Thursday, December 30, 2010

Curbside Treasure


Simply driving home from the fabric store, I noticed what appeared to be a shiny new crock pot. The box was packed flat next to it, so I tossed it in the van and decided to inspect it at home.
Turns out that I now am the proud owner of a Williams-Sonoma All Clad Deluxe stainless programmable slow cooker with cast iron insert! And it works! After a thorough scrubbing in hot, soapy water, it is now cooking white turkey chili for our dinner.
Check out Williams-Sonoma website; it retails for $400. Never would I have paid that-my $30 crockpot works great. But if someone wants to leave it out for me, gladly will I receive such generous offerings.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Ratcheting Wanted! Needed!

Definition of Ratchet:
A device that allows continual linear or rotary motion in only one direction while preventing motion in the opposite direction.

Sometimes I can clearly see areas of my life desperately in need of a good old ratchet!

Just this morning, C & I were driving to the city to pick up Tman from his after Christmas celebration with his father. The radio was on WMBI (of course) and I was listening to the hosts as they discussed their hopes and desires for 2011. One of them mentioned that she wished that "she would not wear her heart on her sleeve" and waste so much time dwelling on her own hurt feelings. Her sentiments really resonated with me...how much time I waste focused on self or worrying if I have disappointed others.

With the wheels spinning, literally & figuratively, I made my way around the loop, killing time until we picked up Tman. This is where the ratchet part comes in.

Where and how had I been stretched spiritually in 2010? Where did I need to be pruned, "ratcheted", watered and encouraged in the coming year?

Pruning needs to be done on the impatient branches in my life. Unfortunately, these branches most brush up on those that I fiercely love. My husband is an excellent example to me of gentleness & patience and it is a blessing to have him set the bar so high.

Ratchet my tongue, God! 2010 marked the year that I sought to eliminate gossip from my mouth. Oh, the verses I have memorized! Psalm 141:3 is my favorite when I am overwhelmed with the urge to say something that is not edifying...or listen to something not meant for my ears. The standard to which I have tried to adhere is: "If I am not part of the solution or the problem, then I don't need to say it or hear it". (Thanks, Chip Ingram). This area of my life has improved, but some tightening up is needed. James 1:26

I have been reading "Who You Are When No One's Looking" by Bill Hybels. Such a great read. The chapter on Discipline is excellent and this is a character trait that I long to have. He describes discipline as "delayed gratification". I have more to say on this but am really exhausted. We have had incessant house, car & pet issues as well as a very "busy" 2 year old. One of the few things that I am disciplined about is adhering to my quiet time so I will close in order to curl up with peppermint tea and my Bible.

What are your hopes for 2011?

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Our Indiana Visit


What a trip!
Here is a photo of Chuckles all decked out for his nursing home trip. We stayed at my Grandma's house for two nights. It was the oddest thing when we pulled up to a dark house. Never has there been a time that my Grandma (and Grandpa when he was alive) has not been waiting for us, flicking on the porch light and greeting us with cookies and hugs.
My cousin Jeff drove down with my us. Since he is serving in missions in Costa Rica, we do not get to visit with him often. My mom & I both agreed that it was wonderful to talk with him about his life, reminisce about old times and enjoy each other's company. We also discovered the Donut Bank....mmmm...best long john I have ever eaten, scary delicious, actually.
It is probable that the next time I see my Grandma will be in heaven. She has lived a long life, served her family and loved her Savior well. I hope and pray that I can say the same when I am called home.
Lots of prep work accomplished today, more to tackle tomorrow.
Merry Eve of Christmas Eve!!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Saint Nick is Heading the the Nursing Home

Struggling seamstress? Yes.
Future Taxidermist? No.

