Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Other December Activities

Making marshmallow snowmen.

Decorating sugar cookies at the Ward Christmas Party

Seeing Santa!

Sibling gift: potato stamped sleep shirt.
Easy, quick, & age-appropriate.

Class party - making graham cracker gingerbread houses.

Decorating cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve.
We haven't done this before, but it was a nice way to keep them busy 
before heading up to an EARLY bedtime.  

Hope your Christmas was Merry & Bright!

Monday, December 26, 2011

DIY Photo Canvas

I found this idea on Pinterest (where on earth did we get our ideas before Pinterest?), and decided it would be the perfect Christmas gift: DIY Photo Canvas.

Supplies Needed:
(I think everything on this list can be found at Walmart)
  • Scrapbooking paper
  • Photos to mount
  • Artist canvas in the size to match the photos
  • Mod Podge in Matte finish
  • Brush or foam applicator
  • Ink pad & sponge
  • Clear Acrylic Sealer (spray)

I had my black and white photos printed at mPix. 
I then trimmed them down by about 1/4" on each side to fit my 8"x10" canvas.  

Strips of scrapbooking paper, cut to fit the edges of the canvas, leaving about 1/4" gap all around.

Brush the Mod Podge over the entire canvas & let it dry for the full 20 minutes. 
Tip: I started with a foam applicator, but switched to a 1" brush & got MUCH smoother results.

Assembly line.
I laid everything on wax paper so they didn't stick.

Apply another coat of Mod Podge to the edges, then adhere the scrapbooking strips on all 4 sides. 
You'll see a little of the white canvas underneath, but that's OK. 

Coat the top of the canvas once more, then apply the photos.  Although I've seen tutorials that suggest you use a brayer to get out any air bubbles, I found that if I just smoothed it with my hand, then weighted them down, there were no bubbles. 
I turned them face down on the wax paper, put a few books (actually my Everyday Living magazines) in the middle, then weighted them down with larger books. 

Once dry, turn them face up again and coat all visible surfaces with Mod Podge.  Work quickly, and try to keep a smooth, even coating. The brush works much better than the foam applicator for this step.  Let this dry completely. If you'd like, you can do a second full coating, but it's not necessary. 

Once dried, take your ink pad & "distress" the edges by tamping a sponge onto the ink. Lightly apply it the edges and corners, and if you like, blur it onto the edges of the photo itself. 

Last step: When everything is totally dry, spray them with a light coating of acrylic sealant.  Do this outside, as it will stink up the garage when you're trying to get your project done in 40 degree weather. 

Hang & enjoy!  

Thursday, December 22, 2011


We don't have a lot of Christmas traditions.  Sure, there are a few: Going to see Santa, enchiladas on Christmas eve, Pajamas all day on Christmas.  But there are no do-or-dies.  We don't see The Nutcracker every year.  We don't go ice skating.  We don't drive to see Christmas lights & then feast on hot chocolate.  We don't wrap our gifts on Christmas eve.  We don't wear ugly Christmas sweaters.

This didn't really bother me until I read this post about buying a special ornament every year. As this combines shopping and nostalgia, I thought "Great Idea"!

You see, most of our tree ornaments are lovely.  They are wool felt, handmade, and sprinkled with sequins, sparkly beads, and glittering trim.  They are in the shape of Santa and angels and wise men.  I also have stockings, snowmen, and characters from The Wizard of Oz. Don't forget The Nutcracker, Little Red Riding Hood, and Raggedy Ann & Andy. But they are not "ours".  These are from my childhood and evoke memories for ME, but not for us.  Yes, there are a few of "ours". There is the raven bought in Alaska, the ball from our first family trip to Disneyland, the beaded candy cane from Big Sis' kindergarten class.  And we have a handful of gorgeous glass ornaments that nest at the top of our tree.  They are precious and delicate, and look magical under the soft glow of twinkling lights.  I love these.


(just a few of the lovelies)

In recognition of "us" as a family, I pledge to buy a new ornament to represent the year.  And I will do this every year going forward.  It can be big or little, glass or plastic, fragile or unbreakable.  For 2011, I chose:

For obvious reasons, right? 
You smart little owl, you've got nothin' on our new Doctor.

