doesn't really cook. If he does cook, it's always a great surprise for me. Usually he whips up pancakes on a Saturday, and I love it. Try spicing up you dinner-at-home status by picking a new recipe together, then sharing the responsibility of cooking the meal. Pour each other a glass of wine, and get to work! Set the table, light candles, and agree to no electronic devices. Really sit down and enjoy the time together. Or create an indoor picnic. Heck, picnic in your backyard, under the stars!

4. Spice Up  "Dinner Out" - Do you always go to the same places and order the exact same things? Try mixing it up a little! Write down restaurants you've never been to on pieces of paper, and leave them in a bucket on your counter. Take turns picking out the restaurant. OR, if you're feeling really adventurous, make a pact to try new foods with your spouse… and ensure it by allowing them to order for you! And vice versa.

5. Conversation Cards - If you're having a hard time with conversation during your dinner in (or dinner out!), try adding some conversation cards to the mix. You can find these in bookstores and online, and they are so much fun. Plus, you really learn new things about your partner which you never knew before. For an added twist, try answering the questions as your partner would and see if you get it right!

6. Movie Out - This is a dating staple. Take your girl to dinner and a movie, am I right? Even this can be spruced up. Search out drive in theaters, or old theaters that offer discount showings. The town I grew up in has a great theatre, known as The Byrd. If you have nothing similar in your area, try other ideas. Let the attendant pick your movie, or pull titles out of a hat. Drive to the theatre and buy tickets for the next show playing, no matter what it is. Dare to be adventurous, you might be surprised!

7. Movie Alternatives - There are so many alternatives to a movie showing. Look for live performances of any kind, like plays and musicals. Try the ballet or opera. Seek out comedy clubs. Google is your best friend here, people! How surprised and pleased would your spouse be if you came home with tickets to a show?? The Hubs has done this for me, and I loved it!! We had a great time, and there was so much to talk about when the performance was over. If you're on a budget, check out your local high school theatre or small productions. Give it a shot, peeps.

8. Music - Instantly, I think of big concerts in a big stadium. And this would make a great date night! But you can also look for smaller shows in local venues (like concerts in the park), or try out karaoke together. This may be cheesy, and you might be shy, but it can be so much fun. Gather a group of your friends and dare each other to sing.

9. Spa Day - This date can become pricey if you let it get away from you. That's all well and good if you have the funding, of course. Schedule a half day at a local spa, or perhaps a couples massage. If you're looking for something easier on the budget, search Groupon or Living Social for good deals. Or simply get a pedicure together. Menfolk, if you haven't done this, you should! It's ah-maz-ing. To keep the costs even lower, schedule a spa day at home. Offer each other massages, paint your wife's nails, turn your bathroom into a steam room. It can be done, people.

10. Take a Class Together - This could literally be anything. Groupon often offers deals for cooking classes. Look into a class at the gym. Try out a course in photography. Learn a new language together. Maybe take a karate class? Oooohhh, try taking a Salsa or ballroom dancing class!

11. Marriage Seminars and Retreats - This is a great idea for anyone, but for us military spouses, it's invaluable. We spend so much time away from our partners, these seminars really help us build our communication skills again. You can usually find these through your chaplain's office or ACS. The Hubs and I have done several, including The Five Love Languages (which we loved!).

12. Get Outside - Take a hike, wander your local park, feed the ducks. Heck, go fishing! There are so many opportunities on a sunny, spring day. The Hubs and I use a great app called All Trails. You can search all trails by location, review, etc. There are even photos from people who've hiked the trails before. If you're interested in all things outdoors, check out my pal Abby and her blog, 1,000 Miles On My Own Two Feet. She's been some truly amazing places, it could give you some ideas! I especially love her post about spontaneity with your spouse.

