Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Adios, 2013!

Tomorrow marks the beginning of a new year and I'm so looking forward to a fresh start! Many things about 2013 have been wonderful, but I've experienced many personal challenges as well. I am excited at the changes 2014 will bring for me! The following survey I've been filling out on New Years' Eve since 2004, which makes this the tenth year in a row! Read on for a little recap of my year and compare it to what 16 year old Hannah had to say all those years ago (noted in green italics on some of the questions).

1. What did you do in 2013 that you'd never done before? I made salsa for the first time. I know that's not exciting, but I couldn't think of anything else to say...

2. Did you keep your new years' resolutions and will you make more for next year? I'm not a big fan of the word "resolution," so I never make any. But I am planning to set some goals to work towards in 2014.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth? My oldest friend Brittani gave birth to a little girl this year! I can't wait to meet her.

4. Did anyone close to you die? My Grandpa Leinbach passed away in October.

5. What countries did you visit? Brandon and I took a cruise to the Bahamas in May. (England, Italy, France, and Spain) <-- Dang! It took me 9 years to leave the country again.

6. What would you like to have in 2014 that you lacked in 2013? I want to have my own professional website.

7. What date(s) from 2013 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? We took Schmidt home on January 27th, Brandon and I celebrated our first anniversary on May 9th by getting the keys to our new rental home and dining at Milner's, I felt a wave of relief wash over me on May 11th, the day we left for a weeklong vacation, and after many long months I received a new job offer on December 3rd (also my Dad's birthday!).

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year? Learning how to be an effective manager.

9. What was your biggest failure? I am still working on my thesis so I can officially finish graduate school.

10. Did you suffer any illness or injury? Nothing, thankfully!

11. What was the best thing you bought? SCHMIDT!

12. Whose behavior merited celebration? Mine, sometimes (My own) <-- I'm so smug!

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed? Mine, sometimes

14. Where did most of your money go? Rent. It's evil.

15. What did you get really, really, really, excited about? I was excited about our cruise before the year even started. That was a big one! I was also absurdly excited about: The Great Gatsby coming out, going to the beach with my family, Schmidt's first birthday, and my new job.

16. What song will always remind you of 2013? Well, here's 20 of them! The #1 would probably be Ten Thousand Hours by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. I listened to it on repeat on my drive to and from work for days on end. Just that one song! I'm pretty sure it's what's on in my car right now.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
i. Happier or sadder? I'm not sure, to tell the absolute truth. (Happier)
ii. Thinner or fatter? Fatter! (Thinner)
iii. Richer or poorer? Poorer! (Richer)

18. What do you wish you'd done more of? Working on my thesis for grad school (same answer as last year).

19. What do you wish you'd done less of? Complaining.

20. How did you spend Christmas? Brandon and I spent Christmas Eve and Christmas morning alone, at home. That's something totally new to me! We had Christmas lunch with my family and Christmas dinner with his.

21. Did you fall in love in 2013? I hope so, otherwise my husband is gonna be mad at me!

22. What was your favorite tv program? I spent way too much time watching tv this year. My absolute favorite new shows are Scandal and The Walking Dead. I hadn't seen either one before this year! But I also watched the entire series of Gossip Girl and all of Parks & Recreation this year as well. Both are amazing. Oh and I went through the first two seasons of American Horror Story and watched an absurd amount of Duck Dynasty. I'm currently watching Pretty Little Liars on Netflix and it's great, too! Watching too much tv is 100% my worst habit! (The OC/One Tree Hill)

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year? I try really, really hard not to hate anybody but there's one person who made the majority of my year absolutely miserable and I'm not her biggest fan.

24. What was your greatest musical discovery? Macklemore. Duh. (The Beach Boys)

25. What did you want and get? A puppy, a DSLR camera, to become a 'regular' at our local Melting Pot, a new job, and to visit the Biltmore House at Christmas.

26. What did you want and not get? To go to Disney World and a blog design that I am totally in love with. (A tattoo) <-- Don't worry, little Hannah! You got one in 2006.