Do you have must-do traditions at Christmas?  Or collect special ornaments?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Why Stores Should Come With a Disclaimer + A Lesson in Humility

We are broke around these parts.  Real, real broke.  I've sliced and diced that budget to the point where every penny is accounted for, and the only wiggle room we have is in food.  I don't know about you, but food is not some place I like to skimp, so the wiggle room is in fact more of a tremor than an actual booty shake.

Enter Aldi.

Despite our pea-sized town, we have an Aldi.  I had never shopped there until a few months ago.  I knew it was a grocery store, but after an ill-fated exploratory trip 2 years ago in Michigan, I was not interested. This occurred shortly after I got laid off, and my head was spinning with notions of bankruptcy and homelessness.  I knew Aldi was a grocery discounter, but didn't understand the premise.  When I walked through the doors, I didn't get why I had to pay a quarter for a cart.  I didn't recognize the brands, and I didn't see anything familiar about the names.  The prices were low, but I didn't believe there could be decent quality for such low dollars.   Then. Then!  Some creepy guy kept following me around the store, standing too close and making my very uncomfortable. I bought nothing, and fled as quickly as I could.

Because I love my dollars and cents, I decided to give Aldi another try. I did a little online research and discovered that Aldi is owned by the same German company that owns Trader Joe's.  I also started watching the promo flyers that came in the mail.  The prices were good.  Really, really good.  My first trip was brief - as it should be for a store that is about 1/8 the size of a normal grocery.  I shopped, I cooked, I sampled.  And it is good.  Not perfect, but now that I am averaging a 20% savings, I am all on board with Aldi. I think this about sums it up: Aldi is the German Ikea of Food.

And as a favor to the Germans, here is a suggested disclaimer:

Aldi - we sell food, and a few other random things.  You're not going to recognize the brand names on 90% of what we carry, but it won't really matter because our prices are so low.  And yeah, our stuff is pretty tasty, too. So what if we don't carry 45 different kinds of soup?  We DO carry the 4 flavors you buy every time you shop. You're still going to have to go somewhere else if you want a random item like buttermilk or cilantro.  But you'll do it with a smile because you just saved another $25 this week. PS: our Candy Cane Chocolate Sandwich Cremes taste just like the ones at Trader Joe's and our Belgian Truffles are amazing.  Your waistline won't thank us, but your wallet will.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What I Did This Morning

I have to craft when the impulse strikes me, or I'd never get anything made. 

It's not usually at night, after the kids have gone to bed.

Or during naptime, which wouldn't be helpful anyway, as he has decided to cut naps down to a scant 45 minutes a day - without prior approval, I might add. This really puts a crimp in my sitting around, eating truffles, watching Tori and Dean time.  
PS, have you tried the Choceur truffles from Aldi?  They are AMAHZING. 

Instead, as soon as Sis gets on the bus, we huddle up together with Kick Buttowski in the background and do a little cutting and gluing. 

Today, I made these: 

I never knew felt flowers were so easy to make!  
I think it took me longer to whip together the backing than to make all the flowers & leaves for each one.  The pictures don't even do these justice; they are much cuter in person. 

Teacher gifts: COVERED. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

White Chicken Chili

I try to be open minded.  Really, I do.  But something in me always balked at the idea of white chicken chili.  I was suspicious of the base (What makes it white?  It can't be good). Many recipes include corn, and you know I can't stand corn IN my food.  And those white beans?  Just......ICK.

Once again, I was wrong, wrong, wrong.

I don't know why, but when I saw the delicious looking picture in my Slow Cooker Revolution cookbook, I HAD to try their White Chicken Chili.  And as with most of their recipes, this one did not disappoint.

