Rigatoni with Sausage, Fennel and Ricotta

SNOW DAY!!!! I am currently sitting in my cozy living room drinking a giant cup of tea while the winds of Winter Storm Stella (aka #blizzard2017) howl outside. Knowing that we would be home from work today, Matt and I decided in advance that we’d make a big dinner last night that could serve double-duty as an excellent lunch after shoveling today. We settled on a riff of Ina Garten’s Rigatoni with Sausage and Fennel, a warm, stick-to-your-ribs pasta dish with a creamy, rich sauce.

Our riff originates from the first time we made this: we didn’t have the heavy cream that Ina called for but we DID have ricotta cheese so we subbed that in. The ricotta melted into the sausage and pasta and tasted amazing. So good, in fact, that we never even considered going back to heavy cream for last night’s meal.

A note about the pasta for this dish… we made it ourselves!! Matt and I got a pasta machine last winter and we make fresh pasta all the time. Like, multiple times a week. Good thing I’m a runner and need my carbs!!! Homemade pasta tastes fresher and has a chewier, more complex texture than the boxed stuff. For our pasta we combine semolina flour, AP flour, eggs, salt and water and the Philips machine does the rest. It’s really crazy to watch it pump fresh pasta right out the front of the machine. I really should have taken a video but here are some photos. I never knew fresh pasta could be so easy to make!

Rigatoni with Sausage, Fennel and Ricotta
Adapted from Ina Garten’s Cooking for Jeffrey; serves 4

Ingredients
3 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Fennel Bulb, chopped (about 3 cups)
1 Yellow Onion, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 lb. Italian Sausage, casings removed
2-3 cloves Garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon Whole Fennel Seeds, crushed or ground in spice grinder
1/2 teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
2 teaspoons plus 2 tablespoons Salt, divided
1 teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 cup dry White Wine
1 cup Part-Skim Ricotta Cheese*
2/3 cup Half and Half
2 tablespoons Tomato Paste
1 lb. Pasta
1/2 cup chopped Parsley
1 cup freshly ground Parmesan Cheese
*To stick to Ina’s original recipe, substitute 1 cup heavy cream for the ricotta.

Directions
Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven over medium heat. Add the fennel and onion and saute, stirring occasionally, for 7 minutes or until soft. Add the sausage, crumble, and cook for 7 to 8 minutes or until browned. Add the garlic, fennel seeds, red pepper flakes, 2 teaspoons salt, and black pepper and stir for 1 minute. Stir in the wine and bring mixture to a boil, then add the ricotta, half and half and tomato paste and stir well.  Bring back to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer sauce for 20 minutes.

Cook pasta according to package instructions and drain. (Or go all out and make fresh pasta!) When the sauce has finished simmering, add cooked pasta to sauce and stir well to coat the pasta evenly. Cook the mixture over low heat for 5 minutes then, off heat, stir in the parsley and Parmesan, reserving some Parm as a garnish if desired. Serve immediately and enjoy!

…and, just for fun, here are a few more photos to celebrate the snow day. 😀

New Kitchen!!

1706-kitchen_

Ever since moving into our house 5 1/2 years ago Matt and I have wanted to knock down a wall and renovate our kitchen. The timing was finally right this spring, so after months of figuring out “our” style, finding the right contractor, and selecting critical components like the flooring and appliances we were ready to get started!

Demolition began on June 3, 2016. Matt and I actually missed the excitement because we were out of town in San Diego, but this made the change even more dramatic. Here’s how the kitchen looked before we left versus on the day we came home… what a difference 3 days of work makes!!

Construction moved along quickly during the months of June and July. My favorite milestones occurred when the floor tiles were laid, the countertops were installed, and the kitchen faucet was hooked up to running water. There were a few bumps along the way (like the time I turned on the tub in the master bathroom only to realize that the drain wasn’t hooked up… water dumped straight down into the unfinished kitchen!) but overall the process went very smoothly.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

From a homeowner’s perspective I found the following to be hardest parts of the renovation:

  1. Dust and dirt everywhere. Those plastic sheets only go so far when the whole first floor of your house is being ripped apart.
  2. Not being able to boil water. (I’m a runner, I NEED pasta.)
  3. The last 2 weeks when the kitchen was almost done… Being patient with the end in sight was extremely difficult!