27. What was your favorite film of the year? The Great Gatsby. It was everything I hoped it would be. (The Notebook)

28. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you? I turned 25 on June 10th. The day before, my two best friends came to Greensboro and we had brunch together before having cheesecake at my house. On my actual birthday I had to work, but my co-workers made the day so special by decorating my office with flamingos and Hawaiian leis and buying me a delicious Maxie B's birthday cake. Brandon and I went to dinner at Green Valley Grill that night.

29. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? I would have felt happier and less depressed if I'd had a different job for most of the year. But I wouldn't have learned as much or made such close friends! Things ultimately worked out like they should have. (My own car)

30. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2013? I wanted to buy all the fancy things I couldn't afford. Every day. All the time. (Lacking)

31. What kept you sane? Laura Brewer. Every day. All the time. Also: my other friends/co-workers and my dog.

32. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most? You should know who he is before you even click this link.

33. Who did you miss? Old friends.

34. Who was the best new person you met? Does Schmidt count? Okay, if he doesn't count then my answer is Melissa and Kaitlyn. They became my co-workers this year and are now my friends.

35. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2013: I learned to never stop doing my best just because someone doesn't give me credit.

36. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year: "Settle down, it'll all be clear // The trouble it might drag you down // If you get lost, you can always be found // Just know you're not alone // Cause I'm gonna make this place your home." (Homeward Bound/Home, Glee Cast - original lyrics from Phillip Phillips)

So there you have it: my 2013 in a nutshell. I'll finish up work today, attempt to stay awake with Brandon until our 10 pm dinner reservation at the Melting Pot, ring in the new year with fondue (really, is there any better way?), and wake up tomorrow to a beautiful day full of opportunity. Cheers!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Top 20 of 2013

One of my favorite traditions each year is recapping my top 20 favorite songs. Just like everyone else I know, I claim that music is a big part of my life. Each song on this list has a special significance: people, places, memories associated with it. So it's not only a recap of songs, but a true recap of my entire year as well.

The songs are in order as the year progressed and the ones marked with a * are my top 5 favorites.

1. WHISKEY Jana Kramer
2. CLOSER Tegan and Sara
4. I WON'T GIVE UP Jason Mraz
7. WE CAN'T STOP Miley Cyrus
9. SWEET AVENUE Jets to Brazil
*10. MAE The Gaslight Anthem
*11. SAME LOVE Macklemore & Ryan Lewis ft. Mary Lambert
12. GOOD TO YOU The Avett Brothers
13. I CAN FEEL A HOT ONE Manchester Orchestra
*14. NEW YORK CITY Among Savages
15. LOVE IS A FIRE Courrier
*16. TEN THOUSAND HOURS Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
17. SHAKE IT OUT Florence + The Machine
18. THE LIGHT The Album Leaf

I think we all know that my favorite album this year by far was Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' The Heist. It was so difficult to narrow down only 2 songs of theirs to put on this list because I basically listened to absolutely nothing else from September to December. These guys were also one of the two (only two?!!) concerts I attended this year. The other was Jimmy Eat World. I hope in 2014 to see many more!

You can also view my 2011 and 2012 lists. What songs were your favorites in 2013?

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

I Celebrate the Day

that You were born to die
So I could one day
pray for You to save my life."

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

12 Days of Christmas Dips: Turtle Cheesecake Dip

We've finally arrived at the last day of my Christmas dips series. I feel like it flew by! It was way less stress than last year because I planned in advance. I'm already thinking about my series for next year! Christmas drinks, perhaps?

I decided to end the series on a sweet note: with a dessert dip! It's very rich, but that's not really a problem in my book. :)

1/4 c butter, softened
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 c caramel ice cream topping
1.5 T brown sugar
1/3 c powdered sugar
1/2 t vanilla extract
1 small pkg instant vanilla pudding mix
1/2 c chocolate chips
1/2 c chopped pecans

Cream together butter and cream cheese with a hand mixer. Add in caramel. Add brown sugar and powdered sugar and continue mixing. Add vanilla and pudding mix and continue to mix. Fold in chocolate chips and pecans with a spoon. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving. Drizzle with additional caramel and chopped pecans.

