Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Warming Up

It's the day before Thanksgiving, and everyone has their own traditions.  For me, it's a free holiday, as we traditionally visit my husband's family for our Thanksgiving feast.  So, today I am warming things up with an easy Taco Soup recipe.  So easy, in fact, that even if you are slaving in the kitchen for tomorrow's big meal, this is a great dish to throw together to stave off the hunger pangs and ease the hassle of having to prepare yet another meal today.
The hardest part of the job is browning your meat and chopping onions, but I even eliminated the chopping by using dehydrated chopped onions - easy!  Here's the recipe, passed along to me from my sister-in-law several years ago:
I usually cook mine in the crockpot for about 4 hours on high, but you could really get away with less time or lower heat; it's just a matter of letting the flavor ingredients simmer well.  If you'll notice, I didn't have plain diced tomatoes on hand, but I did have a can of Rotel diced tomatoes with green chile peppers - all the better for this recipe.  As a side note, the large tomato juice can is a perfect size for saving drained grease from browning meats.  I keep one on my freezer door just for this purpose, and when it's full, just toss it, solid.

Super easy meal, just add some cornbread, rolls or crackers on the side.  This makes a large pot, at least eight good servings, more than enough for my household.  The easy remedy for that is to freeze individual servings in something like Pyrex, and label it.  I've even separated the mixed ingredients prior to slow-cooking (before I got my six-quart crockpot), and it still tasted great just reheated.
Great meal for days like what we're having today - cold, snowy, and - for most of you - super-busy!  And if you have guys (or gals!) who are out hunting, they'll really appreciate something like this to warm them up afterward.  :)

Totally off subject but worth sharing.....remember when I told you I was fluffin' the nest - figuratively and literally?  Well, my bird hasn't returned since I removed the nest in the attic, but this morning I thought I heard him again, so I went upstairs to check (still in my robe and slippers).  The sound was coming from the other side of the house, near the chimney, but the bird was definitely outside.  I decided to kick the eave to try to scare the bird away.  The first time was barely audible, so I decided to kick harder......OUCH!  Apparently, without the light on in the attic, and the fact that it was barely dawn, I didn't see the NAIL sticking out of the eave, and I literally impaled my slipper and punctured my foot!  I wish I had taken a slipper was STUCK on the eave, while I jumped back, waiting for a pool of blood to start flowing.  I grabbed my slipper and ran back downstairs.  I cleaned my foot of the dripping blood with alcohol, and put some triple antibiotic and a bandaid on it.  I figured since the nail went through the slipper first, I'll have no worry of tetanus.  As for the score:  Bird - 1; Rita - 1.  I guess even birds just want to stay warm on a day like today.

In that same post (hyperlink attached above), I was indecisive of my tablescape in the dining room.  Here's what I finally went with on the dining room table (below). This was an embroidered felt runner I already had, and it warmed things up, tying together the Autumn plaids and print on my large Transferware platter (glimpses of each in the photo).  Next week it's all about to change.....enjoy your holiday.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Christmas Past: Home & Garden Tour

As Christmas approaches, I most always refer back to photos past as a reference to how I want to decorate, whether repeating themes I liked, or changing things up.  Here's a first-time tour of my home & garden during the holiday season.

Upon entering our home, you'll soon notice I have a thing for area rugs with a holiday theme.

There's also an homage to the Nutcracker, as everyone in our house, past and present, has danced in the production a time or two....or many, as is the case with my two girls.  In fact, one of my girls was Clara one year.  The hanging pointe shoes are a pair of hers, and the rhinestone brooches on them were my mom's.
The pointe shoes on the covered box on the floor were hand-painted by one of the local dancers in the Charleston Ballet.
Our Christmas colors are traditional.

Shelf detail of  Santas, either porcelain, wooden and one even made of WV coal, all hand-made.
On Christmas Eve, we entertain as much of my family as is in town, with a buffet dinner for typically thirty guests.  We make use of the dining room, the sunroom, and the breakfast area.  