White Chicken Chili
From: Slow Cooker Revolution

3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 (15 oz.) can white or yellow hominy, rinsed & drained
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
2 onions, minced
4 jalapeno chiles, stemmed, seeded, minced (**I used 2, because: KIDS)
6 garlic cloves, minced
4 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. ground coriander
3 (15 oz.) cans cannellini beans, drained & rinsed
3 pounds bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed, trimmed
Salt & pepper
2 Tbs. minced jarred pickled jalapeno chiles
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro

  1. Puree 2 cups broth and hominy in blender until smooth, about 1 minute.  Transfer to slow cooker.
  2. Heat oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion, jalapeno, garlic, cumin, and coriander, and cook until vegetables are softened and lightly browned, 8-10 minutes. Stir in remaining 1 cup broth, scraping up any browned bits; transfer to slow cooker.  
  3. Stir beans into slow cooker.  Season chicken with salt & pepper and nestle into slow cooker.  Cover and cook until chicken is tender, 4-6 hours on low.  
  4. Transfer chicken to cutting board, let cool slightly, then shred into bite-sized pieces, discarding bones.  Let chili settle for 5 minutes, then remove fat from surface using large spoon. 
  5. Stir in shredded chicken and pickled jalapenos and let sit until heated through, about 5 minutes.  Stir in cilantro, season with salt & pepper to taste, and serve with avocado.  
What I love about this recipe: 
  • I found everything at my local Walmart, so I didn't have to go to 4 different stores looking for the ingredients (a near-miracle in our tiny town).  Also, nothing was outrageously expensive.  
  • The prep was fast, and most of the work was done by the slow cooker.  
  • The avocado makes this recipe.  
  • It cooks up a TON - a full 8 servings, so there was lots to freeze. 
  • It's pretty healthy.  I don't have a nutritional breakdown, but other than the thighs being dark meat, everything else is very good for you.   
  • That it makes me eat something called HOMINY.  I'm sorry, are we living in the 1820's?  What the who is hominy?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Hometown Holiday

One of the fun things about small town living is all the small town celebrating that goes on.  Our city likes to kick off the Holiday Celebrations with a Thanksgiving weekend parade, complete with the high school marching band, a herd of firetrucks, lots of candy being thrown, homemade floats, and did I mention the candy?

Big Sis got to participate with her dance team, and loved being the center of attention.  We loved the fact that we found a great parking spot & got to enjoy the 60 degree sunshine!

Grandparents, ENJOY!

Product Review: mpix.com

I love my camera.  I don't understand it very well, but I am trying.  She's a very understanding device so we get along just fine.  Believe me, she does most of the work in this relationship, and the least I can do is support her by showcasing her fine efforts in print.  Folks that is a long winded way to say that she snaps it and I print it. I used to think all printers were alike.  Costco? Fine.  Walmart? If I have to.  Shutterfly?   Okey-dokey.



If you really want to showcase your efforts, go where the pros go: mpix.

I had never heard of them until several professional photographers recommended them on Facebook.  I know - even typing that sentence feels a little cheesy - but these are people who I respect and whose work I appreciate.  If they like mpix enough to use them for their professional snaps, who am I to argue?

After getting AWFUL prints from Shutterfly a few weeks ago, I decided I had nothing to lose by giving mpix a shot.  And for the crucial Christmas picture gifts, no less.  

Creating an account was easy, uploading was a cinch, and ordering took no time at all. Cost was reasonable ($1.99 for a color 8 x 10?  Yes, please!), delivery was speedy, and the results were impressive.  Unfortunately, I don't have a way to scan in the photos from Shutterfly and compare them to mpix.  I will tell you that I had them print several 8x10 color digital images, and several 8x10 black and white digital images.  They are beautiful!  The colors in my color print are exact, and the black and whites are crisp and deep.  You'll have to believe me when I say there is no question who I will be using in the future!  If you have photos to print or digital images that you want hard copies of, try mpix.  I hope you'll be as satisfied as I am!

PS - Now that I know how much more satisfying - and budget friendly- taking family pictures can be, I don't think I'll ever go back to one of those walk-in photo studios again.  

Note: mpix has no idea who I am.  I have not been compensated in any way for this review, and all opinions presented here are wholly my own. 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Sock Bun Curls

Pinterest has expanded my world in 100 different ways.  While it's fun, and addictive, I have found it is most fulfilling when I actually DO/ BUY/ TRY the things I see on there.  I've made several craft projects, purchased a few etsy items, and actually cooked up a couple of new recipes.  Some of my Pinterest adventures have been a success, some need tweaking, and a precious few have been spot on.