Our contractor estimated that the job would take 2 months and he was spot on. I moved all of our dishes, pots, pans, and food into the new kitchen on July 31st and Matt and I have had a blast using the new space in the weeks since. Without further ado, here it is!

1719-kitchen_

1697-kitchen-table_

1693-island_

1706-kitchen_

1703-kitchen-island-pop-up-vent_

Kitchen Details

After months of gathering ideas from Houzz and Pinterest I now realize how helpful it is to have a list of exactly what components are in any given kitchen. If you have questions about anything else you see in the photos feel free to ask!

  • Contractor: Hazley Builders, West Chester, PA (http://hazleybuilders.com/)
  • Floors: Porcelanosa Houston Copper Tile 8×47” (#V59201241)
  • Countertops: MSI Stone Q-Stone Fossil Grey Quartz
  • Backsplash: Soho Tile Crystal Super White 2X8 POL (#SOHCRYSSPWTP2X8)
  • Appliances: Jenn-Air Cooktop, Downdraft, Micro/Oven Combo & Wine Cellar; Bosch Dishwasher; LG Refrigerator (existing)
  • Table: Room and Board Rand Table 30×60
  • Chairs: Mobital Tarna White Leatherette Dining Side Chair (#MBDCHTARNCA117)
  • Stools: Mobital Loto Hydraulic Bar Stool (#DBSLOTOWHIT)
  • Lights: Feiss Joplin Chrome Mini Pendants & Chrome Drum Shade Pendant
  • Cabinets: Century Kitchens Carriage House Avalon
  • Cabinet Hardware: Top Knobs Square Bar Pulls in Brushed Satin Nickel (#M1152, #M1155)
  • Paint: SW 7073 Network Gray (primary, darker color); SW 6253 Olympus White (lighter color in foyer & room w/ fireplace)

 

Bradford Pear Down

Guess what? On Sunday Piper finally mastered “headstand.” We’ve been working on this trick for months and I’m SO proud of her!928 Headstand Piper

Oh wait, just kidding. Nope, the real truth is that a violent windstorm uprooted a perfectly healthy, beautiful tree on Saturday night, leaving a white wall of flowers and a giant sideways stump in our yard. Boo! 😣

943 The tree, Piper and Matt

And if you’re still trying to wrap your head around the first photo, maybe this will help:

699 Checking out the fallen tree

On Saturday night a storm front swept across southeastern Pennsylvania, bringing heavy rains and 45-60 mpg wind gusts. Despite the wind our power stayed on and Matt and I went to bed, blissfully unaware of the damage happening outside. We woke up early Sunday morning, looked out the window and BAM!! WHITE FLOWERS EVERYWHERE. Our Bradford Pear tree had tipped over on its side, taking a sizable chunk of lawn along with it.

649 Matt and the Tree

Piper was initially wary of the changed landscape, but she has quickly realized that the tree’s new position means she is MUCH closer to the birds and squirrels that hang out in it.  She’s been keeping a close eye on it ever since.

1008 Fallen Tree

Here’s what the tree looked like in its glory, back in 2014.  RIP, Bradford Pear Tree.

Bradford Pear in its former glory

Matt and I are getting estimates for the tree’s removal now. In the meantime, I’m sure Piper will keep herself very busy watching over the fallen white blossoms.  Like most outdoor activities, it’s a job that she’s taking very seriously!

1041 Piper and her fallen tree

Triple Dog Weekend

Triple Dog Weekend

What’s better than enjoying a gorgeous Spring weekend outside in the yard? Sharing that yard with your two best friends, of course! I’m pretty sure that was Piper’s attitude a few weeks ago when Hershey the Chocolate Lab and Bella the GSP spent a long weekend with us.

Piper is 8 months old and full of impish puppy energy. Having two friends over at the same time meant that Piper could keep playing at her usual warp speed while the older dogs took turns resting. Piper would eagerly goad Hershey into a game of tug, then zoom around the yard a couple dozen times with Bella, return to instigate a wrestling match with Hershey, and finish off the rotation with a game of frisbee keep-away with her GSP twin.