Best dippers: vanilla wafers, pretzels, graham crackers, chocolate graham crackers

Monday, December 23, 2013

12 Days of Christmas Dips: Spinach Artichoke Dip

To be honest, this dip started out as almost an after thought. I made 10 of my 12 dips very far in advance and was trying to decide a few days ago what my final two could be. A spinach artichoke dip seemed pretty standard and easy.

I've made spinach artichoke dips before but none of them were as completely amazing as this one! Brandon says it's definitely his 'new' favorite of the bunch. I hypothesize it has something to do with the massive amounts of dairy in the recipe. See for yourself! Also- don't be afraid of the diced jalapeños. They add heat, but not too much!

8 oz cream cheese
16 oz sour cream
1 stick (8 T) unsalted butter
1.5-2 c shredded parmesan cheese
14 oz quartered artichoke hearts, drained & coarsely chopped
4 oz can diced jalapeños, drained
10 oz frozen spinach, thawed & drained
3 t minced garlic

Combine cream cheese, sour cream butter and parmesan in a pot over medium heat. Allow to melt, stirring until smooth. Stir in artichoke hearts, jalapeños, spinach and garlic. Serve warm.

Best dippers: tortilla chips, toasted baguette pieces

Sunday, December 22, 2013

12 Days of Christmas Dips: Colby-Pepper Jack Dip

This dip is warm, cheesy, and full of chicken. I served mine with tortilla chips, but the original recipe suggested sweet potato chips. I think that would be a unique twist!

I think this would be a great dip to serve for a guys' night (or maybe the upcoming Super Bowl?) because it's hearty and smokey. Brandon was definitely a fan!

8 oz cream cheese, softened
2/3 c sour cream
1/3 c mayo
2 t chili powder
2 c chopped, cooked chicken
2 c shredded colby jack cheese blend
4 oz can chopped green chiles
4 green onions, chopped
2 jalapeño peppers, seeded & minced
1/4 c chopped fresh cilantro

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using a hand mixer, combine first 4 ingredients. Stir in chicken and remaining ingredients until well blended. Pour into a greased dish and bake for 30 minutes until bubbly.

Best dippers: tortilla chips, sweet potato chips

Saturday, December 21, 2013

12 Days of Christmas Dips: Hot Corn Dip II

The second dip I shared in this series was a hot corn dip and I promised a second one to come. Here it is! This recipe came from Carolina Charm. I love that it's so colorful with the garnishes on top!

I think this is definitely one of Brandon's favorite recipes from my series. He's gotten to taste them all, of course. ;) I'm going to be making this for a tacky Christmas sweater party we're attending tomorrow and I hope the crowd likes it as much as we do!

8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 can white corn, drained
1 can Rotel, drained
1-1.5 c shredded Mexican cheese blend
diced tomatoes
sliced green onions

Over medium heat, mix together cream cheese, corn, and Rotel until smooth. Pour into a greased baking dish and top with shredded cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until bubbly. Top with tomatoes and green onions.

Best dippers: tortilla chips

Friday, December 20, 2013

12 Days of Christmas Dips: Butterfinger Dip

What's your favorite candy bar? I don't have a huge sweet tooth, but I'm a pretty big fan of Milky Way Midnights (it's so difficult to find these!) and Butterfingers. This simple Butterfinger dip recipe is absolutely delicious- and it only has 3 ingredients!

Here's a special tip from me to you: Don't attempt to substitute regular marshmallows for marshmallow cream because you accidentally didn't buy a large enough jar. It will make your dip lumpy and very difficult to actually dip into. Not that it happened to me, or anything...

12 fun size Butterfingers
8 oz cream cheese, softened
10 oz marshmallow cream

Mix cream cheese and marshmallow cream together in a bowl. Chop 10 Butterfingers into chunky pieces and pour into bowl. Combine. Transfer to serving dish. Chop remaining 2 Butterfingers and sprinkle on top of dish. 