I'm still not sure which category the sock bun curls fall into, but long-haired ladies, I am here to tell you that THIS WORKS.

image from Polyvore

I was skeptical about how well this would turn out, but I figured that if I was going to continue to not be able to schedule a haircut (one of the little known hazards of moving to a small town & having a husband with an ever-changing schedule) I had nothing to lose.  I used this tutorial from A Spotted Pony, and lo and behold, I had curls!  I've done this a few times, and I will tell you that I am impressed.

  The first day, my curls were little more kinky than I would like.  But I think this is mostly due to too much gel/styling creme mix.  I also did it with very damp hair (barely out of the shower).  It did relax after an hour or so, but still..... Too much. Day 2 was AWESOME.  I like that this doesn't use heat, it is super comfy to sleep in, and you don't have to subject your family to the sight of yourself in curlers (not my best look).  The curls even sailed into Day 3 looking fine. I used an old cotton-y dress sock from the husband's top drawer (don't worry hon, it was an only). I don't know if different types of socks would yield different results, but I'm willing to test out a few to refine the process. 

Have you tried anything you've pinned on Pinterest?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Pillow Posting

Did you know I am craft deficient?   Sure, I can glitter with the best of them, but when it comes to sewing, I am a bit... lacking.  I don't know what it is, but I just can't keep myself from winging it.  I don't like to measure 3x and cut once.  I usually just eyeball it and take a whack at it.  It's just fabric, right?  And somehow, it always works out.  Maybe I have a magic sewing machine, or thread made from fairy hairs (Does Guterman use fairy hair?  We may never know).  There must be something supernatural going on, because today I felt compelled to turn a table cloth into a set of holiday pillows - and it worked!

Yep, from entertaining accoutrement to head cradler in just one short hour.  I used two different methods, the second of which was MUCH faster than the first.  These are envelope-back pillows, and the first way used 3 pieces of fabric, while the second used just one long piece.  2 quick hems, a straight stitch up each side, and me and my plaid pillows were nap ready.

My couch has been lacking in character for months, and the ease of this project has inspired me to seek out a bit of new fabric for some post-holiday revitalization.  After all... napkins are cheap, and the standard 20" size nicely stitches into an 18" down-filled pillow.  

Monday, November 28, 2011

Shotgun vs. Rifle

The title may be a bit misleading, as we're going to be talking about Christmas and gifting and no, my dearest husband, firearms are NOT one of your presents this year (so sorry.... maybe in 5 more years?). Let me also preface this by saying that I am a Gift Giver.  I love to give presents, and I love to receive gifts.  In my head I know that stuff doesn't equal love, but this idea was ingrained in me from birth, and it's a hard to exit that train.  So, instead I understand it and I'm trying to make it work for me.

First, let me say that this theory applies only to my immediate family.  I do wish we could afford to buy gifts for our various and sundry relatives scattered across the country, but it simply isn't feasible right now.  And anyway, do you really want another gift basket filled with dry biscuits and tiny, tiny jars of weird jam?  No, you do not.  It is not always the thought that counts, because I really do wonder what the thought is when I receive a purple tea tray that has clearly been regifted, or an array of processed cheeses.  And while I offer a hearty "Thank You" in return, I still continue to wonder if I am putting out the vibes of a person who enjoys nuclear orange cheese with extra nitrates.

My usual approach to Christmas gifting is to start thinking about it months in advance.  I really pay attention when something catches their eye.  I make lists - both mental and concrete.  If I see something I think they'll like, I usually buy it and squirrel it away (if it's reasonably priced).  This method is fine, but it's not especially budget friendly....although it is nice to spread the spending out over months.  And in particular, it is not terribly thoughtful.  It sort of says "Here's a bunch of random stuff I thought you'd like." This is what I call the shotgun approach - you sort of scatter the gift giving all over the place, and hope that something ends up being super awesome and high on their list, and you don't hear cries of "What about X" or "What about Y?" all Christmas morning.

This year, I am trying a more targeted (rifle-esque) approach.  I chose the theme of "Something to Wear, Something to Read, Something They Want, Something They Need".  That's 4 gifts, plus one from Santa, and one homemade sibling gift.  6 total.  Which, I know, is a lot.