During the rare moments when Piper needed a break all three dogs lounged around, blissfully chewing on sticks. SO many sticks! I never knew how many sticks were in our yard until we had three dogs scouring every inch of the lawn in an effort to find the biggest and best specimen. At one point Piper showed up with a small log (where did THAT come from??) and Bella gave her tips on how to position it just right to get the best chewing leverage. (Click on the photos to zoom in and see Piper’s funny expressions – priceless!)

I’m pretty sure that our triple dog weekend was the absolute highlight of Piper’s life thus far. Not only did she spend it with two friends in PERFECT mid-70s weather, she was also finally able to run loose in the yard without a leash or long line attached to her collar! We were in the final stages of training her to our underground “invisible fence” and, since the older dogs both know the boundaries of the yard, this was the perfect opportunity to see what Piper would do on her own with less direct supervision. Piper thoroughly enjoyed her freedom and never once showed any interest in leaving the yard.  Success!

Can you tell how much fun the dogs were having? 😀 Except in that one photo up top where Piper got totally crushed by Hershey… I didn’t realize how hard Hershey fell on her until I saw the photo afterwards!! Luckily none of the dogs sustained any permanent damage over the weekend and everyone went home tired and happy.

Love this pup.

I love this pup. ❤️

A Review of 2014 (Plus, what didn’t make it on the blog the first time around!)

Happy New Year!  My 2014 was bookended by two huge events. In January Matt and I suddenly lost our beloved Bailey, the affable, energetic, wonderful dog that was the original inspiration for this blog. Then, in late October, we brought home Piper, a wacky, awesome little GSP puppy who, of course, will never replace Bailey but nevertheless immediately made us feel whole again.

Although I spent much of the days between January 30th and October 26th mourning Bailey’s loss and awaiting Piper’s arrival, I still managed to find time for a healthy dose of running, cooking, photography and adventures. Here’s a recap of my year.

JANUARY

Matt and I froze our way through the coldest January ever, blissfully unaware that we were enjoying our last days with Bailey.  We kicked off the month by running a 5K in 10° temps (and kudos to both of our little brothers who still showed up – and beat us – on race morning!).  Then Matt, my brother and I headed to Las Vegas for a work trip.  We returned to freezing Pennsylvania in mid-January and, twelve days later, had our hearts utterly broken when Bailey died.

What didn’t make it on the blog? The last photo I ever took of Bailey.  This was January 26th and she was hanging out with her best buddy, Hershey, on Hershey’s extra-large bed in our mud room.  When I went through my iPhone camera roll last night to find this photo it still made me so sad to see Bailey’s beautiful little face.  😦

Bailey and Hershey (1/26/14)

January Races: Just one, the Athlete’s Closet January 5K (26:19)
January Miles: 153.3

FEBRUARY

February began in a dark, cold, snowy blur.  An ice storm hit eastern PA early in the month, knocking out power for days and severely damaging several of our trees.  There were, however, two silver linings to the ice storm.  First, it gave Matt and me a reason to take refuge at my mom and stepfather’s house (yay for back up generators!) where we got to spend some much needed time around loving family.  Secondly, all of the ice and snow DID make for some cool photo ops.  The goose photo is still one of my favorite shots of the year.

After the ice and snow melted Matt and I enjoyed a wonderful getaway on Virginia’s eastern shore with friends for an all-you-can eat Oyster fest.  After weeks of frigid temps I was very grateful for this mini vacation and the chance to stretch my legs with some outdoor running.  A good end to the month!

What didn’t make it on the blog?  This photo of our mailbox, obscured by a ridiculous amount of snow… all personally shoveled by myself and Matt!  (It still makes me tired thinking about it.)

Snowy Mailbox

February Races: One again, the Athlete’s Closet February 5K (26:02)
February Miles: 144.9

MARCH

I kicked off March with my first 5 mile race ever, then ran 10 miles in mid-March (still my longest run to date!) and finished the month with another local 5K.  Matt and I also ate like kings this month.  We enjoyed Shrimp Scampi (which first made an appearance on the blog in February but was too good not to make again immediately!), Chicken and Shrimp Jambalaya and, perhaps my favorite stew ever, Cassoulet.  YUM!