Pictured below is the chaise lounge (which was slipcovered this past summer).
 Our guest bath is a combination mud/laundry/restroom (and yes, the poinsettia was in the shower for a good watering).
And, on top of the appliances, I leave this decor, encouraging a little whimsy.  I've seen some pretty funny messages as people come and go from here.
A few glimpses of other areas of the house before we leave.....the stairway garland (breakfast area and sunroom in the background)...
The bench at the landing...
The guest bedroom....
My vintage mesh purse tree in the bedroom... 
The guest bath (my bath)....
Mini Santa & Mrs. Claus in another bedroom.....
And another holiday area rug.  Did you count all five of the rugs with holiday themes? There are two more not pictured in other parts of the house. :)
Last but not least, I try to dress my garden up just a little bit, which is hardly noticeable unless you're actually in the yard and paying close attention....

I hope you've enjoyed the tour.  Now, I'm off to plan my week ahead, and begin pulling out the many containers of all my Christmas decor and begin the process of decking the halls for 2013.  

UPDATE 12-13-13:  If you enjoyed this tour, you're welcome to continue, with more photos in my Christmas Present 2013:  Home and Garden Tour.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Few Holiday Treats

Each holiday season, I try to have at least one baked good to set out for family gatherings.  In this post I'm including a few of my tried and true recipes.

My first one, Tuxedo Brownie Bites, is always a winner, and these little bites from the folks at Pampered Chef can be finished off with a topping suitable for their intended Christmas holiday appearance (strawberries) or for mid-summer appearance, as I did in a previous post here for the 4th of July (blueberries and strawberries).  You'll need a couple mini muffin pans, and this recipe yields 4 dozen.  They can be refrigerated a few days before your event, with the topping the day before, garnishing just before company.  I store leftovers as completed, in an airtight container in the fridge, and they taste great even then!
My second winner that I tried last Christmas for the first time was Oreo Truffles.  I originally saw these on Pinterest and pinned one recipe, then started reading various reviews, and worked out my own variation. They, too, were a hit, and will be a keeper recipe.  They're no bake!
Oreo Truffles (No Bake)
Ingredients (makes 3 dozen)

  • 1 package Double Stuffed Oreos (some recommend NOT using double stuffed, and you can use less cream cheese if you do.  I used double stuffed and 6 oz cream cheese).
  • 4 oz Cream Cheese you may add up to 8 oz
  • 16 oz Dipping Chocolate (I used both Baker's and Ghirardelli's white chocolate, and used 50% microwave power to melt the chocolate, according to package instructions, in 30 second increments. See additional notes below).  EDITED NOTE 11-23-13:  To clarify type of chocolate used, it is Baker's premium white chocolate baking squares (1 bar = 8 oz) and Ghiarardelli's white chocolate baking bars (2 x 4 oz bar = 8oz). Baker's chocolate is chunkier, and Ghirardelli's is thinner; hence, the reason for the different times to melt each, respectively. No chips were used in this recipe.

  1. Crush Oreos, either in a food processor or gallon size plastic food storage bag (my preferred way, rolling with a rolling pin.  My food processor tended to gum up with the oreo creme filling). Separate and set aside approximately 3 cookies (crumbled) for garnish.
  2. Mix softened cream cheese with the crumbled Oreos, until well combined (with spoon).
  3. Roll mixture into 1" balls, place on a wax paper covered cookie sheet, and put in freezer for 15 minutes or so to firm.
  4. While balls are setting up in freezer, melt chocolate according to directions.  This is a bit tricky, as the chocolate can firm up if you try to melt it all at once.  I melted 4 oz at a time, at 50% power, in 30 second increments (stirring after each 30), for a total of 120 seconds for Baker's (it's chunkier), and 90 seconds for Ghirardelli's.  Because I was using two brands, I mixed each of the 4 oz, melted, into one larger bowl before I began dipping (with a total of 8 oz, or half of the recipe's total).  Then I repeated the process for the remaining 8 oz.
  5. Take Oreo truffle balls from freezer, and dip into chocolate. Garnish with crumbles set aside while chocolate is still wet.  Let firm on wax paper, and store in refrigerator until ready to serve, in an airtight container.

I love little finger-sized desserts for large crowds, and even better than serving to your crowd?  Having leftovers for the morning after!
This year, I found another recipe that strikes a chord on two levels:  1) it's a great little recipe from Fall through Winter, spanning everything from Halloween to Christmastime, and beyond into cold winter days, and 2) the recipe is sized just perfectly for two, but can be adjusted for a larger, standard bundt cake.
This recipe is Hannah's Spice Cake for Two:
Hannah is a local craftsperson who specializes in hand-thrown pottery, and her trademark logo is the maple leaf (pictured above is her recipe card, with her logo and web & Facebook pages).  Each item she crafts is incised with not only her signature, but also with her trademark maple leaf  logo on the piece of pottery. Each year she holds an open house, and this year I purchased her little bundt pan to make her spice cake.  It's heavenly!  I plan to make a few and freeze them, and gift them, along with the pottery bundt and recipe card.
In the photo above, you can see the little spice cake for two, alongside Hannah's beautiful pottery bundt dish, and an 8 oz glass measuring cup for perspective of size.  A close friend of Hannah's mentioned to me that you don't have to use Hannah's recipe, but any regular bundt size recipe can be scaled down to one-third of the ingredients to make the portion size for two.  Likewise, then, it would make sense that you should be able to take Hannah's recipe and triple it if you would like to make it in a regular size bundt pan.

If you try any of these recipes, be sure to leave me some feedback.  I'd love to know if they're as well received at your house as they are in mine. :)

Sharing with:
Marty's Holiday Baking Party
Christmas Extravaganza

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Hosting a Virtual Wedding Shower - Via Skype!

I've mentioned before that I come from a big family - I am the youngest of nine children.  There are twenty nieces and nephews from my siblings and me (not counting their spouses) and, as of this date, nineteen great nieces & nephews, plus two expected in 2014.  We can't do anything small.  Especially when it involves Texas.

One of my nieces is getting married in Texas on December 21st, and most of the family won't be able to be there due to our own family obligations around the holidays.  So what's the next best thing? Hosting a virtual shower - via Skype!

After emailing details, coordinating times zones and people in two locations - Texas and West Virginia, we successfully pulled it off today (11-17-13)!  I was the hostess in WV, and my niece hosted the Texas location.  Family from Temple, Bedford & Pflugerville gathered at my niece & her fiance's home in TX, and family from Cincinnati & Dayton (OH), and Charleston, Morgantown & Huntington (WV) gathered in our home here in WV.  My son-in-law assisted with technology cords needed to link the laptop to the big screen TV, and we tested the connection the day before the event. We all sent our gifts prior to the event, and we shared time together, met our niece's fiance, and enjoyed her opening her presents throughout the virtual connection.  We each had a buffet of hors d'oeuvres and beverages, and it was a ton of fun!  Needless to say, it was a bit chaotic with lots of noise, in the WV location especially.  We are part Italian; therefore, we are loud.

Pardon the photos, as I was doing the best I could in the middle of the mayhem, and I was taking photos of the TV screen in most of these shots.
Here's a shot of the setup:  laptop on the right, big screen projection on the left.
This is the TX locale:  my sister (MOB), a niece and her baby who lives in Temple, and my niece, SB, along with her fiance, E.  The picture-in-picture (PIP) shows one subset of guests who each took some time to meet and greet the TX folks.
This photo is sweet because the niece & her baby from Temple are visiting with her mother, sister and her baby, as seen in the PIP in the lower right corner.  The two babies are just six months apart, and too many miles.  :(  Homesickness ensued immediately following Skype.
We got a virtual tour of SB and E's new home.  This is their new chalkboard countdown in their breakfast area.
And this is Sb and E's awesome dining room, with upcycled hutch and chairs nabbed from Goodwill.  The table was built by my sister's husband for the couple.  I love their colors - turquoise, cream and coffee, with a beautiful natural wood finish on the table top.  There's a mix of pattern too - chevron seats and hutch cabinet interior, and a quatrefoil print on the rug beneath the table.
Here's E, showing us the detail of the chairs, which my sister covered.
Here's E & SB, standing in front of their already decorated Christmas tree.  SB runs a dance company in Pflugerville, and one of the reasons they chose their date is due to the crazy holiday schedule of her students' performances and competitions in December.  So getting their tree up early was smart!
One last group shot before we ended the virtual party (my husband took the photo, and you can see one of my brothers-in-law on the far right - he's a scientist and wanted to see a virtual shower in action.  And because he was there, my husband felt 'saved' from being banished upstairs while all us girls had a party).

Family do you bridge the distances with yours? ♥♥♥

Linking with:
SL's Sunday Showcase
Dwellings' Amaze Me Monday
The Scoop
A Stroll Thru Life's Inspire Me Tuesday
Savvy Southern's WOW
Common Ground's Be Inspired

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Fluffin' the Nest...Figuratively & Literally

I'm hosting a little family get-together this weekend to five of my six sisters, one sister-in-law, and several of all our girls (more on that hopefully next week), so I wanted to switch up a few things in my Fall decor before I pull out all of my Christmas totes soon after the weekend.

The sunroom is a gathering space when we have company, an area adjacent to both our kitchen and family room.  We keep our furniture mostly the outdoor type in the sunroom because the sun's rays are pretty much relentless year-round in here (which is great in winter, but we have a separate heating/cooling unit to moderate the temps).  My reading nook is taking on a more Autumn appeal right now.
You can see my stash of magazines on either side of my favorite chair, which I just had slipcoverd this year (you can read about it here if you're so inclined).  The leopard throw was my 'win' several years ago in one of our family's annual Christmas $25 limit gift exchanges where you take a number, and alternatively pick a gift or steal from others - are you familiar with that game?  I was happy with my win that year.  The orchard ladder behind the chair is Amish, purchased from City Farmhouse, and my white sweater pumpkins are on the side table with the terra cotta bust and owl.  That orchard ladder was in the booth space for six months with no takers.  When I removed it, I replaced it with an old, twelve foot ladder that I cut into two six foot ladders and sold separately, within one week of placing them.  Go figure.
The bust dons a straw hat in Spring and Summer, and usually a black beret come winter.  The owl is from Pottery Barn and the ironstone is, again, from vintage stash.

Two of three baby boos remain from September purchases, believe it or not (!), on the center table in the sunroom, perched on graduated birch logs cut from last year's fallen tree.
The European cutting board, vintage postcard, flower frogs and scrabble tiles were all from my vintage stash, which may or may not end up in the antique mall booth space at some point.  The natural items were all gathered on daily walks I take with Mr. P.

You may have noticed a boxwood on the right side of my chaise, and I have another in the opposite corner.  When I got rid of most of my houseplants this summer, I planted these in black clay pots I scored from Lowe's.  Boxwoods are slow-growing, so I'm willing to keep them indoors.  I'll shape them in another year or two, when the mood strikes.
From Antique Farmhouse, I purchased some of their preserved boxwood balls, planning to add them to my dining room.  They arrived a couple days ago, and I'm still playing around with placement.  First I tried this:
I had the vintage plaid mohair throw on the leather chair in the corner of the room previously, but thought it may pull the colors of Fall together by making it a runner on the table.  Vintage ironstone and transferware in the background are all part of my vintage stash, and the cast iron mini urns were scored at City Farmhouse last year (along with the orchard ladder in the sunroom, and few other cool things I'll be using with Christmas decor later).

Unhappy with the leather chair sitting bare in the corner, I changed out the table to look like this:
You get a glimpse of the chair with the mohair throw back on in the background.  Not sure I really like this arrangement either, so I'll be messin' around with it some more before the get-together on Sunday...since I can't recover those chairs before Sunday (I'm a sleuth decorator, but I'm not a magician).

So, that's it for my figurative fluffin' the nest.  As for the office is on the second level of my home, and as I was drinking my coffee and checking email this morning, I kept hearing a bird which, I thought, was on the windowsill chirping and pecking as the little birds sometimes do.  Wrong.  That bird was in my attic!  I went up there, opened the dormer window and the bird flew out almost immediately.  Thank goodness.  

Then, around noon, I heard it AGAIN!  This time, it wasn't so easy getting the bird to fly out, so my compulsiveness kicked into overdrive, and I was bound and determined to find the source of its entry.  You know that screen mesh that's put between your roof trusses and studs of your structural walls?  Yea, me either, but I followed the light beyond the insulation and found it.  And I also found a huge NEST! Who knows when the bird(s) built that nest, but I figured if they could get in to build it, that's likely the entry point for the bird I found today.  Plus, the nest was right above my desk space where I heard the noise.

Needless to say, I fluffed that nest - right out of its corner and into the trash.  I could see, with the help of my trusty flashlight, that the mesh screen did, in fact, have a gap, so I bent it back in place.  As of this writing, the bird has not returned.  Thank goodness.

And thank goodness I was a ballerina in a former life, as my balance and agility skills were put to the test today, crouching in the rafters, balancing on two by eights, in between insulation not covered with wood flooring.  I took two ibuprofen afterward, to help rid myself of the hitch in my right hip. Ballet titles which come to mind....Firebird....Dying Swan.