Photograph by Abigail Austin Photography

13. Book It - Maybe I'm  bit of a nerd, but I love bookstore dates. Hightail it to your local Barnes and Noble (or other bookstore). Wander the stacks together, talk about your interests, pick up a few things. For example, grab a travel book of someplace you've always wanted to go together! Or pick up a funny joke book. Then wander to the coffee shop, share a brownie, enjoy a coffee, read and converse. Don't like reading? That's ok, too. Pick up magazines, puzzle books, or even comic books. Find a cool new game, then take it home and play.

14. Game Night - I know lots of couples who do this already (including me and the Hubs), but it deserves a mention here. I love game night! This can be cards, board games, video games, anything!  Hubs and I especially love playing the Wii together. I like the games that require us to work as a team. Conversely, I also like to compete with the Hubs for prizes. Example? If I win at Mario Kart, then the Hubs has to cook me dinner. And vice versa.

15. Dessert Date - Always eat dessert first, right? On a dessert date, you can actually do this. Find a local chocolate shop, and pick out $20 worth of candy you've never tasted. Take turns sampling each piece… and make sure you pick out some crazy ones! Never eaten chocolate covered cockroaches?? Well, today is that day. Other "dessert date" ideas could be a fondue night (eat out or make it at home), an ice cream/frozen yogurt date, or a dessert "hop" where you travel from restaurant to restaurant and test their mini-desserts together. Or cook your spouse's favorite at home!


16. Taste Tester - Oddly enough, my grandmother used to do this with me when I was a kid because I was such a picky eater. It's kind of weird to think that now, because I love all food! Maybe it's because of this game??? So, the idea here is to blindfold your partner and feed them various items from the fridge (not the gross stuff, people!). Try to pick some of their favorites, then toss a few new things into the mix. Keep score of what your spouse guesses right, then trade places. Whoever gets the most right wins a prize of your choice.

17. Sporty Date - This could be any number of things. Is your spouse's favorite team playing that night?  Set them up with snacks, drinks, and the TV as a fun surprise. Watch the game without complaint, participating even! Or, if that's not your thing, head to the park for some sports of your own. Play frisbee or tennis. Go to mini-golf. Still not your thing? Get tickets to a local sporting event and go together.

18.  Home Project Date - Turn work into play! We've all got things we want done around the house, am I right? For me, I'm desperate to get a move on my beachy bedroom makeover. Spend a weekend tackling home improvement projects together, but make it fun. Shop for yard flowers, or re-paint your walls. Make a no-stress deal, meaning that there will be no pressure to finish in a certain amount of time. Simply enjoy the little moments in life together.

19.  Project Selfie - Make your own "photo booth" at home! Dress up, or dress down. Pull out funny props. Take a zillion silly selfie pics. Or set up a tripod and take some nice family portraits. Stick with your style, and have a blast! OR, hire a pro photographer and get some great images to hang on your walls.

Having a good time with the Hubs! 

20. Tank of Gas - Where will a tank of gas get you? Find out! Turn off your GPS and just drive. Stop at anything that looks interesting. When you hit half a tank, turn around and head home.

21. Be a Tourist in Your Town - I find that most of us never explore our own home towns. Play tourist for a day! Hit up the museums, walking tours, and zoos. Find a local farmers market and pick up ingredients for dinner. Search online for "Things to Do In… (fill in your town's name)", then go do them.

22. Watch the Sunset/Sunrise - This is such a romantic thing to do with your spouse. You can do this right from your own backyard, with a glass of wine and a blanket to snuggle in. Or find a scenic location where you can take in the view together.

23. Water Fight - This only really works in warmer weather, but Hubs and I have been known to start a water battle in the house in mid-winter! You can also make this a snowball fight too. Sometimes it's fun to just be a kid for a while. Create your own battle strategy, and get to it.

24. Volunteer Together - It's great to give back as a couple. I think you'll be surprised at how much closer this can bring you to your spouse. Volunteer at a soup kitchen, or a nursing home. Maybe the animal shelter. Take some time to give back to your community, together. 

25. Star Gazing - The Hubs and I do this a lot when we visit family, since many of them live in the country away from city lights. Grab a blanket, spread it out, pour some wine, bring snacks, and watch the stars. If there are too many lights in your area, take a drive somewhere quiet to watch. Or find a star party nearby you can attend.