On Monday, my mom & I will be heading to southern Indiana to visit my Grandma as well as take Josie in for her surgery. My Grandma has been recently placed in a nursing home as she recovers from a broken pelvis. She is very homesick and understandably sad.
C is coming with us & his 2 year old exuberance lights up a room. Today I decided that it would be fun to dress him up like a little St. Nick...he already has the round, rosy cheeks nailed. An old pair of red sweat pants served as trousers & I added a little white tail. I trimmed a little red sweatshirt with scraps from a stuffed animal that I cut up. (It was a pristine white poodle of T's that had been in storage for years). T helped me choose buttons and a scrap of rayon for a belt.
Seriously, it is the most ghetto outfit ever, but I don't think the residents will mind.
He will wear it with his favorite cowboy boots & a red Santa hat. I am going to bring a sack that we will fill with Clementines so he can hand an orange to everyone he sees.
Here is the head of the poodle that we sacrificed for the sake of all things kitschy. Josie is not to thrilled with her new couture.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Glass Half Full


I am choosing to praise God for all the wonderful family & friends we have been blessed with. The past two weeks have been rough and many little things have snowballed:


C's fall & head staples

T getting very sick & being home from school last week

Me being very sick with cough

Flat tire

Subsequent series of repairs on wheel

Dog having accident on carpet

Dog diagnosed with bladder stones

Expensive surgery required for dog

Having no vehicle while van is repaired
Pipe under utility tub came loose while clothes were in wash; lots of water...


When I type it all out, it starts to engulf & overwhelm me. BUT, when I look at it with the glass half full, it starts to look pretty sweet and our blessings in difficult circumstances shine.


Here's the crazy ways that God has shown Himself faithful in each situation:


C's head: Staples removed today, no concussion at time of incident

T's sickness: he recovered quickly & we had fun hanging out at the house

My cough: Almost all better; taught me to slow down and take care of myself

Flat tire: My dad & E came out on a bitterly cold day to change

Tire repairs: Our friend J (aka Master Mechanic) has been an invaluable help

Dog: The vet in Indiana will be $500 less for the surgery that Josie is required to have. In addition, I will get to visit my 93 year old grandma who is now in a nursing home.

Utility Sink "mini-flood": Fortunately, there was a massive pile of dirty clothes next to tub that effectively absorbed all the leaking water. Brownie points for dirty laundry.

"Do not be anxious about anything..."


There are so many families in dire medical, financial & emotional turmoil. How can I let these small things (and yes, they are small) rob me of joy and close my eyes to the huge blessings that have been graciously poured out on us?


Here's a great quote to close:


The measure of mental health is the disposition to find good everywhere.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Cookie du Jour- Kolachky


Kolachky are so delicious. Rich, flaky, buttery dough with sweet filling. What's not to love?


This afternoon I tried a new recipe from allrecipes, but halved the quantities and modified a bit. It still yielded about 50 generously-sized treats. The deep freeze still had many jars of apricot jam that I made this summer, so that was our filling of choice.


1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups all-purpose flour


Mix butter & cream cheese until combined. Add flour a little at a time until all is incorporated. This is a very, very sticky dough. Flour your work surface well and take out a third of the dough. Roll out, flouring and turning often, until pie crust thickness. Using sharp knife, cut 3 inch squares. Dollop a bit of jam onto square and fold opposite edges together. Pinch to seal.

Bake at 350 degrees on parchment for 15 minutes. Cool & dust with confectioner's sugar. Try not to eat entire batch in one day.
I've linked this post to a great blog about all things sweet. Read & be inspired!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Cookie du Jour- Buttery Spritz


Spritz cookies always feel so Christmas-y to me. Growing up, my mom & Aunt Betty dedicated an entire day to baking an overwhelming assortment of Christmas cookies: toffee bars, sugar cookies, Aunt Sue's butter cookies, peanut butter bars, chocolate chip bars, fruitcake bars (Uncle Charlie loved these), peanut blossoms and spritz cookies. Their spritz cookies were usually in the shape of a tree, tinted green and almond flavored. They would also make the swirled spritz variety with a cherry in the center.


Spritz were never my first choice; the peanut butter bars were (and still are) my favorite Christmas cookie. However, I have come to really love making and eating spritz cookies. I use a different recipe that is much shorter (higher butter ratio) and rich with vanilla flavor.


Today we made bright green Christmas trees after T came home from school. By the time I left to do the soccer carpool, they were all mixed, pressed & baked (less than an hour). Hope you enjoy the recipe as much as we do. Uncle Charlie may have been partial to fruitcake bars, but my little Charlie (his namesake) loves Spritz cookies.