What didn’t make it on the blog?  Matt flew up to Montreal for a weekend bachelor party in late March (lucky him!) and I spent a quiet weekend at home with both of our parents’ dogs, Hershey the Chocolate Lab and Bella the GSP.  After being dog-less for several weeks it was nice to have four-legged companions in the house again.

Hershey and Bella

March Races: Two official, the Athlete’s Closet 5 Miler (42.47) and the Color Out Cancer 5K (28:13).  I should have run a third race, the Pickle Run, except that I got the time wrong and showed up several hours late!!
March Miles: 143.1

APRIL

In early April Matt and I escaped from the east coast’s terrible winter weather with an 8-day work trip that took us from sunny Las Vegas to the L.A. area.  We spent a blissful, amazing, perfect weekend in Temecula, California, a mini wine country paradise not far from L.A. and San Diego.  I would go back in a heartbeat.

What didn’t make it on the blog? We roasted an entire chicken… on the grill!  For some reason this Tex-Mex recipe never appeared on the blog (I guess I was still in a post-California haze?) but believe me, it was delicious!

Grilled Chicken

April Races: Three, the Security 5K in Vegas (25:26), Rick’s Run 5K (25:56) and St. Tim’s 5K (26:22)
April Miles: 136.9

MAY

In May Spring finally arrived.  FINALLY!  Matt and I spent a few days in Baltimore for work where we ran in the Inner Harbor and enjoyed a complementary 5PM happy hour wine reception at Hotel Monaco.  I also ran a huge new personal best at the Victory Brewing Company 5K in mid-May.  Woohoo!

What didn’t make it on the blog? In May we fell madly in love with an $8 bottle of oaky Chardonnay, only to find out shortly thereafter that it was a special Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board “Chairman’s Selection” that had subsequently sold out throughout the entire state.  Apparently the PLCB buys up the complete year’s worth of wine from the vineyard so our new favorite wine was no longer available anywhere in the world after it sold out in PA.  Boo!  But at least I learned that if I like a PLCB selection wine I should buy ALL OF IT!

Aura Chardonnay

May Races: Three, the Elwyn 5K (26:17), Run for Victory 5K (24:17… NEW PR!), and Rocky Run Trail 5K (27:40)
May Miles: 138.1

JUNE

We spent June on the go, traveling to the Hunting Camp with family before heading out on a work trip in western PA and then journeying east to New Jersey for a friend’s wedding.  In the middle of all of this road-tripping we still found time to celebrate our first anniversary over a glass (or two) of wine at Sweetwater Farm’s Grace Winery.

What didn’t make it on the blog? On June 3rd I took Bella out for a jog and discovered that she clearly had previous experience running in a perfect heel position.  Matt’s parents rescued Bella so we don’t know much about her history, but she definitely was somebody’s running partner in the past!  Following this discovery I happily took Bella on several runs while she was staying with us in early June.

Bella

June Races: Two, the Radnor Conservancy 5K (25:49) and the Media 5 Miler (42:57)
June Miles: 142.8

JULY

July marked the completion of several of our household projects.  Matt and I had spent much of the spring and summer digging up and replacing all of the shrubs and perennials in front of our house as well as repainting and fixing up our living room.  Everything came together perfectly just in time for the fiesta-themed bridal shower that we hosted in late July.

With the household projects finally out of the way, I started focusing more on running.  I began doing group runs with The Running Place on Mondays and joined the West Chester Running Club for their speed workouts at a local track on Tuesdays.  The extra running work started paying off quickly, which brings me to what didn’t make in on the blog for this month… on July 26th I ran the entire 4.3-mile Ridley Creek multi-use trail loop without stopping!  This loop includes an enormous uphill section so I was extremely excited to finally be able to run all the way up it!

July Races: Two, Cam’s Moonlight 5K in the rain (24:46) and the Swarthmore Independence Eve 8K (40:28… NEW PR!!)
July Miles:  148.4

AUGUST

I kept busy in August with lots of running, participating in three 5Ks (including a huge PR!) and more group runs and track workouts.  I also spent a weekend in Philadelphia and managed to drag myself out of bed early enough to get in a great 5 mile city run that included the section of the Schuylkill River Trail that passes by Philly’s famed boathouse row near the Art Museum.  Although I’ve walked up the Art Museum’s steps many times I took this opportunity to run up them and then took pictures of the city stretched out before me like a total tourist.  😉

What didn’t make it on the blog?  My brother and his fiance got a puppy in August!  She is a German Shepherd named Lady and she’s beautiful.  She and Piper have played together several times and really seem to feed off each other’s endless puppy energy.