A night of stargazing 

So, what do you think of these ideas so far? I'll be back soon with another 25 ideas to keep your dates interesting! The great thing about most of these ideas is you can customize them to you and your spouse. Try combining ideas to create something even more unique. Why not have a picnic amidst your day of geocaching? Watch a sporty movie, then head out to play that sport. Anything is possible, you only need to give it a go. And if the date turns into a disaster?

Well, that does happen sometimes. It's happened to me, and I'm sure everyone else you know too. But that's ok! At least you know what not to do next time, am I right? Don't let fear of the unknown intimidate you, my friends. Put yourself out there with your spouse. I think you'll be surprised with the amazing response you'll get.

Do you have any suggestions to add to this list? Comment below peeps, and you could get featured in the next post!

Until then, happy dating!

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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April 13, 2014

An American in London, Part 2

The next morning dawned bright and early, but we were ready to go (if you need to catch up on this London trip, read Part 1 and Part 1.5, kay?). We scheduled a free walking tour for the early afternoon, so the ladies and I decided to start our morning with breakfast and a trip through King's Cross Station. Ahhhhhhh, Harry Potter!!!!

Yes, I am slightly obsessed. Yes, I made them go with me. No, I did not take the studio tour on this particular trip, but I totally plan to go back for it. Yes, I am a nerd. I'm ok with that.

Left 2 photos: Kings Cross Station, with Harry Potter memorabilia
Center 2 photos: Platform 9 ¾ shop
Right 2 photos: The underground stop, King's Cross St.Pancras

Well, for those of you who want to visit Platform 9 ¾, lemme give you a tip. The underground stop called "King's Cross St. Pancras" is not the place you wanna be. In the pic above, you can see that station on the right, and then the station you actually want to be at is on the left. Both are called King's Cross, but one is the underground and the other is a regular train station.

Luckily, they are right next to each other! So we took the underground, then walked outside to the right one. And then we took our picture in front of the Platform 9 ¾ shop, whoohoo!

Yep, nerd status achieved.


From there, we decided to find where our walking tour would meet and have breakfast. Of course, we left plenty of time for shenanigans along the way…

Phone booth shenanigans 

We managed to find a great little restaurant near Covent Garden called Maxwell's. The food was great, and so was the coffee. That's all I really need in a restaurant! Plus the interior was super cute, bonus. I highly recommend.

If you someday decide to take the Sandeman's Free Walking Tour of London, this restaurant is within a block or so of the meet up point. Perfect spot to eat and not feel rushed. We really enjoyed the tour, it was a great way to see much of the city and work off the Eggs Benedict I ate for breakfast.

Our guide was hilarious, with lots of anecdotes and stories to share. He was also knowledgable enough to answer all the questions thrown his way. Please remember, the guides on free tours work for tips only, so don't be a stooge, TIP YOUR GUIDE!

Here are just some of the sights we saw, and learned about:

We also managed to sneak in one picture together, after offering to take a picture for someone else. This is key, people. If you want someone to snap your pic, take theirs first. Also, be careful handing your camera, cell phone, etc. over to anyone. You wouldn't want them to simply run away with it. Ask for pics at your own risk…

Hanging out in front of Big Ben, or as Boo-Dah-Washy
would say "That Thing"! 

Our group split up a little after the tour, as we all had friends in London we were trying to meet up with. Sadly, without internet and calling on my phone in a foreign country, I never quite caught up with mine! Instead, Boo-Dah-Washy and I wandered London for the remainder of the day.

I'll be back soon to tell you all about the rest of it… Until then, happy travelling!

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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April 9, 2014

Spring Craft Fair

If you've been following the blog for a while, you must know by now that I love taking pictures, and I love to travel. I've always been a fairly creative person. Photography was an extension of this creativity as the Hubs and I PCS from place to place. I can capture our memories in a cool and interesting way (I hope!).