1 cup salted butter, softened

3 egg yolks, room temp is best

2 1/2 cups flour

2/3 cup sugar

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

1/2 tsp. salt


Cream butter & sugar. Add yolks & vanilla. Mix and add dry ingredients. When does comes together, put into cookie press. Do not chill. Do NOT use parchment or they will not release from cookie press. Bake at 400 degrees for 7-10 minutes. I err on the side of removing at 7 minutes and letting them continue baking on hot cookie sheet. But that's me:)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Virtue Candle

A couple of months ago, I was reading a post about beautifying your home for fall. The poster suggested adding elements of soft music, candles, lovely smells to your home to create a peaceful oasis for your family. This clever poster also challenged to say a quick prayer of thanks or your heart's desire every time you saw your brightly burning candle.

Always one for a challenge, I bought a pretty candle with a mild apple cider fragrance. Although I sometimes forgot, when I saw the candle I would ask God to help me with patience, a virtue I am sorely lacking.

Colossians 3: 12-14 says:
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

This is a verse that I have memorized and am acutely aware that patience is the virtue that most resists being "bound" in my like. My family could offer a laundry list of examples here...

My little apple cider candle has become a sweet little reminder, my virtue candle. When he burns out, I will purchase another. Realizing that there are always fresh ways to be challenged and convicted to grow and be pruned.

E & I had a weekend sans enfants and it was fabulous. We chose to stay home because I have been very sick with a chronic cough. It was so relaxing to sleep in, eat out, order Giordanos and eat it in front of the TV together-no kids!! Although we don't have cable, we watched Life is Beautiful. It is blustery outside and I am planning a week of soups & comfort meals. The house is sparkly clean and smells like peppermint (thank you, Scentsy). And yes, my candle is burning.




Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Spicy Gingerbread Cookies


There are 2 different gingerbread cookie recipes that I bake during the Christmas season. One is mild and sweet and the other is crispy and very spicy. Tonight T & I made the spicy variety. He chose the cutters: classic gingerbread men, holly leaves, trees, vintage ponies, and houses. (My cabinet holds around 100 custom copper & several vintage cookie cutters).

Here is the recipe, basically a double version of Eileen's Spicy Gingerbread from allrecipes with a bit more spices:

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 cup molasses
2 egg yolks
4 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1-2 tsp. cinnamon
2-3 tsp. cloves
2-3 tsp. ginger

Cream butter & sugar. Add yolks & mix. Add molasses & mix. Sift together all dry ingredients and add slowly to creamed mixture. Mix until dough is formed and holds together well. Separate into two disks and wrap in plastic wrap. Place in fridge and chill for about an hour, until firm but not rock hard.

Roll out on floured surface to desired thickness (we like them THIN!). Bake on parchment lined sheets at 350 for about 8 minutes. They will seem soft but crisp up after 5-8 minutes out of the oven.

Enjoy! We plan to decorate with royal icing tomorrow.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Hurricane C


Mr. C, our 2 year old, lived up to his nickname of "Hurricane" today.


Too tired to post much, but he ended up with 3 staples in his head.


Fell off the chaise lounge into the coffee table.


Aside from the scary aspect of seeing your child hurt, I am grateful for many things:


1) That my Dad was there with a cool head and fatherly-grandfatherly wisdom.

2) That it was just a gash on his noggin and not a concussion, broken bone, etc.

3) Modern medicine! Thankful for kind nurses & doctors.

4) That I didn't hit my head when I almost passed out (embarrassing).

5) That C is sleeping soundly and was up to his usual tricks tonight...he was playing with the Nativity scene & moving the people around, later sliding them down his play slide. We are now minus Joseph and one of the Magi.

6) Thankful that T came in from school and said that we should pray that C feels better; he loves his brother & has such a tender heart of mercy.


Good night, all. Lunches made, crock pot set. The cookies can wait until tomorrow.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Decking the Halls

Our humble little home is all dressed for Christmas.

The tree is rather sparse on the bottom in hopes that C will not create a repeat of last year's
debacle. On Christmas Eve, while we were busy prepping dinner, the entire tree was toppled by a curious little boy. Smashed ornaments, broken lights...good times...



The huge white iron chandelier was a new addition this year and I decorated it with ropes of faux gumdrops. Kitschy & cute!

Later, I will post photos of the kitchen. I draped my vintage copper cookie cutters across a garland of cinnamon sticks. Something fun to look at while I do the dishes.

Happy decorating, everyone!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Let it Snow!!


Snow Lovers, Unite!
The view from our window, slightly marred by anxious sheltie footprints.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Elegant, Simple Salad

We are anxiously awaiting Enrique to come home from work. C "helped" me in the kitchen today: stirring the lasagna filling, taste-testing cookies and mixing dressing for our salad.

My favorite salads always have sweet & savory components as well as a few different textures. I really enjoy a creamy cheese, crisp greens, crunchy nutmeats. We created this salad tonight because I had apples, goat cheese & pecans on hand. Costco had a huge container of spring mix for $3.99 so we have been enjoying greens with every meal this week.

Dressing (I never measure; this is a guess-sorry precise friends!)
3 Tbs. good quality balsamic (I used Pomegranate from Olive Tap-my favorite)
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbs. toasted walnut oil
1 tsp. Dijon
1/2 tsp. sea salt
Few grinds of pepper

Whisk all together & adjust to suit your tastes. This is a sweet, rich dressing. A little goes a long way.

For the salad:
Toss dry greens with dressing, using your clean hands. (You'll be able to tell when the greens are perfectly coated. Thinly slice apples and lay on bed of greens. Toss on your cheese. I used Chevre with fine herbes. Feta or Gorgonzola would be great, too. Something salty. Toast nuts lightly, cool and throw on salad. Voila. Tastes great, looks pretty. Your husband will feel blessed by your handiwork.

*Sesame oil & rice wine vinegar make wonderful dressings for salads. Add some thinly sliced almond & cilantro to your salad-yum.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Love Songs to Melt your Butter


Everyone has a love song that makes their toes curl.

Actually, I have a few:

Amazed by Lonestar

I Will Be Here by Steven Curtis Chapman

I Don't Want To Live Without Your Love by Chicago


OK, OK, my itunes playlist for favorite love songs is 72 songs long, starting at Unchained Melody and ending with Marvin Gaye.


So what's the deal with love songs?
The lyrics to Chicago's "I Don't Want to Live Without Your Love" explode with the feelings I had when I became starkly aware of my walk without God:
Thought it wouldn't matter
If we didn't stay together
And if it was over,
Baby, it was for the better
I was thinking I'd be all right
'Til I thought it all through
Now I know that I ain't really living
If I have to live without you
I don't wanna live without your love
I don't wanna face the night alone
I could never make it through my life
If I had to make it on my own
I don't wanna love nobody else
I don't wanna find somebody new
I don't wanna live without your love
I just wanna live my life with you
Guess I had to go away
So much I had to go through
Guess I had to lose you
To realize how much I love you
Can we make the fires burn again?
Burn a little stronger
'Cause I've been alone, and baby I can't be alone any longer

I challenge you...google the lyrics to some of your favorite love songs. Yes, they do bring up warm feelings of your husband, first kiss, etc.

But really READ them.

There is almost always a deep longing, an ache for unconditional love.

If you know my story, you are also aware of the crazy paths I took, the promises made, covenants crushed. At the end of the day (not the end of the story), I ran back to the arms of my Heavenly Father.

What are you longing for?

Who are you running to? Who are you running from?

Who are you living for?

Recently, my friend Jeanine forwarded a song to our Bible study. It paints a sweet picture of the greatest love story ever...and I am the Beloved to whom the song is referring. Yes, me!

Best part is that you can claim that for yourself. You! It's His love song for you, for me.

Here it is.

Enjoy, Beloved.


One of my favorite websites is raisinghomemakers.com. They sometimes run great giveaways, but (in my opinion) today's was exceptionally good!

Check out the link & sign yourself up- you may score the "prize"!!!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Blessed by Friends

Our friend, DS, came over today to bless us with his handiwork. My husband & I agree that DS is a master perfectionist with drywall....our basement is coming together! I almost cried when I stepped downstairs tonight. We haven't had official walls up for 2 years (since the flooding).

After a great dinner out with great friends, we are relaxing at home. Tomorrow's dinner is in the crockpot & I am getting ready to cut a pattern for some pajamas for C. Tomorrow morning I need to be at O'Hare to pick up Tman-yay!! We have missed him so much.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Our Menu

We are stuffed.
That's all I have to say about that.
Here is the run down of our menu:

Roast Turkey
Pernil (Puerto Rican pork dish)
Puerto Rican rice
Savory stuffing
Stuffing with apples
Gravy
Mashed Potatoes
Green Bean Casserole
Cranberry Relish
Sweet Potato Casserole
Corn Souffle
Green Salad with Apples, Nuts & Poppyseed Dressing
Crescent Rolls
Baked Yams

German Chocolate Cake
Red Velvet Cake
Pumpkin Pie
Mint Chocolate Chip Cheesecake
Berry & Cream Trifle
Cherry Salad
Caramel Pecan Pie
Mexican Sweet Rolls

What a spread!

One of the best parts of the evening was when Tom said the blessing. It was wonderful to be surrounded by family & friends who love the Lord and recognize that He is our Saviour & Provider.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Brine the Bird

Following is an easy recipe for brining your Thanksgiving turkey. The salt solution effectively breaks down the proteins, resulting in tender, moist meat. Science aside, a brined turkey is amazingly delicious.
Here is the recipe I used for my (almost) 22 lb. bird, with photos:
2-32oz. catons vegetable or chicken stock
1.5 gallons cold water
1 can apple juice concentrate
2 cups sea salt
coarse ground pepper
2 sprigs rosemary
2 tsp. savory (optional)
In very large stockpot, combine salt, juice concentrate and 4 cups water. Bring to boil & cook until salt is dissloved. Add rest of ingredients and let cool to room temperature.
Now comes the (sometimes) messy part. I would recommend clearing everything out of your sink. Use a food grade plastic bag, like the Reynold's turkey bag here. Place bag in a container that is sufficient to hold your turkey. (I used a large plastic dish tub; sometimes a canning pot works well). Rinse your thawed turkey and remove everything from cavity. Place turkey, breast side down into your plastic bag. Slowly pour cooled brine over turkey.

You want to be sure that the entire turkey is sumerged in the brine. Tightly tie your bag closed. I then placed the white plastic tub in the garage so the brine could work its magic overnight!

Make SURE that you have no holes in your bag. Yours truly did not do that & I am sparing everyone from the pictures of that mess.

My 22 lb turkey will cook in about 2 hours. After rinsing the bird, I will give him a massage with a bit of butter and place him in a roasting bag and my big roaster. The brine greatly reduces cooking time, so watch your bird. In addition, rinse carefully before cooking so that your drippings will not be salty.

Here is the carmel-pecan pie I made while the brine was cooling. My pumpkin pie is cooking now. It is very chilly out today, but it's toasty in the kitchen & our home smells like Thanksgiving!

Caramel Pecan Pie recipe link from Southern Living. (I did sub dark brown sugar for white).

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Two Favorite Sweet Recipes

With good reason, Clone of a Cinnabon is one of the most popular recipes on allrecipes.com. I have halved the recipe with excellent results. They are sooooooo yummy. When we had a crew in our basement digging a sump pump, I made a batch. The guys practically inhaled them and pronounced them the best ever. This recipe is foolproof and I always have consistent results.
They would make a wonderful breakfast surprise for Thanksgiving guests.
Here is the link:
http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Clone-of-a-Cinnabon/Detail.aspx

Following is my sugar cookie recipe that many request from me. I am always happy to pass it along as I think it makes the most delicious sugar cookies that hold their shape.

Susan's Sugar Cookies
3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) butter, softened
3 cups granulated sugar
3 eggs
2 generous tsp. vanilla
6 cups flour, sifted
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt

Cream butter and sugar. Add vanilla and eggs and mix well. Add dry ingredients slowly, mixing until dough forms ball. Do not over beat. Separate into 3 disks and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Let chill in fridge for about an hour. You want firm dough, but not rock hard.
Flour work surface and roll out dough. Cut with cutters and place shapes on parchment lined baking sheet. Place baking sheet in fridge about 15 minutes. (Chilled, cut shapes will hold their shape much better than room temp. dough).

Bake about 10 minutes in 325 oven.

Frost with royal icing (if desired) and let dry about 6-8 hours. Enjoy!

Right now I am waiting on a cookie order to bake. I have 6 trays chilled that I am baking in shifts. A repeat order of Irish dancing shoe cookies. My head is throbbing and the boys are sleeping on the couch (snoring, actually) and I will admit that I am a wee bit jealous.

However, I was excited when I discovered that I could download the Beatles on itunes. I am listening to my 2 favorite old school Beatles songs: If I Fell and And I Love Her. My parents can verify that I loved listening to my dad's old Beatles vinyl when I was growing up. Wish I could scan in a picture of my old royal blue record player...good memories.
Happy Sunday!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Countdown to Thanksgiving


That's right. This time next week we will be in a food coma from all the delicious food. We are fortunate to spend the day at Claudia & Richie's home.

There will be food galore and not just "I'll-have-a-helping-just-to-be-polite" food, but REALLY amazing dishes. My brother-in-law is Puerto Rican and we will be having turkey and lechon (roasted pork) for the main course. Marisa, my sister-in-law, makes my favorite side: her special cranberry sauce. She has a unique recipe that is loaded with cranberries, apricots, nuts and heavy on the clove flavor...soooo good. Enrique's mom is a wonderful cook and she is making stuffing!!
Our family is contributing turkey, corn souffle and a dessert. A giant 20+ pound turkey is waiting quietly in our deep freeze. Of course, I will be brining it-not sure if I will try a new brine recipe...any suggestions? As for dessert...hmm...so much fun to thumb through my stacks of cookbooks. Everyone likes pumpkin roll. Maybe a twist on pecan pie??
Claudia & Richie are some of the most hospitable people I have ever met. Not only do they open their home to family, but they have offered their home as a safe haven for friends that need a place during transitions. Extremely gracious, fun and warm. They are a living example of the verse 1 Peter 4:9.

Thanksgiving does have one downside for me. It is the holiday that T always spends with his father in DC & we miss him terribly. I am thankful, however, that he has a father who loves him & looks forward to spending time with him.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Comfort

"May your unfailing love be my comfort..."
Psalm 119:76

Have you ever experienced something that made you smile?

Smile at the fierce way that God shows His love to us?

Tonight was one of those moments.

My dad has not been feeling very well and suffering from a kidney stone. Tonight he was admitted to the hospital so that he could receive antibiotics & fluids. My mom is visiting my Grandma in Indiana, so I drove my dad to the hospital.

It's been a frustrating month of health issues for him. We sat in the waiting room while they prepared a bed and I asked my dad if I could pray for him. I prayed specifically:
"Lord, just surround my dad with comfort. Put a hedge of comfort and peace around him".

In a few minutes, we were getting him settled into his room and a smiling, tiny nurse came in. She said, "I will be taking care of you tonight. My name is Comfort".

Say what!?

So I actually asked her (because I didn't believe my own ears)...."Did you say your name was Comfort?"

And she just smiled and said, "Yes, Comfort".

My dad & I shared a smile. There is no coincidence here. Not sure about you, but I have never heard the name Comfort before tonight. We even told the nurse about what I just prayed and she had a little twinkle in her eye.

Thank you, God, for comfort and Comfort. May she take excellent care of my dad tonight.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Homemade Lofthouse Cookies


Allrecipes.com (best recipe website ever!!) recently had a post with a recipe for lofthouse cookies. The writer did an excellent comprehensive "test" of several different baking mixes as the base for lofthouse cookies. Although not one of my favorites, my boys really enjoy these cookies. My sister in Dubai also has 3 boys (and a husband) who really like these, so I am hoping she can find the mix and it doesn't cost $25!
I only had Bisquick Heart Healthy baking mix on hand and did not have Crisco (trying to eliminate from pantry). So I subbed softened butter for the Crisco.

Here is the recipe:

2 cups Jiffy baking mix (I used Bisquick Heart Healthy)
2/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup milk
5 tbsp Crisco Shortening (I used softened butter)
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees...Grease baking sheet. Mix all ingredients and spoon onto pans. Bake for 8-10 minutes and remove to cool.

The writer suggested piping the batter in circles onto parchment-lines baking sheets. Great advice as they came out in pretty smooth-edged circles. I used a box of Jiffy white icing mix to frost and sprinkled on rainbow jimmies.


Enjoy! If your sweet tooth is needing more sugar, check out this blog:

Friday, November 12, 2010

New Boots


Breaking in, breaking down, softening, molding....


New cowboy boots are stiff.


Very.

Very.

Stiff.


After taking my new boots from the box and appreciating their rich leather smell, I excitedly went to slip my foot into the left boot. "Slipping" into the boot soon turned into coaxing and pulling and tugging. Once I finally walked around in both boots, they fit well, so I knew that much "breaking in" was in store. (Yee-haw...that is for my sister, Lisa).


Not being the most patient person, I felt exasperated that I had to wait (and work!) to transform these boots into soft, supple leather. And that I was the only one who could do the job since I am the bearer of Susan's feet.


These boots have reminded me of a friend of mine...let's call this friend D. If D were a boot, she would be a steel-toed combat boot, constructed from the thickest hide known to man. D would resist any foot that dared to even think to try her on for size.


D wasn't always a tough boot. Once upon a time, she was something else. Not sure what, but certainly not a tough boot.


Just like my new boots, D is softening. By the grace of God, she is seeing that maybe her leather isn't impenetrable. It has been fun to see transformation, melting of fear and pain. Pure joy wells up in me when she calls to ask for prayer or sends a card telling me "thank you".


Tonight I have been thinking about starting a neighborhood book club. The fear of the unknown is just as palpable as the excitement of meeting new friends, having thought-provoking discussions, etc. Looking forward to breaking in some new friendships, opening my home and heart to the people that God has graciously brought into my life and my neighborhood.


2 Timothy 1:7 says:

For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.


Praying that I will step forward in courage and forge new relationships through this book club. Gos is really showing me how I am much like those new boots, that he has so much molding and shaping to do.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Homemade Marinara

Making your own marinara sauce is worth the effort & saves money when you keep some of the staples in your pantry. It's quite simple, the most important thing to remember is taste, taste, taste. There is a lot of variance when it comes to tomatoes, garlic, onions and their acidity.

Here are the ingredients:
Olive Oil
2 medium or 3 smallish onions (sweet onions are great in season)
4 cloves garlic
1 Tbs. tomato paste
About 1/2 cup Red wine (I like a good Chianti)
2-28oz. cans whole peeled tomatoes
Salt, sugar, Italian seasonings to suit your taste

Heat about 2-3 Tbs. olive oil in heavy Dutch oven. While oil is heating, chop onions and then add to hot pan.

Cook onions down until soft and translucent, as you would for risotto. Don't allow them to scorch. While onions are cooking merrily, mince your garlic and have your tomato paste at the ready.

In addition, place canned tomatoes in colander, catching the juices. Remove any fibrous parts and set tomatoes & juice aside.

Add garlic to cooked onions and stir until fragrant, then add tomato paste. You will have a pinkish mixture that smells amazing. Here is where I add a splash of the red wine. After adding some of the wine, use your wooden spoon to work all the caramelized onion from the bottom & sides of pan.

Here are the tomatoes I used-my favorite is Liguria but this is what I had on hand. A good Italian market will offer several varieties. Add drained tomatoes to pan as well as remainder of wine. Now, we wait....letting tomatoes cook and stirring pot occasionally.

Once sauce has cooked down, I use an immersion blender to smooth it out. I have had mine since college (early 90s!) and it is a terrific tool.

Now, the tasting begins. We added fresh Italian sausage last night, so that added a lot of flavor to my batch. But if you are having straight up marinara, you need to sample and adjust.

A bit of sugar helps balance the acidity.

A bit of salt cuts jammy, too sweet flavor.

Extra virgin olive oil drizzled in helps meld the flavors.

The boys wanted to take a picture with the Italian sausage. I used half of it & froze the other half. For locals: Amici is our hands-down favorite homemade sausage. If you like pungent fennel, Westbrook is your market.

Remove the casing & cook, breaking up with a wooden spoon. It adds great depth to your homemade sauce.

Here's the finished product with freshly grated Parmegiano Reggiano. Enjoy!


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Treat!!

The total of the craft fair and a few pre-sales of mittens was a nice chunk of change. (There was very little investment on my part as I had purchased the bulk of the sweaters during springtime when they were generally around $1 each). Those who know me, know that I enjoy budgeting...so some of it will be going into the bank.

HOWEVER...

I have been wanting to replace my Uggs. This is year 4 and they have served me well; they are so well made and very warm. Unfortunately, I do think some of the issues with plantar fascitis (swelling and irritation of tissue on bottom of foot) have not been helped by wearing the Uggs from October to March.

So, I found another pair of boots on Zappos that I fell in love with. Can't wait until they arrive. They are made by Frye and have been rumored to last upwards of 20+ years as well as improve with age. Here's a picture:

We spent the day relaxing. I scrubbed down the kitchen, even the refrigerator. E & T raked all the leaves from the huge magnolia tree. C lived up to his nickname of "Hurricane" by dumping a box of Blueberry mini-wheats onto Josie (whom I had just meticulously groomed). An improvement from his earlier escapade of emptying an entire tube of Vaseline on his hair and in his ear.

Off to bed with tea and a good book. Reading Under a Thousand Splendid Suns. Great book, hard to put down!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Craft Fair Set Up




Done!!!!!!!!!!
I finished setting up early so the tables around me are still bare, but I am sooooo glad to be DONE!
A woman walked by and asked if I was a supplier for Jolie Boutique. She has seen wool roses there and thought I must have made them. It made me feel good to hear her kind words & even better that my goods were much better priced.
Come by and shop at the DGCS 21st Annual Craft Fair:
9am-8pm Friday and 9am-3pm on Saturday
Corner of Maple & Washington in downtown Downers Grove

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Peppermint Meringues...So Easy & Refreshing

Tonight I made a batch of peppermint meringues. For several years I have followed allrecipes.com's French Meringue recipe and it is really foolproof. The only addition was a few drops of peppermint oil. I placed some in cello bags and then clear boxes for cute packaging:

Here is a batch that I made last Christmas. For softer peaks, more "button-like" meringues, beat only about 6-8 minutes. And if you like a striped meringue, paint the inside of your pastry bag with food color paste.



My husband & son really enjoy lemon meringues and I found that if I added about half a box of powdered lemon gelatin, it made for delicious lemon meringues. (The addition of the gelatin also makes stiff peaks quickly). The lemon meringues look great with sanding sugar or nonpareils sprinkled on the top.


Here is a link to the recipe:

http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Authentic-French-Meringues/Detail.aspx?prop31=1


I never ate many meringues when I was in France at the Universite de Grenoble, but I did eat my fair share of pain au chocolat...mmm....

Soon I will be making peppermint marshmallows!! Great for cocoa on a snowy Chicago day. Here is our cocoa from last winter.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Felted Woolapalooza


My sweet niece, R, was more than happy to model some of my wool creations. Although the hats are women's size, they do look pretty adorable on her.



If you were to stop by my home tonight, you would likely be aghast at the amount of wool scraps on my floor. They are especially "heavy" around the computer, because I have spent the last few nights trimming, shaping and sewing wool roses while I watch Alfred Hitchcock Presents on hulu.
I finished making 40 pairs of mittens from recycled sweaters that I felted. Each sweater was 100% wool and I pieced together some funky combinations. The purple Fair isle are my favorite, but I threw together many colors, stripes and designs. The wonderful grandma of a former youth group student passed on her pattern and I know she loved the creativity when she made mittens. They are all lined with plush fleece; cannot even describe how warm & wonderful they feel.

From the wool scraps emerged my many flowers, from which I fashioned barrettes and brooches as well as embellishments for all wool berets. No glue used; all hand sewn.

Not sure which beret I like the most, probably the tan with the huge red rose. It is actually the back of a rose that I had shaped...when I went to sew the leaves on the back, it was so pretty that I decided to keep it faced out backwards.

Barrettes, barrettes, barrettes.

Mostly roses, one with a vintage button in the center.

And one flaming magenta coxcomb, fashioned from the old velvet of a pillow. It is so pretty up close. (Coxcomb are my favorite dried flowers).

Enfin, just above the old radio where I photographed my wool "stuff" is a very scary picture. Found years ago in the basement of my favorite Fredricksburg, VA antiques store. It still gives me the creeps, in a good way.

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