Quantity aside, I wanted to really focus on the quality of each gift.  I don't just mean craftsmanship, but I mean desire + a reduced amount of crapitude.  I didn't want to buy something just to buy.... something. I didn't want to buy a gift because it was the most heavily played commercial on the Disney channel or because the boy across the street has one.  And you know what?  Being thoughtful, being considered, is challenging.

Sticking to the theme has made me spend hours thinking and looking and mulling all over the internet.  I wanted each gift to fit the category, and I wanted it to be something they would really appreciate.  The "Need" category has been especially difficult, as there is nearly nothing these kids "need".  Even the "Want" category has been challenging.  Santa is fulfilling the big "want" item for each, and frankly, I am really not interested in buying the Magic Slushy Maker to fulfill the other "want" I have heard about since September (see reduced amount of crapitude above).  Or a puppy aka the #1 gift on a certain girl's list.  Sorry, not gonna happen this year.  Santa always and forever reserves the right to choose the most appropriate gift from your list.

The above being said, I am nearly done with my Christmas shopping.  I still need to get J 2 small gifts, but the ones I was most worried about are fulfilled.  As long as UPS does their part, we are in good shape.  I hope that Christmas morning will bring a more relaxed atmosphere, and greater appreciation for what they do get.  I hope there are fewer "What abouts" and more "I love its".  Depending on how it goes, I may even ratchet back further with "Something to Read, Something to Wear, Something to Do" for 2012.

Do you have a gift-giving theme?  Or a specific number of gifts for each child/ recipient?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What's Up

  • My poison ivy is finally healed up.  And by healed up I mean that it looks healed but I still scratch at it 3 times a day.  It was bad enough that I have scarring.  While I would never, ever wish poison ivy on my worst enemy, I will give you a tip if you find yourself afflicted: hot water.  As hot as you can stand it, in the shower, twice a day.  It's the only thing that subdued my need to scratch holes into my flesh.  It also helped it heal faster (still took me a month, but whatever). 
  • My kids have already made their Santa lists.  We used this template to make things easier (and by easier I mean to keep the lists from being 50 items long).  J wrote his own name 3 times on the paper because he wanted to be sure Santa knew who it was for.  The only surprise was a request for a puppy (as no less than the #1 gift) and clothes for the puppy.  We then launched into a reminder that Santa decides what he brings for each child, and he thinks long & hard about what would be best for them.  (translation: no puppy this year)

  • I am beginning to seriously panic about Christmas.  I made some lists, and am finding that half the items are sold out!  What?! Sold out?   And eBay wants 6 times as much?  No, I say, NO!  So I am silently crying inside, and outwardly haunting the interwebs trying to form gift giving Plans C, D, E, and F.  I could really use an elf right about now.
  • I made this pin on Sunday.  At the time, I hated all the cutting and gluing and the stink of Fabri-Tac.   Now I love the result so much that I think I'm going to make more to fulfill those random gifts that are nice to have but not really necessary (teacher, dance instructors, favorite neighbor).  If you try it, I recommend not using sheets of craft felt (too thin), definitely using felt off the roll (much better), and using clothespins to secure the petals while they dry (a sanity saver). 
  • I am going rogue for Thanksgiving.  No turkey, no potatoes, no pumpkin.  Big Daddy doesn't even really like turkey, the kids could care less, and I have decided it's ridiculous to cook a giant meal when no one but me cares about the tradition.  So, here's the menu:
    • Deviled eggs
    • Pulled pork with brioche buns
    • Macaroni and cheese
    • Green salad
    • Peach-raspberry crisp
 I am hoping this results in a less-stressed me, more dinner eaten, and fewer dishes to clean up. That sounds like a win-win for all. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Christmas List

Grinchy or not, I've made a list.  I don't make it for me. I make it for Them.  

Does that seem bratty?  It's not meant to be.  

You see, knowing who I am (picky) this is just the best way to do it.  And for us, it works.  They get a list of items that I would be thrilled with and I get the comfort of knowing that I did not saddle anyone with the passive aggressive statements of "Just pick out something you think I would like" or "I don't really want/need anything".  

Stop it. 

