Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Rustic Italian Tortellini Soup

Every once in a while you discover a new recipe that is a keeper! I found this recipe a couple weeks ago and I have already made it twice. It is delicious and it isn't complicated at all - just my style. This recipe came from Taste of Home but I tweaked it to simplify it just a little bit more. (You can see the original recipe here.) To make this Rustic Italian Soup you will need the following ingredients:

1 lb ground sausage (Pork or Italian - whichever you prefer!)
1 medium onion chopped
Minced garlic (6 cloves) or substitute garlic powder to taste
28 ounces reduced sodium chicken broth
1 and 3/4 cups water
1 can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 9 oz package refrigerated cheese tortellini
1 package (6 oz) fresh baby spinach, coarsely chopped
3/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon pepper
(Italian seasoning to taste if you use pork sausage and not Italian)

The first thing you will need to do is brown your sausage, onion, and garlic. I also added Italian seasoning since my family prefers pork sausage but I still wanted some of that yummy Italian flavor. (Note: if you're using fresh minced garlic add this after your meat is browned and cook it in for about a minute. I used garlic powder so I added it all at the same time.) While you're doing this people may start flocking to your kitchen because its smells amazing...

Once your meat is cooked through, add your chicken stock, water and tomatoes. Bring to a boil. Once the soup is boiling add your tortellini. Cook for just 7 to 9 minutes or until pasta is tender. Stir occasionally.

While you're waiting for your the pasta to cook you can start chopping your spinach. I love the spinach in this soup! After the pasta is tender add your spinach, basil, and pepper and cook for 2-3 minutes or until spinach is wilted.

That's all there is to it and this was one of the best soups I have ever made. It had so much flavor. I'm a sucker for anything with pasta! 

Because I was making this particular batch for a friend who just had a baby, I put it in a big basket with french bread, salad, and sparkling apple cider. A simple but flavorful meal.

This recipe definitely goes on my favorites list. Spring is right around the corner but there are bound to be a few more chilly nights perfect for a warm and hearty soup. I hope you love it as much as I do!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

We are!...We are!

I couldn't resist posting about Savannah's most recent interest. She has always been such an active little girl - running, jumping, and she can make loud noise with the best of them. Why would it surprise me when she took an extreme interest in cheerleaders! After seeing them at a few of the high school basketball games, she was hooked.

My mom made her some adorable pink and white pom-poms. Today I searched for a cheerleading uniform that was put away in storage and it has absolutely made her day. She has been cheering all morning and I just had to grab my camera.

She begs to watch videos of cheerleaders online -  insisting that they wear orange. Her favorite chants are "Go Big Orange" and "We are! We are!" (I'm trying to help her with that one...she leaves out the team and just repeats "We are" over and over...)

The girl has never been one to watch tv, but pull up You Tube videos of UT cheerleaders and she is mesmerized. All of her "moves" are self-taught. I have had a blast watching her this morning. It is just so much fun to watch your children develop their own interests even though they sometimes fade in a week or two. For now if you were to walk by our house you might just hear us..."Lets Go UT!"

Monday, February 20, 2012

Closet Makeover

Two things you should know: 1. This post may be quite boring. 2. I'm almost embarrassed to post it. Often people comment about how clean my house is...well, for the most part it is, but don't look in the closets. I have a 5 year old and a 2 year old, so you know there is a mess somewhere. Oddly, if the room is spotless, but the closet is still messy I feel like the room is messy. So a couple of weeks ago I tackled my kids closets. See Savannah's before picture above and below.

It had become quite dis-functional and post-Christmas I needed it to function more than ever! I began searching the internet for closet organizing tips and to my surprise I didn't find much! Most sites were only trying to sell me their organizational storage systems. Other bloggers didn't have much to say about it either. So this post is for someone who, like me, could use a few suggestions.

The first thing I did was to sort through everything - clothes, toys, STUFF, and get rid of things! I suggest making 4 piles: 1. To keep. 2. To toss. 3. To donate. 4. To store. I think I had a trash bag full of things to toss, and a trash bag full of things to donate. From there I organized her clothes. As you can see above I color-coordinated them which not only looks nicer, but makes it easier to find things.

I also organized the top shelf. I was able to create so much room just by getting rid of things. Also, I did find a tip about using clear tubs for clothes that are being store for the next season. That way if you need to pull a few things out you know which tub they are in without digging through it!

I also moved an old shelf into the closet to maximize space. When you can store stack things up you save so much space! This could be done with an inexpensive bookshelf or organizer found at Walmart or Target. I also read that clear tubs make better toys boxes. When you child can see the toy they want they are less likely to dump the toy box! This has worked for Savannah.

For small toys I bought a couple of cute tubs at Target. Before Valentines Day they were only $2.

Purses and bags were hung on push pins on the side of the closet. I think command hooks would be better, but I was trying to use what I had on hand. One tip I found online that I love was to use a tall trash can for dirty clothes instead of a laundry basket because it takes up much less floor space!

So there are just a couple of tips for a neater looking, more functional closet. If anyone else has any helpful tips please leave comments! I love hearing from my readers.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Three Ingredient Smoothie

It has been a while since I shared a smoothie recipe so I decided to start out this morning with a super simple one that is delicious. I like to make smoothies for breakfast but I get frustrated when I look at a recipe and there are ten ingredients. Breakfast shouldn't be complicated. If you feel the same, then this smoothie is perfect. All you need is milk, orange juice, and frozen fruit of your choice.

Simply blend 1/2 of milk, 1/2 cup of orange juice, and one cup of frozen fruit. I used a Dole blend of strawberries, peaches, and bananas. It was SO yummy! But if you have frozen strawberries on hand use those! You could throw in half of a fresh banana. You get the idea. This isn't a strict recipe. Just a simple way to make a smoothie with only three or four ingredients. Happy Friday!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

DIY Camera Bag

Let me begin by saying that I am really excited about this post! That being said, I hope that my excitement does not keep me from explaining things well. I do not think I am the best at tutorials so I will be sure to include links to those that helped me with this project. A few week ago I started to search for a good camera bag. When I went to a session I tried to cram everything in my old bag which was designed for one camera, one lens, or I would throw it into a bag with props and try to be careful (not smart or very professional!) I was a little disappointed to discover that cute camera bags with the amount of room I needed are, like most things in this business, not cheap. Then a couple of friends sent me links to DIY camera bags. This is my perfect "for now" solution! The first thing I needed was a bag. I already had the perfect purse in my closet so, bonus, I didn't even have to buy a bag to start!

I chose this purse because it is big (roomier than it looks here), it has a long strap so it can be worn over the shoulder, and because the top closes completely - offering maximum protection for my camera.

I bought the following supplies:
Fabric (1/2 a yard)
1 inch foam (most tutorial recommended 3/4'' but I could not find it)

Supplies I already had on hand (and you might too!):
Ribbon (for embellishment - not required)
Hot glue gun and glue sticks
Heat 'n Bond (iron on adhesive)

 Most tutorials that I saw involved sewing. Alas, I do not sew. Not at all. So this "no-sew" version is my own invention and I think it worked pretty well! If you sew, this project would most likely be even more simple and the results would be even better. To start I cut the foam to the size of my bag. Measure...or just eyeball it if you think you can (I'm not much on measuring - please don't tell my Dad.) After cutting my foam for the main insert and the bottom insert I cut material to cover with excess on all ends. Then I used the Heat 'n Bond to created "hems" and to "sew" it together. (Instructions are right on the package if you have never used it.) It was like making a little pillowcase.

Once my foam was completely covered I was not pleased with how the ends looked. I realized that it would have been better to bond it on what would be the bottom of the insert. The ends are what you will see when you open the bag. So to cover the somewhat sloppy hem I simply hot glued some ruffled ribbon on! (Any wide ribbon would work but I love the ruffles.)

Just a little tip! If you decide to use ribbon, use a lighter to "seal" the edges so that they do not fray. Yes, just burn them...try not to set them on fire. Just a little bit of heat will do the job.

Now I have my main insert and my bottom insert complete. You can see them in the bag here.

To make the insert pieces for the side of the bag (something most tutorials did not include but I want my equipment protected on all sides!) and for the center dividers, I sliced my foam in half with a sharp knife! One inch was just too thick for these small pieces.

 Then I created all of my small pieces the same way that I did the large ones. Using my trusty hot glue gun, I added velcro strips to the sides of the inserts  and to the main insert so that the dividers can be moved to accommodate different sized equipment and so that they will stay put. I also added ribbon to the top of my side inserts so that everything would match. (I did not put it on the dividers.)

 Here is how it looks when it is all assembled outside of the bag.

 Here it is inside the bag! (It is easier to insert a piece at a time rather than altogether.)

Here is the bag with all of my equipment inside (I used my old film SLR for demonstration so that i could still use my camera. My camera fits perfectly in that center spot with my 50 mm lens attached.

Because this insert is not sewn into the purse itself I can still use the interior pocket for my business cards, lens cloths, memory cards, cell phone, keys, etc!

On a whim because I had spent so little on this project I also bought an inexpensive vinyl bag at Target to use for less formal occasions like going to the lake or the pool. I may take it to children's sessions too. As in days gone past, I may be the photographer saying "Look at the birdie!" Sometimes you need something fun to get the attention of little ones. It is such a bonus that with this insert I can swap bags!

I am so happy that I decided to attempt this! It has already proven to be one of the most useful DIY projects I have done and now my camera has a nice soft and safe place to rest. And although I still want to invest in a professional designer camera bag in the future, for now I would just like to say, Kelly Moore and Cheeky Lime, eat your heart out.

Follow these links for other DIY camera bag tutorials:

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Looks to Love

Happy Valentines Day to all! I think Valentines Day was so much fun when you were in grade school. You know when you made your box, dressed in pink or red, and anxiously awaited the Valentine party and card exchange at school! I am spending this Valentines day at home with two of my favorite Valentines - my kiddos! But I often think about what I would wear if I were still working or out and about. I've been reading a lot of style blogs lately trying to glean inspiration. My favorite is Kendi Everyday because she puts together really cute looks but she remixes a lot (instead of constantly buying new outfits) and she wears both designer clothes and pieces from Target or Old Navy! So today I decided to have some fun and just put together a couple of outfits that I would wear for Valentines day. This first one is my funky/fun outfit.

I love how tu-tus are becoming commonly accepted for all ages! This one came from Forever 21 for $10. Oh and just so you know, all of these items were things I already had in my closet but have never put together before. I didn't but purchase anything new. Also, I don't think any item that I'm wearing in this entire post cost more than $15 (except for my tennis shoes in the last shot.) After my fun outfit I put together something more dressy.

Simple black dress and classic color of love to accent - red! The red flats are probably my favorite accessory but belts are jewelry can really make an outfit complete.  Well, I am definitely not a fashionista, but I had a lot of fun with this post. Truth be told, my Valentines outfit will actually be my workout clothes. But I made sure it was festive too. Hope you have a day full of good things. Remember its not about chocolate or flowers, lets just try to show a little extra love!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Picture It

This is one of those posts that I planned to get done before Christmas, but it just didn't happen in the holiday craziness. It goes very appropriately with what is on my mind tonight though. These amazing family photos were taken by Candace Wilson who is a Knoxville photographer whose work I follow and love. Candace is truly talented as you can see. I am so sad to admit that this was our first professional family photo since before Savannah was born. It was long overdue and I am so glad we did it! The picture below was the one I used for our Christmas cards. The fall colors were so beautiful. I'm ready for spring and beautiful backdrops for portraits once again!

My own little photography business is starting to pick back up as I schedule sessions for March and April. I am also venturing into the world of wedding photography with nervousness and excitement! I have been planning and researching like crazy, and tomorrow I am very excited to be meeting with Lori Hensley for some mentoring! Lori is another extremely talented local photographer who does amazing work. I want to do the best work that I can for my clients so I'm going to spend this year learning as much as I can and making every effort to improve myself. I am super excited about what 2012 holds for Leah Nicole Photo. I have a lot of hopes and dreams and right now I can just picture it...

As always, thank you so much for your constant support and encouragement. So many of you comment on my photos and your kind words make me feel so blessed and encouraged to keep improving. To see more of our family photos on Candace Wilson's blog and check out more of her work follow this link! Thanks to her for these gorgeous memories!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Story-time at the Cup

Whenever I come across fun and free things to do with my kids here in Knoxville, I like to share it for my other friends with little ones. Last week on Wednesday we headed to The Cup at Turkey Creek. The Cup is a cupcake bakery with modern style and delicious treats!

On the first Wednesday of every month they host a story time for kids and there are, of course, free cupcakes! This particular day we heard Valentine's stories.

They pull out a big fluffy blue rug for the kids to sit on while the stories are read. Not gonna lie, I kind of wanted to sit there myself. It looked really comfy!

At the end of story time there are mini-cupcakes for all!

They even let mom have one on this day, which I would't refuse!

I love the decor in the shop. From the funky lights, to the huge clock, to the retro chairs - its .

Oh, and lets not forget...the cupcakes!

We couldn't resist and took a couple home - these are some of my favorite treats in Knoxville! If you have little ones be sure to stop by sometime on the first Wednesday of the month and for some free fun with your little ones. Thanks so much to The Cup for being so sweet!