Best dippers: graham crackers, apple slices

Thursday, December 19, 2013

12 Days of Christmas Dips: Mississippi Sin Dip

I pinned this recipe on Pinterest over two years ago and recently worked my way through my "appetizers + dips" board to test some older recipes. I'm so glad I did! This is my favorite recipe from the 12 Days of Christmas Dips series... so far ;)

I think this is my favorite primarily because it's mostly cheese. I'm kind of a big fan of cheese. It's also cool to make a dip inside of a loaf of bread, but it's not really essential to the outcome. So the bread... take it or leave it. It's up to you!

16 oz sour cream
8 oz cream cheese, softened
2 c shredded cheddar
1/2 c cubed ham
1 green onion, chopped
1/4 t hot sauce
1 t worcestershire sauce
salt & pepper
16 oz loaf French bread

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except the bread with a hand mixer until smooth. Cut the top off the loaf of bread and hollow out the insides, leaving 1/2 inch walls. Pour dip into bread loaf. Wrap loaf in tin foil and place on a baking sheet. Bake dip one hour and serve hot.

Best dippers: tortilla chips, bread cubes

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

12 Days of Christmas Dips: Cranberry Cream Cheese Dip

Brandon has said (multiple times) that all he needs for it to feel like Thanksgiving is cranberry from a can. Um, yuck. This year, to satisfy his love of cranberries, I decided to try this unique recipe I found on Pinterest... and I bought a can for back up but didn't even need it!

Since Thanksgiving is over, the red & green color of this dip can work for Christmas parties as well!

12 oz pkg fresh cranberries
1/4 c green onions, chopped
1/4 c cilantro, chopped
1 jalapeño pepper 
1 1/4 c sugar
1/4 t cumin
2 T lemon juice
16 oz cream cheese, softened
dash of salt

Pour cranberries in a food processor and run until they're finely chopped. Remove the seeds from your jalapeño pepper and cut into small pieces. Combine everything except the cream cheese in a mixing bowl and refrigerate for at least 4 hours to give the flavors time to set. Spread cream cheese in a glass serving dish. Strain some juices from the cranberry mix, then spread over cream cheese. Enjoy!

Best dippers: Wheat Thins

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

12 Days of Christmas Dips: Pumpkin Dip

This recipe is a Pinterest all star and comes from Carolina Charm. The ingredients are inexpensive and the recipe makes a lot! Pumpkin is certainly a fall trend, but - as with all dips - I'm pretty sure I could eat it all year round.

Brandon and I ate this dip for over a week so I can testify that it can last for quite a while when refrigerated! If you make it, let me know what you think! I'm usually more a fan of savory dips, but I wanted to throw a few sweet ones in the series, too! :)

15 oz can pumpkin
5 oz. box instant vanilla pudding mix
16 oz. container cool whip (thawed)
1/2 T pumpkin pie spice
1/2 T cinnamon

Mix all ingredients except cinnamon together and place in a serving bowl. Allow to chill in the refrigerator. Sprinkle with cinnamon before serving.

Best dippers: vanilla wafers, graham crackers, apple slices

Monday, December 16, 2013

12 Days of Christmas Dips: Charred Corn & Tomato Salsa

Every dip I've shared so far has had a whole lot of cheese! I thought for dip #4 I'd switch it up a bit and share something fresh and healthy.

I love trying different kinds of salsa, but I'm not sure why it took me this long to try making my own. It's something I think I'll do much more often in the future. There are so many recipe possibilities! 

3 medium tomatoes
1 large ear of corn
1/2 white onion, cut into wedges
1 jalapeño pepper
2 T chopped fresh cilantro
2 t white vinegar
1/2 t each salt & pepper

Heat broiler to high. Place tomatoes, corn, onion and jalapeño on a rimmed baking sheet and place in oven. Turn occasionally until charred, 10-15 minutes. Let cool. Cut the corn kernels off the cob and roughly chop the tomatoes and onion. Remove seeds from jalapeño and chop into small pieces. Stir all ingredients in a bowl and refrigerate until serving.

Best dippers: tortilla chips

Southern Weddings Gingerbread Barn Competition

Week before last, I traveled to Chapel Hill to participate in the third annual Southern Weddings Gingerbread Barn Competition. It was a free event and sounded like something fun to do on a weeknight, so I readily agreed when my friend and co-worker Melissa invited me. I had heard the name Southern Weddings before, but wasn't familiar with just how incredible the publication (and the team of ladies running it) is! I had the best time building a gingerbread house barn with my friends.

The event was held at the Carolina Inn and it was absolutely gorgeous. I seriously debated taking a photo of the restroom because it was the prettiest one I've ever been in. I really hope that Brandon and I can spend a night here sometime this year.

The room reserved for gingerbread barn making was full of tables, stocked with supplies for each group to use. We had graham crackers, icing, and tons of candies and animal crackers to use to build and decorate our barns.

Before we started building, we discussed a strategy for what we thought would surely be the best barn of all. Here are it's humble beginnings:

Please note the pretzel rod holding up the side of the barn.

I came up with the idea that it should have a path for the animals leaving the barn to walk on, and then we decided to coat the area around the path with crumbled graham cracker.

By the time we added animals and trees, our little barn was really coming together!

When the judges came around I described our barn as "rustic," because it was brown (who knew that almost everyone else would put colored icing on their barn?) and about to fall over. Hah.

The "SW" stands for Southern Weddings.

Check out some of the competition:

The story for this last one is that it was struck by a tornado/hurricane. I love how the animals are standing on top of the barn for safety. So clever! We didn't grab photos of the first, second, and third place winners, but if you search the hashtag #swbarns on Instagram you can see many of the other barns and I found the winner here.

At the end of the night we didn't take home any accolades, but we had a great time together. I am looking forward to building a gingerbread barn again next year. We're going to have to start scheming in July!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

12 Days of Christmas Dips: Hot Tomato, Jack, & Crab Dip

This is one of the most unique dips I'm sharing and one of my favorites, too! Because it has crab in it, I think it's the perfect appetizer for a seafood dinner.

You can use real crab meat for this dip, but I found that imitation crab meat worked just as well. Bonus: it's a whole lot cheaper!

8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
4 oz. pepper jack cheese, grated
1/2 c mayo
2 limes, juiced
1 T hot sauce
1 lb. imitation crab meat
1 c diced tomatoes
1/4 c chopped green onions
1/4 c chopped fresh basil leaves
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 t salt
1/2 t pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a dish. In a large bowl, beat together cream cheese, pepper jack, mayo, lime juice, and hot sauce until smooth. Fold in remaining ingredients. (If crab meat is lumpy, break down into smaller pieces.)  Bake for 30 minutes or until bubble.

Best dippers: crusty bread, water crackers

Saturday, December 14, 2013

12 Days of Christmas Dips: Hot Corn Dip I

Here we go with dip #2 from my series! This is the first of two hot corn dips I'm going to be sharing during 12 Days of Christmas Dips. You should make them both and I'll let you be the judge of which one is better! ;) This recipe came from the Food Network.

This version has a distinct, unique flavor that Brandon and I couldn't quite place. I think it comes from the green chiles!

2 11 oz cans Mexican corn, drained
1 7 oz can chopped green chiles, drained
2 c monterey jack cheese
2/3 c grated parmesan cheese
1 c mayonnaise

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a glass baking dish. In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients. Spread in greased dish and place in oven. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until bubbly around the edges. Serve warm.

Best dippers: tortilla chips

Friday, December 13, 2013

12 Days of Christmas Dips: Easy Mexican Dip

I had a lot of fun last year with my 12 Days of Christmas Cookies series and I knew that I wanted to do it again this year with a new subject. Since dips are my go-to appetizer and one of my favorite foods, they're the perfect choice! From sweet to savory, I've compiled some amazing dip recipes to share from now until Christmas Eve. If you have any recipes to share, comment with a link! I didn't want to make cookies for a long time after last year, but I can't imagine the day when I wouldn't want to try a new dip recipe!

First up is a super simple mexican dip that I made way back in September when I started preparing for this series! Last year, I was baking cookies almost every night to try to keep up. Planning ahead was key for round 2. :) This dip has only 4 ingredients and it's made in the microwave. Try it the next time you have tacos!

8 oz Velveeta cheese
4 oz cream cheese
1 can black beans
1 can Rotel

Cube Velveeta and cream cheese and place in a large microwaveable bowl. Drain black beans and rotel and pour on top of cheese. Microwave for 4-6 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Best dippers: tortilla chips

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

RECIPE: Bacon Cheddar Fondue

Anyone that knows me in real life knows that my absolute FAVORITE restaurant is The Melting Pot. I fell in love with fondue when I had my first Melting Pot experience on my 22nd birthday and have visited it for special occasions (and some random nights, when I can talk Brandon into it) ever since. It's not a particularly 'affordable' restaurant, but Brandon and I both enjoy splurging on good food when we can. In fact, Brandon promised me that when I found a job (hey, I did that!) he'd treat me to dinner there. I'd better make a reservation soon!

Because dining at The Melting Pot is usually reserved for special occasions, I've fallen in love with making fondue at home. My brother gave me a fondue pot for my college graduation and it's gotten lots of use over the last few years. I created the following recipe based on the cheddar fondue recipe in the Melting Pot cookbook and added some extra ingredients to it. If you don't have a fondue pot, I've heard that a double broiler will work, too.

2 c shredded sharp cheddar cheese
3/4 c shredded swiss cheese
3 T flour
1 c lager beer (I usually use Sam Adams)
4 t worcestershire
1 T prepared horseradish
1 clove garlic, minced
4 t ground mustard
1.5 t ground pepper
2 T onion flakes
4 strips bacon, cooked & crumbled
4 T green onions, chopped
hot sauce

In a medium bowl, toss together cheeses with flour. Set aside. Heat fondue pot to medium-high heat and pour in beer, worcestershire, horseradish, and garlic. Stir and cook until bubbly. Add cheese mixture a little at a time, stirring until smooth. Stir in mustard, pepper, onion flakes, bacon, and green onions. Sprinkle hot sauce to your desired heat. Turn heat on the fondue pot to medium-low and eat immediately.

Recommended dippers: cubes of bread, carrots, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, cherry tomatoes, and green apples.

PS) This is the last recipe post I'll be sharing before my 12 Days of Christmas recipe series... it's very closely related to fondue! :)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Better Things Ahead

I'm climbing out of my dark hole of rarely updating my blog to share some incredible news! Last week I accepted an offer for a new job doing what I love at a place that I love. I'll be leaving my current position behind in less than a month and starting over fresh on January 6th.


This is a big deal.

I pondered how I could write a post sharing this news that would really convey my feelings about my old job, my new job, and the long process I've been through to make this change. And I really don't think I could ever explain it fully. I won't go in to details about my job, the company I (currently) work for, or my reasons for leaving out of respect for the amazing friends and co-workers that I will leave behind. But I will say that ultimately I came to a place where I couldn't draw a line between work and the rest of my life and that is a terrible place to be. I didn't like the attitude I was starting to develop and I didn't like how my stress was transferring to everyone else in my life. As for the big picture, I think that this brief article sums up my reasons for leaving quite nicely. I'm looking forward to a fresh start and I have great faith that I'm going to be really happy in the new year.

This is me, yesterday, after I signed my offer letter. It reminds me a lot of the photo I took on the day I signed my first offer letter. I can't believe how much I've learned since then. I thought I was excited that day... but nothing compares to the feeling I have now!

Thank you so much for the friends and family who were rooting for me during my search and who are supporting me now. I desperately needed a change and I'm looking forward to wrapping up my responsibilities over the next several weeks before settling in to a new routine! I'll be sure to share more when I arrive at my new job!