If you LIKE being irritated with those around you because they took you at your word and either got you nothing, or bought your present at the Go Mart on Christmas Eve, you should stick with either of the above.  For me, I'd prefer any of the following:

  1. Indoor/Outdoor Rug from Ballard Designs.  "Geometric Border" in blue or gray, 8' x 10'.  $120
  2. REI Madrona Full-Zip Fleece Hoodie in Lagoon or Black.  On sale until November 28.  $36.99
  3. Paris in White Postcard Set from Little Brown Pen on etsy $15
  4. Martha Stewart's Encyclopedia of Sewing & Fabric Crafts.  Buy it on Amazon. $22
  5. Lisa Leonard "Blessed & Lucky" necklace.  Because this involves personalization, how about a gift card to the site? $78
  6. iPhone 4 in White $99
  7. Set of 2 Chicago Metallic Jellyroll Pans. Amazon, $26
  8. A bike.  
  9. Kate Spade iPhone 4 case. $40 
  10. Sur la Table Non Stick Skillet Set $64.95
Other ideas:
  • I love gift cards.  Some think they are impersonal, but I love having freedom of choice.  I would both enjoy and appreciate gift cards to any of the following: iTunes, IKEA, Michaels, Target, Walmart, Joann, Amazon, Home Depot, or Bath & Body Works.
  • Really good potholders.  Don't buy me the Ove Glove, don't go to Walmart.  I need thick, professional potholders that won't burn through to my fingers. 
  • Along the same lines, I could use new kitchen towels.  Mine are holey and just sad. 
  • Dwell tablecloth from Target.  60"x 84". Pick one. 
  • Really good Mexican vanilla. 
Do you make a list?  Does it work for you?

Friday, November 18, 2011


In an effort to redeem myself from the whining of my last post (because really, don't we all read blogs so that we can make ourselves feel bad that we're not recycling our tin cans into precious pen holders or stitching up reusable sandwich baggies or decorating our new apartments with nothing but $30 and a trip to Goodwill?).....

Wait, where was I?  

Oh, right.  

My doldrums of a few days ago turned out to be the beginning of a mild cold.  After going to bed at 7:30 last night (and yet waking up at 4:30am today ), I am feeling much better, and am in fact TAKING ACTION.  Yep, for me the best way to conquer whatever item is putting the Fear into my heart is to make a list and start checking it off.  Although I have been considering the Holidays for months, I thought that perhaps a Christmas Planner would help.  At the least, it couldn't hurt. I took a cue from the Christmas Planner at eighteen25, and whipped this up on Wednesday evening:

Despite searching the aisles of the Dollar Tree, Walmart, and Joann's, the only supply I purchased was the composition notebook for $1. I had partially convinced myself that I MUST have an adorable pack of Christmas themed scrapbook paper or my Planner was sure to be a bust... but after realizing that the paper alone was going to be $12+, I stepped back to rethink it.  At home, I dug through my crafting supplies and came up with some textured red paper, a sparkly white cardstock, a lime green ink pad, and a green striped gift bag.  With these - and the adorable printables supplied by eighteen25 - I made a very satisfactory planner.  

I've already begun to fill it up and plan out Christmas 2011.  In fact, since Wednesday, I have bought 2 Santa gifts, ordered the gifts for the grandparents, and even started filling in Advent ideas.  Christmas decorating begins next Friday, and it's all downhill from there.  

PS: Tabs are To Do, Menu, Calendar, Cards, and The List

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Back Again.... or Am I?

So.... I inadvertently took a 2 week break from blogging.  I wasn't planning on it, but due to Life, and company, and then more company, well, here we are on November 14.  I thought that I would wake up this morning feeling vigorous and ready to get back to "normal", but instead I find myself saddled with the doldrums. I wanted to plan our meals, replenish the pantry, catch up on the 6 loads of laundry that are piled high, and maybe bake something spicy .... but instead I tidied the guest room, played online, and felt sorry for myself.  It is cold and rainy outside, and my mood matches the weather.