Lady Puppy

August Races: Three, the Riddlewood 5K (25:01), the Radnor Red Steeplechase (27:49) and the prediction-style Pickle Run 5K (23:41… NEW PR!!)
August Miles: 157.5

SEPTEMBER

September was much like August except with nicer weather.  I ran in three more 5Ks and Matt and I spent a lot of time outdoors.  We also hosted an epic Beer Tasting Party mid-month, which only didn’t make it on the blog because we were too busy having fun and drinking beer to take a single photo of the event.  We had a blind IPA tasting, 20+ types of beers, soft pretzels, sausage, pepper & onion sandwiches, and lots of friends and family there to enjoy everything with us… it was great!

September Races: Three, the TALK 5K Trail Run (25:40), the much-anticipated Run-A-Muck Trail Run (28:08 on a long course), and the Haverford Township Day 5K (23:50)
September Miles: 158

OCTOBER

In October we drove to Wisconsin and brought Piper home!! That was at the very end of the month, so first we had to make it through a few more long weeks of waiting for our little pup.  I kept myself busy by making delicious Italian White Bean Hummus (I made more last week… so good!) and Apple Crisp.  I also ran in a few more races, including a dog-friendly 5K with Hershey in tow.

What didn’t make it on the blog?  After logging hundreds of miles in three different pairs of Mizuno Wave Rider 16s I finally took the plunge and upgraded to the new WR 18s.  I love them!!!  I now have 200 running miles on my October pair and they still feel as springy and supportive as the day I first put them on.  Yay for new shoes!

Mizuno Wave Rider 18s

October Races: Three, Martin’s Run 5K (23:54), the Fueled Up 5K (23:56), and the Bark in the Park 5K (26:21)
October Miles: 158.6

NOVEMBER

Piper kept us very busy in November.  Crate training proved to be a challenge, resulting in us having to let her out to do her business pretty much once every 3 hours, be that during the work day, night, or anytime in between.  Needless to say, all of this was totally worth it and we didn’t need potty training as an excuse to spend every possible moment with Piper.  We hiked, trained, snuggled, and even got to play in the snow with her in November.  A good month!

What didn’t make it on the blog?  Matt got me a Garmin Forerunner 220 which replaced my ancient Timex stopwatch.  My birthday was a few days after we brought Piper home so I joke that I got a GSP and a GPS for my 30th… ha.  Anyway, my new Garmin is awesome and so far I’m really enjoying having more pace and distance data available to me during runs and races.

Old Watch and New Garmin FR 220!!!

November Races: Three, the Trinity Berwyn 5K (23:32… NEW Birthday PR!), the Metal Run 5K (24:18) and a local Turkey Trot 5K (23:40).
November Miles: 149.4

DECEMBER

Our adventures with Piper kept getting better and better this month.  She is growing up FAST and she’s clearly enjoying hiking and exploring the parks, preserves, and trails we’ve been taking her to.  Piper also started Puppy Class and is eagerly soaking up every new command as quickly as we can teach it.  She takes “down” very seriously, making a big deal of dramatically flinging out her front paw as she descends from a sit to the down position.

What didn’t make it on the blog?  For the past week Piper has been sharing her car, kitchen and yard with Hershey while my mom and stepfather are out of town.  Piper has adjusted to this change well and seems very content to go quietly to her crate when it’s time for the two dogs to be separated.  Hershey has also been doing a great job of tolerating Piper’s nonstop puppy antics.  What good pups!