A few years ago, I really started applying myself to this hobby. I took photography classes, I upgraded my camera equipment, and I invested in computer software. Slowly but surely, I became more confident in my work. The hope that I would someday sell these pieces was faint, but it was there. 

And now I've done it!! 

Last week was Vilseck's spring craft show. My pals Becky, Courtney (from FreedomBirds Jewelry), and I attended, and I sold my first pieces of work, like ever

Yep, I'm pretty excited. 

These craft fairs are a great opportunity to put yourself out there. Especially being overseas, many of the spouses here in Germany are unable to find work. This outlet provides not only something to do with the extra time, but also the chance to maybe bring in some extra moolah. 

I firmly believe spouses should support each other, so get out there and shop next time you see a fair. Here's a look at some of the other vendors: 

I'll be featuring a few of the crafters (and their online shops, where applicable) over the next few weeks, so keep an eye out for it! 

The fair also offered door prizes, both for guests and vendors. You could purchase tickets at a reasonable rate at the door. So of course, I did. And I won! 

At least a dozen baskets were given away, but I was so excited to win one that contained a piece of jewelry from one of my favorite artists, FreedomBirds Jewelry

I didn't quite earn back the money I spent to get my work to the fair, but I enjoyed the show a lot. In fact, I'll be going again this fall. And I'm inspired enough to start researching how to run an Etsy shop. I think that possibility could be in my future. 

If you're curious, here is a sample of the work I showed (these are re-sized for the web): 

I'll be back soon, with some featured crafters you may want to check out. Until then peeps, happy crafting! 

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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April 8, 2014

Lemon Basil Pasta

Often I post pictures of food to both my personal Facebook page and the blog page (you can follow ArmyLife here). I absolutely LOVE when I get requests for the recipe before I even have a chance to share it on the blog. Since this happened yesterday (and I was tickled pink!), I'm featuring my Lemon Basil Pasta a few days ahead of schedule.

That's cool with you, right? I thought so! 

Several weeks ago, I visited Venice with my pal Becky (more coming on that over the next few weeks). Whilst there, I purchased a few bags of pasta to bring home and try out with the Hubs. Honestly, the food in Italy was some of the best I've ever eaten. I'm a huge pasta fan. As in, if I was stuck on a deserted island and could only eat one type of food for the rest of my life… it would probably be spaghetti. Or lasagna. Or lemon basil pasta!

Pasta from Venice

I used this basil pappardelle (pictured above), but you can use any kind of pasta from your pantry, seriously. I've eaten this dish with penne, spaghetti, angel hair, fettuccine… they are all good.

Here's what you need to get started:

Utilizing fresh ingredients for this recipe is super important. DO NOT substitute, ok? You'll totally regret it. Also, be sure you purchase a high quality parmesan cheese, none of this weird crap in a plastic can.

We cool? Ok.

If you want to be extra bad, add some thick-cut bacon to this recipe. I mean, after all the cream and cheese, what can a little bacon hurt anyway? I use an amazing bacon I find at our local German grocery, but you can use the center, thick-cut style if you're in the States.

Chop about 6 slices (2 slices if you're using the German kind) into 1" pieces, like so:

Cook the bacon in a skillet over medium heat until done, then drain and set aside for later.

Add your pasta (1 box of your choice, between 13 - 16 ounces) to a pot of boiling, salted water. Cook until al dente. Reserve a small amount (about ½ cup) of the pasta water before you drain it. I usually forget this step, but I almost never need the pasta water because I like extra lemon juice. But if you'd like things a bit more subtle than me, save the water.

Drain your pasta, toss in a little olive oil to prevent sticking, and set aside for later.

Since I like using as few dishes as possible to cook, I add 4 tablespoons of butter to the same pot I cooked my pasta in. Melt the butter over medium heat, then add 3 minced garlic cloves to the pot. This will smell fantastic after 3-4 minutes, at which point you'll add ½ cup - ⅔ cup lemon juice. The amount of lemon juice is up to you. I personally use ⅔ cup, because I obsess over lemon. I suggest trying it with the ½ cup on your first time, then adding more if you want it. But ½ cup is usually enough for most people.

Whisk to combine, then stir in 1 cup of half-n-half. Confession time: I sometimes use a whole cup of heavy cream. Don't judge me! 

Continue whisking until your cream is warm, then stir in 2 cups of grated parmesan cheese. Use the good stuff, ok peeps? Grate it yourself! Please don't use the fake powder junk here. The taste is 100% not the same, I promise.

Trust me.

Keep whisking until the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth, about 4-5 minutes. Add some salt and pepper to taste. I also add a bit of lemon zest, about a teaspoon. Tip: If you're using bacon add a bit less salt to the dish, since the bacon will add this element for you.

Top left: Step 1, melting butter
Top right: Step 2, adding garlic
Bottom left: Step 3, lemon juice addition
Bottom center: Step 4, half-n-half addition
Bottom right: Step 5, cheese addition 

If your sauce appears too thick after the cheese is melted, this is the point you can add some of the reserved pasta water. Add only a little bit at a time, whisking after each addition, unit the sauce is the consistency you desire. I have never found this to be necessary, but it's nice to have the option.

To your sauce, stir in about ¾ of the basil you cut chiffonade style during your prep (about 30 fresh leaves). Save the rest of the basil to garnish your final dish.

Chiffonade basil 

Also add the cooked bacon at this point, if you're using it. Then it's just a matter of adding your pasta to the pot, tossing it in all the lemon goodness,  and serving it up! Add a sprinkle of parmesan cheese and a little extra basil for garnish too.

Mmmmmmmmmmm……. so good! I'm a huge lemon fan, so this is one of my favorite dishes ever. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. As always, the standard recipe is below.

Until next time, happy cooking, my friends!

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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The Standard Form:

Lemon Basil Pasta


1 lb. pasta of your choice
4 tablespoons butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ - ⅔  cup lemon juice (3-4 large lemons)
1 cup half-n-half or heavy cream
2 cups fresh grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
6 slices thick cut bacon (optional)
1 teaspoon lemon zest (optional)
30 basil leaves, chiffonade


Slice the bacon into 1” pieces, and cook in pan until done. Drain and set aside.

Cook the pasta al dente, and reserve ½ cup of the hot pasta water. Drain the pasta. Add a bit of olive oil to prevent sticking, and toss. Set pasta aside.

In the same pot you cooked the pasta in, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and cook 3-4 minutes, until the garlic is fragrant. Stir in the lemon juice and whisk to combine. Add the half-n-half to the pot. Whisk until hot, then add in the parmesan cheese. Continue whisking until the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste, and the lemon zest if desired.

Check the consistency of the sauce. If too thick, add some of the reserved pasta water to loosen. Stir in nearly all of the basil, reserving some for garnish. Stir in the bacon, if using. Add the pasta to the pot and toss to coat with the sauce.

Serve in a heated bowl, garnished with extra basil and parmesan cheese.

April 3, 2014

14 Tips for Unpacking Your OCONUS HHG

You've anticipated this moment since the day your household goods drove away, boxed and crated. And the day is finally here! Your moving truck has arrived, you can finally check in those boxes and start unpacking…

So, so overwhelming, isn't it?

Rule #1 - Don't panic! This is the only rule, because it's the only one that matters. We've all been there, and trust me, every last box will get unpacked eventually.

Ok, maybe not all of them. I know we have boxes from 2 moves ago that have likely never been unpacked. But, most of your boxes will get unpacked. All of the important ones, anyway. If you're a little OCD like me (hey, all the best people are!), then the crammed hallways and endless amounts of packing paper are driving you crazy. Here are just a few tips of what to expect, how to prepare, and how to deal with the mess of confusion:

1. Make arrangements for your kids and pets prior to moving day.

   Kids and pets underfoot can distract you from the process at hand, especially if you're dealing with everything yourself. Sign up to drop your kids at daycare, or with a neighbor, if possible. Do the same with any pets who can't be kenneled. This will make your life much easier throughout the day, and leave everyone less stressed.

2. If your spouse can't be there to help, enlist a friend.

    You really need two sets of hands and eyes while checking in your boxes. One person to stand at the truck and check off boxes, and another to direct the movers where to put everything. Often, our spouses can't be there on moving day. If that's the case, ask a new friend (perhaps your sponsor or their spouse) to be there with you. Heck, bribe them! Also, provide their lunch/dinner that day and send a small token of thanks later that week. Always remember how grateful you were for the help yourself, and pay it forward in the future.

3. Plan to have frozen pizza (or something similar) for dinner.

    Trust me, it's so much easier to plan a quick meal instead of struggling to find something edible at the end of the day, especially after hours of unpacking and dealing with your movers. Plan your meals for the day in advance, and make them simple. Sandwiches, pizza, eating out… these are all good options.

4. Keep several common items on hand for moving/unpacking day:

   a). Moving clothes - i.e. sweat pants, yoga pants, old t-shirts, sneakers. Be comfortable while you work!
   b). Snacks and drinks for movers (and yourself) 
   c). Entertainment for kids/pets, if not at daycare
   d). Cleaning supplies - Dishwasher soap and rinsing agent, laundry detergent and dryer sheets, Windex, paper towels, sponges, all purpose cleaner. If you've packed your basic supplies like mops, brooms, etc., then set that box aside as it comes off the truck. You're going to need it! 
   e). Tools to build furniture
   f). Scissors
   g). Box cutter (for opening boxes, duh!)
   h). Paper and pen (both for list making and notating damaged items)
   i). Small camera (for photos of damaged items)

5. Know your movers WILL unpack everything if expressly asked to do so. 

    The "asking" part is the trick. Also, you should have checked the box in your pre-move survey that states you would like the movers to unpack. Most movers will bring in your items and want to hightail it out of there as soon as possible. It's up to you how much or how little you would prefer them to unpack. I personally want them to place my stuff in the correct rooms, but leave the boxes for me. However, you can let them unpack everything, and technically they should place items where you want. BUT, if you choose this option, know this: Your movers are not your personal decorating fairies. They will only place items once, so you better be dang for sure where you want it. They're not going to move your couch 6 times while you change your mind. This is why I choose to get it all in the proper room and then deal with the rest myself. It can add a lot of stress to both you and your movers if you choose to go this route. 

6. All packing materials WILL be picked back up by your movers if you call and schedule an appointment. 

     This is a huge benefit if you choose to unpack yourself. Especially if your movers on the packing end were meticulous (mine were!), you will have a ton of paper, boxes, and wrappings. Again, if you're a teeny bit OCD like me, you'll want to keep some of the empty boxes and packing paper. This is a great resource when I'm mailing gifts home to family, or for packing some items before the next PCS move. If you choose, you can drag the remainder to a recycling center on your own. I did it half and half… I took some to recycling myself, and I stored some in my garage for a later date pickup. 

7. Call to schedule a return of your loaner furniture. 

     Exactly when you want this furniture picked up is at your discretion. You may choose to keep some of the furniture until the end of your stay. For example, we chose to keep a table and 2 armchairs. Keep in mind that pickup will not likely be immediate, so expect to wait about a week. What does this mean? If you want the furniture gone right away, you should plan to call a week or so before your household goods arrive. Please don't schedule your pickup on the same day your movers are coming. For the Hubs and I, we enjoy having the loaner beds for a bit longer. This means there is no pressure to build our beds, etc. right away. I like doing things at my own pace, and you never know what may come up while you're trying to unpack (for example, we had a Halloween interruption and some upcoming field time for the Hubs).

8. Plan on washing all your linens, sheets, and clothing items. 

     If you've got a lot of towels or sheets or clothing, this one can be especially time-consuming. Because the items have all been at sea (literally) for weeks on end, I find that these smell a bit musty and oceany (is that even a word?). You could, of course, put all these things away as is, but I have a feeling you might regret it. Start a load right away, and keep them going as you finish unpacking. It will  be done in no time, I promise.  As an extra tip, I suggest washing any dirty clothing you have lying around before your movers arrive. This way, you don't have any every day chores to deal with for at least a few days while you're unpacking. 

9. Also plan on washing all your dishes, glasses, and gadgets.

     You would think these items wouldn't need cleaning if they were clean before being packed, but somehow they do. Dust settles during the long journey to your location. Also, any items with some residual grease (for example, George Forman grills or pots and pans, cookie sheets) can cause that stickiness to spread to whatever else is in the box. I'm not saying you didn't clean them, I promise! It's just that some cooking instruments tend to hold oil which you wouldn't notice unless it's been sitting a while. Or, if you had cooking supplies that were rarely used, they might have collected dust prior to packing as well. Plan to use disposable plates for the first week after you receive your HHG. This relieves the pressure to unpack quickly. Plus you don't have to waste time washing dishes, you can keep unpacking instead. An extra tip: Run your dishwasher empty at least once before adding your dishes. This way you know it is clean, and it gives the pipes a chance to clear out after their disuse. 

10. Pick ONE room and unpack everything in it first.

    I usually pick the living room, because this is where the Hubs and I relax after he returns from work. If you have kids, having your TV and game systems hooked up also helps keep them out from under your feet while you keep unpacking. You wouldn't believe how much stress will be relieved if you have one, fully completed room to settle in for a while. Perhaps it is a psychological thing, but who am I to argue? You'll feel much more settled if you have that little piece of quiet and organization amongst the chaos. After the living room, I always unpack my kitchen next, as this is where I spend a lot of my time. A place finally feels like home when I am able to cook in my own space and stop eating takeout or frozen pizza. 

11. Place all your pictures, shelves, and wall hangings in a separate area until you are done unpacking.

    Why, you wonder? Because if you're anything like me, you might hang a picture in the living room, then finish unpacking and realize you'd rather have it in your bedroom. Enter the annoying hole in the wall that nothing else seems to properly fit. Of course, if you're not as OCD as me (translate: anal), then this may not matter too much. I know the Hubs appreciates my waiting, because then he only need to hang things once. Furniture now, that's an entirely different story. I'll probably move that 12 times before I'm satisfied.

12. Plug in and turn on all electronics, appliances, etc. 
     Make sure all these items are in proper working order before filing your claim. Basically, plug in and test anything that has a plug. Hopefully you've kept your receipts for all expensive items, and taken a dated photo of the item in working condition prior to the move. 

13. Keep a list of all damaged items, take photos, and THROW AWAY NOTHING.

    Why do I say throw away nothing? Because you never know what will be required for your damage claims, and it is always better to be safe than sorry. Also, turn in your claim in a timely manner, peeps! You don't want to be that person who didn't get reimbursed because they waited too long. 

14. Block off at least one week of time to deal with the unpacking process. 

      You will feel better and more settled once your house is in order. This week (or more) should include all your unpacking, furniture arrangement, washing of dishes and laundry, hanging of pictures, cleaning, and the filing of your claims form.  Honestly, I've lived in Germany for 6 months now… and I am soooooo not unpacked. Don't be like me! I quickly became distracted by traveling and shopping, and all sorts of new and exciting things. But now I wish I had done all my unpacking at once. One week of quiet time, completely devoted to the unpacking process, would have been perfect.

Of course, I lived without all my things for weeks (heck, months!) on end. What did I learn? I really don't need as much stuff as I think I do. A little more time on either end doesn't make or break me. So don't let the unpacking stress you out, peeps! If you feel like melting down, I will happily send you a pictures of my as-yet-unpacked office, and I'm sure you'll instantly feel better about yourself.

I'm working on several more posts about moving, including a guide to PCS survival cooking. If you have suggestions on what you'd like to hear or tips you want to share, please feel free to email me or comment below. I'll be back soon!

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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