It struck me last night that next week is Thanksgiving.  Next Week!  Where has the year gone?  Where are my Christmas plans?  I haven't even given a thought to the Big Meal.  I'm trying to battle the downward spiral of my Grinchy heart by making a Christmas planner a la eighteen25, but even the time spent cutting and pasting have not relieved the tightness in my chest.  I am hopeful that once I begin to take real action, I will feel less like stapling antlers to mice* and more like Bob Cratchit.... but my budget is looking distinctly Cratchity, and that doesn't help.  I think a day or two of lethargy is in order, and then.... well, then it will be time to shake it off, start stringing up Christmas lights, and blast a little Michael Buble Christmas.  And maybe a homemade Salty Caramel Hot Chocolate will help, too.

What do you do when the Holiday Blues strike?

*This is from Scrooged, one of my many favorite Christmas movies.  I would never condone stapling anything to a mouse.  Glue is much more effective.    

Friday, November 4, 2011

I Eat, Therefore....

When I'm happy, I eat.  When I'm sad, I eat.  When I'm lonely, I eat.  The only time I don't seem to eat is when I am sleeping or busy with projects.  With as much work as this house needs, I have been eating less, but still.... it's not really one of those you can just stop doing, is it?  (OK, you can, but really it's just not optional if you want to do ridiculous things like walk or form a coherent sentence or chase a 3 year old around the block).

But after this, I may be eating more.  For I have found a shredded chicken recipe that is good.  Maybe not even just good, possibly great.  I've only had it once, and haven't yet tried the frozen leftovers, but I feel comfortable giving this a 4 out of 5 stars.  There's little in my world of cooking that gets 5 stars.  Maybe bacon.  And Cinnamon Chocolate Bundt Cake.  But other than those, a 4 is sparkling recommendation.

This recipe comes from the America's Test Kitchen Slow Cooker Revolution.  I bought it before our local Borders shut its doors forever.  I was both excited with the bargain, and giddy at the prospect of discovering some new, less-intense recipes.  For you see, I have a love-hate relationship with my Crock Pot. I love the idea of less dinner work for me, but hate the fact that my Crock Pot seems to have a secret Turbo switch that makes 10 hour recipes overcooked by hour 5.  So, with that in mind, I have been tentatively dipping my toes (ew, OK, maybe not my toes.... at least not near the kitchen), testing out the waters with a few new recipes.  The Everyday Shredded Chicken Filling is AWESOME.   It can be used in nachos, burritos, flautas, enchiladas, quesadillas, or just added to a salad. It was easy, perfectly cooked, required items I had on hand, and is delish.  Here you go:

Everyday Shredded Chicken Filling
From: America's Test Kitchen Slow Cooker Revolution

1 onion, minced
3 TBS. chili powder
2 TBS. vegetable oil
1 jalapeno chile, stemmed, seeded & minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. ground coriander
2 tsp. ground cumin
1-8oz. can tomato sauce
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 TBS. fresh lime juice

  1. Microwave onion, chili powder, oil, jalapeno, garlic, coriander, and cumin in bowl, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes; transfer to slow cooker. 
  2. Stir tomato sauce and sugar into slow cooker.  Season chicken with salt & pepper, add to slow cooker, and coat evenly with sauce mixture.  Cover and cook until chicken is tender, 4 to 6 hours on low (FYI: I set mine for 8 hours, and it was done in 3 1/2).  
  3. Transfer chicken to large bowl, let cool slightly, then shred into bite-sized pieces.  Cover to keep warm.  Let braising liquid settle for 5 minutes, then remove fat from surface with large spoon.  
  4. Toss shredded chicken with 1 cup braising liquid; add more liquid as needed to keep meat moist & flavorful.  Stir in lime juice and season with salt & pepper to taste.  
Note: I found a trick on Pinterest for shredding chicken.  Put the WARM chicken in the bowl of your Kitchenaid, attach the flat beater (cookie beater), and in 30 seconds you'll have perfectly shredded chicken!

Also: the braising liquid is where you control the spicy.  Because I have kids who complain about the spiciness of cinnamon in their pancakes, I used less liquid.

I made this into burritos, and it was awesome.  I can't wait to use this for our Christmas Eve enchiladas!  