December Races: Three, the Jingle Elf 2 Miler (14:33), Brian’s Run 5 Miler (39:11… NEW PR!!!) and an unofficial prediction fun run at The Running Place (2.8 miles/20:54).  I was planning to run a NYE 5K but just learned that the race I did last year is not happening this year.  Therefore the fun run was my 30th and final race of 2014!  I’ll pick things right back up again in 2015 with a New Year’s Day race tomorrow morning.
December Miles: 142

~

So yeah, that was pretty much how my year went!  I should probably change my blog tagline to “Dogs, Races, Food, and Photos,” don’t you think? 😜  Thank you to all of my readers for following along with my adventures.  Here’s to even more fun in 2015!

Farewell Summer Flowers, Hello Pumpkin Beer!

Happy October!  I love this time of year.  Cool, crisp mornings, changing leaves, lots of apples and, soon, pumpkin-flavored everything.  Call me crazy, but I like to wait until it really feels like autumn before going on pumpkin overload.  (My one exception is pumpkin beer… Southern Tier Pumking is the best!)

The only thing that I don’t like about fall is that my once-lush summer garden inevitably wilts and dies as the temperatures drop and the days get shorter.  Luckily it appears that my garden hasn’t yet gotten the memo about it being October because everything is still vibrant and perfect as of today.  It’s hard to believe that in a few weeks I’ll be tearing out those zinnias, dahlias, pepper plants and other summer growth as I prep the garden for winter.

I took numerous photos of the flowers in my garden over the summer and thought that October 1st would be the perfect day to share their summer beauty before the garden transitions to fall.  Farewell, summer flowers, and hello, pumpkin beer!!

Is there anything about autumn that you don’t like?
Does the arrival of pumpkin beer make up for it?  🙂
What’s your favorite pumpkin-flavored item at this time of year?

Our Snorting House Guest, 22 Laps on a Track, and other July Events

Hello blog world!  As July winds down I wanted to share some of the things we’ve been up to this month.  So, without further ado, here I go!

1.  We have a tiny house guest who snorts occasionally. (OK, a lot.)

Meet Spencer.  This feisty little pug belongs to Matt’s sister and her husband and he’s staying with us for a few days.  He has quite a personality and is constantly snorting and sniffing his way around the house and yard.  Quite a difference from the big GSPs and labs that I am used to!  There are more photos of this little character at the end of the post if you haven’t gotten your fill of pug pictures yet.

2. I chose to run 22 laps around a track yesterday.

Yup, that’s 5.5 miles in case you were counting.  Yesterday I must have gone crazy because I voluntarily joined a running club for their weekly speedwork at a local track.  This was my first time running on a track since 2007 and boy, was it different than running a hurdle workout!  The goal was to run the intervals at 5K pace and I actually did that surprisingly well, but apparently an 8 minute 5K pace is pretty slow because even the slowest of the women lapped me at least once during the workout.  But, I guess that’s why I’m trying speedwork… to get faster!!! 🙂  I’m not sure yet but I think I might just go back next week.

Tuesday night speedwork

3. On Saturday we hosted a party for 50 people..!

Did I mention that Matt and I have been crazy busy with housework and yard work since May?  That’s because we knew we were hosting a huge fiesta-themed bridal shower for our awesome soon-to-be sister-in-law and we wanted to get everything looking good.  “Looking good” included a complete overhaul of our front walk landscaping, tons of gardening, repainting and steam cleaning the room that used to be Bailey’s hangout, and a multitude of other self-imposed tasks around the house.  It all came together perfectly on Saturday when 50+ people arrived for the shower.  (That’s a lot of people, by the way.)  The party was a blast but I’m also kind of excited that it’s over… now I might actually find some time after work to sit down and relax! (Or, you know, blog!)

4. Pup of the Month, Miss July edition:

Way back in November I learned that Bailey was chosen to be featured in Purebread Deli‘s 2014 Calendar.  Purebread is a local bakery/cafe that has a dog theme and as part of winning the contest we got a free calender full of dog photos and coupons.  Bailey was named “Miss July” so her photo has been gracing the wall of my cubicle at work all month.  It’s hard to believe that she has been gone exactly 6 months today.  Matt and I still miss her a lot but we are at least fortunate to get to spend time with the other dogs in our family like Spencer, Bella and Hershey.
(The calendar photo was taken at a DockDogs event in 2012 – you can read about it in this post if you’re interested.)


 

And now, as promised, here are more pictures of Spencer.  He’s pretty cute, right?  🙂  Have a great night!