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Halloween Treats

Despite my lack of Halloween enthusiasm, I caved & made take-home treats for the 2nd grade Fall Party (Note: apparently it's not PC to say "Halloween" anymore.  I say WHATEVER.)  In order to have the biggest impact with the least amount of effort, I chose to go with the always popular dipped marshmallow treat. 

They were supposed to be mummies, but after 24 squares used up every drop of the Almond bark, I had nothing left to make bandages.  So.... now they are ghosts!  With chocolate chip eyes, of course.  

A bag, a ribbon, and a cute cutout later, we were ready to rock the party.  

I love that these took me a total of about an hour to make (with most of the time spent waiting for coating to melt), yet every adult who saw them thought they were great.  The kids were pretty excited, too.  These are definitely going on next year's must-make list.  

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Update: Sally Hansen Salon Effects Nailpolish Strips

3 weeks tomorrow, and still going strong!

(Forgive my dry, dirty toes.  This was taken after a day of painting the family room while in my bare feet. Yes, that's the wall behind my houndstooth toes.  Yes, it's beige.)

Halloween 2011

With very little bribery I convinced the kids to dress as pirates this year.  

A matching skirt and vest, a couple of hand stitched hats, and some dollar store swords later.... and we were in the pillaging and plundering business!

They collected lots of booty on Saturday night (in these parts, trick-or-treating is scheduled for the Saturday before the 31st, from 6:30-8:00pm), and even managed to stay warm with a few layers under their costumes.  

PS: The pirate password is "Yo Ho Ho". 

Don't say you never learned anything on this blog. ;)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

No-Knead Bread

I am a carb-lovin' girl.  I see the merits of the South Beach diet, but could never, ever stick to it long term, because let's face it: Bread is Life.  Take away potatoes, take away noodles, but don't touch my bread!  I know my weaknesses, and because of this, I also know better than to stock up on crusty, fragrant, yeasty fresh bread.  I'm almost glad to live so far from Trader Joe's, as purchasing a loaf of their Cracked Wheat Sourdough was sure to lead to a bread binge (lightly toasted with a schmear of real butter). But when I came across the much-talked about recipe for No-Knead Bread, I had to try it (So I'm a couple years behind the hubbub.  And?).  I'm not printing the recipe here but will leave Google to provide it for you.

The catch to the recipe is that it takes a good 14-18 hours to yield a loaf of bread.  Good for practicing delayed gratification, bad if you want a loaf with tonight's meal.  The waiting was torture.... as was trying to keep up with the steps of flouring and resting and rising.  (Not really, I just wasn't used to it.) 

I was pleasantly surprised with the result.  
The exterior was crusty and crackly.  
The inside was airy and chewy.  

The loaf was big, and after eating it with dinner, I sliced the rest & froze it.  
Perfect for lunchtime sandwiches or for quick croutons!

I was intrigued by this experiment and checked out Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.  I like the idea behind it, but would need to invest in a 5 quart bucket and a pizza peel to give this a try.  Maybe in a few months. My waistline will thank me.    

Friday, October 21, 2011

DIY Firepit

We've talked about having a firepit for years.  Poking through Pinterest, and looking around our yard, we realized that we had everything we needed to attempt one (specifically a decent supply of  "Wall" stones).  At the back of our lawn we have two odd areas of "landscaping".  One had a sad little tree, about a dozen pieces of rotten wood, and plenty of weeds - all outlined with a double row of wall stones.   We were planning to redo it anyway, and because we didn't have to spend $1.78/ea for the stones, we had nothing to lose except a little time on a Saturday morning.  

Before, sans tree that my husband gleefully chainsaw'd down.

After, with a remnant of that sad tree being sacrificed in the name of our hot dog roast. 
This is 3 rows of the stones.  We simply picked a spot near the house (but not too near), and committed to ruining the lawn underneath.  We stacked about a dozen stones per layer. 

Enjoying our first bonfire, and celebrating with hot dogs & s'mores.  
After a few weeks, the stones settled out a bit (this is likely due to the slope on our lawn), so we do plan to restack them again.  I'd like to cap it off with matching stones, but this would be about another $20..... so I'll probably save that & put it towards a paver patio instead.  In the end, it was free, it's functional, and I think we'll put it to good use.  

Gratuitous pics of my kids: