Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thankful for My Grandma

Here I sit, thinking about my Grandma Wilder as I wait for my turkey to cook.  Today we are having my parents and sister's family for a big dinner and I am thankful that it's a joint effort!  My Grandma hosted an enormous crowd every year and I have spent the majority of my 38 Thanksgivings at her home in Indiana. 

She reveled in cooking for her family.....preparations began in advance although the menu never changed:
Turkey (of course)
Stuffing (regular with giblets and oyster)
Mashed potatoes (mountains of fluffy spuds!)
Green beans (the best ever)
Waldorf Salad (mostly for my Uncle Charlie)
Apricot Delight (Grandma's favorite)
Sweet potato casserole with marshmallows in the early years, pecans more recently
Cranberry Sauce
Red Velvet Cake
Angel Food Cake
Grandma's famous sugar cookies

Grandma never seemed to mind the crowd. The kitchen was always full of my mom and aunts, bustling around to lay out the food. Someone was always brewing sweet tea and filling the glasses with ice. Not sure how they managed to have the food hot all at once at 11 o'clock sharp, but they did!

We ate until we could eat no more.  On the warmer days, the kids (that's me!) would go outside to play on the swingset.  On rainy days, we kept busy with coloring and games.  Husker Du, TriOminos and Uno.  Later, Rook and Up and Down the River.

The food fest didn't end there.  Thanksgiving evening meant the highlight for us kids: the traditional Wienie Roast.  (We did this every Easter Eve, too).  The men would build an enormous bonfire in the backyard and we would load up the folding table with hot dogs, buns, condiments, marshmallows, grahams and chocolate bars.  Good times with my pyro family.

When we cleaned out my Grandma's house before it sold, we had one last bittersweet wienie roast for old time's sake.  The fire was super hot that day; we were burning piles of non essential papers.  It was our last wienie roast, but such great memories we have had. 

The final roasting of the wienies:

Thank you, Grandma Wilder, for instilling a deep love of Thanksgiving and family in us!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Upcycling A Huge Mirror

September is right around the corner and I am thrilled to be working with etsy at the Junk Bonanza in Shakopee, MN.

In preparation for the JB as well as some other flea markets, I have been acquiring some larger items to offset the "smalls".  Last June I found a massive mirror at the Village Discount.  The frame was like a Syroco (durable plastic) and the mirror was in good shape.  It looks as though it was from the late 60s.  Unfortunately, there was no price on it and I know how weird they are about pricing things spur of the moment.  The supervisor was in the back with about 20 workers and I don't think anyone spoke English, but he grabbed his teenage son to help me.  The young man was a little embarrassed and he had the pricing marker and asked it $5 was too much!  (!!?@?#>#)  I replied, "That sounds like an excellent price" and snatched up the giant mirror to awkwardly haul it to the cashier.  She looked askance at me when she saw the price and I could tell she was exasperated that someone priced it so well.  (She is a shrewd but lovely lady;)).

Here is the mirror on the back porch, ready for a thorough cleaning, no easy task with all its curls and festoons.  After all the grime was removed with the help of a toothbrush and q-tip, I bean to paint.  The color was a rich orange, almost a deep pumpkin color.  The paint clung beautifully to the frame and tiny bits of the chocolate brown peeked through.  I decided to leave it with the subtle flecks of brown instead of a solid orange. 

This treasure will be heading to Shakopee with me, although I am reluctant to take it down from our family room wall where it has been hanging.  It's such a HUGE piece and brings space to the room and well as being a lovely focal point. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Long, Hot July

Two months have passed since my last post, although it feels like 2 years.  June was consumed with prepping and recovering from VBS, which was a wonderful week.  T left the last week of June to visit his father for two weeks and we were still enjoying a "surprise" visit from Lisa and Hannah, who traveled from Dubai to spend time with us.

July brought oppressive heat and humidity.  If you know me well, you are aware of how physically ill I become in the heat.  I wish that I could sit outside with a cool drink and enjoy the heat, but two incidents of heat stroke seem to have permanently affected my body.  Fourth of July was a scorching hot day and we went to the (early) Darien parade and had a celebration dinner at our house that night.  The kids splashed in a pool and we stayed in the A/C eating brats, watermelon and ice cream.  That was the last "normal" day in July.....

On July 5th, my sister from Dubai called from my parent's home in distress.  My dad had completely no short term memory and was wandering around confused.  Thankfully, E was home so that I could drive over and pick up my parents to drive them to the hospital.  My dad was diagnosed with a rare episode of something called transient global amnesia and spent some time in the hospital.  My mom was feeling under the weather during this time and we were increasingly worried about her. 

The day after my dad was sent home, we drove Lisa and Hannah to the airport and said our good-byes.  Dad was better albeit tired from restless hospital sleep and my mom was still not feeling well.  Within 2 days, the doctor determined that my mom needed to be hospitalized for kidney failure and some other issues.  We spent another long week in the hospital and my Aunt Betty (mom's best friend & sister) was also admitted.  Ironically, the same hospital and similar issues.  The staff was baffled and said it was the strangest thing ever.

T came home from his visit and we celebrated C's birthday the day after the ladies were released from the hospital. 

My back went out the Sunday after.  Literally could not walk.  Terrifying. 

Honestly, I am getting tired typing all this and rehashing the events of July. 

Through it all, God has been faithful and shown us his love and compassion.  Being confined to bed for a few days made me realize that I am ready to take several things off my plate so I stepped down from Children's Ministry Director at church.  It was a wonderful 18 months of service, but I am exhausted and feel that a huge burden is lifted and I have renewed energy to be a wife and mom.

I will add that there were some beautiful, bright spots throughout the month, the best being the wedding of a lovely young woman named Michelle.  I had the joy of working/mentoring her through her teen years and her mom has been a mentor and friend to me.  They are both women that I am blessed to call my friends.  Her wedding was quite simply "magical". 
Kudos if you were able to read this whole novel.  I hope to get back to posting more recipes, vintage finds and family ideas.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Busy June and Our New Normal

So many things have been happening all at once. 

1) E has a new job and with it come many blessings.  It also has different hours and we are now enjoying eating lunch together as our family time since he works from 2-10:30pm.

2) Summer Kid's Club (aka VBS) kicks off on the 11th.  Much to be done.  We are spread thin this year, but have an excellent team.  I am confident that it will be a wonderful year.

3) Garage sale season has begun!  Enough said.

I will now unveil my favorite garage sale find.  It is an old Schwinn Breeze.  Red and white, excellent condition, wire basket, original red glittery grips.  It is a single speed and quite a challenge on hills.  However, I have been enjoying my rides.  It makes a lovely creaking sound that draws smiles (usually from older folks who have a flashback when they see my cool wheels).

Monday, May 21, 2012

Flea Market Weekend

Pam, Trev & I headed to Sandwich this weekend to sell our "stuff" at the Sandwich Antiques Fair.  It's been a few years since I last visited the fair and I was aghast at how much smaller is has become.  Such a lovely venue: mature trees, old buildings and loads of open spaces. 

We arrived late Saturday afternoon on the hottest day (so far) this year.  It took several hours to erect our canopy, set up tables, unpack and arrange our items.  Two if the neighboring vendors came to chat with us, also expressing their disappointment at the small showing.  (There were 3 very large antiques fairs at the same time).  In any case, we all agreed that it was less competition!

Pam headed home later that night.  Trev & I had decided to camp out in the van.  Following a hot, buggy night that resulted in 2 hours sleep, we agreed that it wasn't our best idea.  Especially when the gentleman adjacent to our plot decided to build a bonfire and belt out songs on his vintage 2am.

The very best part of the whole adventure was about midnight on Saturday.  Trevor had opened the van for some fresh albeit buggy air.  He said, "I can see the Big Dipper!" and started talking about the stars.  When he started to drift off later, he said, "Good Night, Big Dipper" and I replied, "Good Night, Little Dipper".    New tradition formed, sweet memory.  Even though we didn't make as much money as we would have liked, that special moment was priceless.

It's 8:45pm here.  Off the tuck in Little Dipper and even Littler Dipper.

Friday, April 6, 2012

ALDI Faves

Been working on this post for awhile and was finally able to upload some pictures of the products to add to the post.  For many years, I avoided Aldi like the plague.  Not sure why... but after shopping there once, I wondered why I had been so stubborn (and prideful, if we're being honest).

Like any store, Aldi has some excellent products and some lousy ones.  This review if for the excellent products, but I must warn to stay away from their worst product ever: the glass cleaner.  Never have I used such a worthless product; in fact, I am convinced it is blue-tinted water.  Save your $1.50 and pass on the glass cleaner. 

For 1st time Aldi shoppers, bring a quarter to unlock a cart for shopping.  This reminds me of shopping in France when I was a student.  It's actually quite effective in keeping the carts corralled and you will never have a wet cart on rainy days.  Bring some reusable shopping bags, too, or purchase them at Aldi.

Beaumont Donut Store Blend Coffee & Benton's Ginger Snaps

Our cousin in Costa Rica is our official coffee supplier.  We buy Cafe Britt in bulk from him and the proceeds go to supplement youth ministry.  However, we are fresh out!  We have had the Beaumont coffee in Donut Store Blend (below), Hazelnut and French Vanilla.  Mind you, the bar is set REALLY high after drinking Cafe Britt regularly and the Aldi stuff is pretty stinking good.  It makes a decent cup of robust coffee with no bitterness.  Smooth and a nice caffeine kick.  $3.99

The Ginger Snaps are my hands-down favorite.  Zero trans fat, super crispy with an intense ginger spice.  Around $1.60 per bag.  Can't beat that!  They are a decent treat for WW, too.

Mandarin Oranges, Evaporated Milk and Baked Beans

When Tman was little, he went through a mandarin orange phase.  We loved putting them on our Romaine salad with sweet & salty toasted almonds.  Aldi always has a low price, usually around $.59.  Nice plump orange segments in water, not syrup.

The evaporated milk is just a great bargain.  We use it often in place of heavy cream to add richness while cutting fat.  A basic staple at a great price: $.69

The Dakota's baked beans are a recent find.  My sister served baked beans at her daughter's birthday party (one of my niece's favorite foods).  Our family is a tried and true Bush Beans buyer and I assumed they were Bush Beans, somehow gussied up to add some interesting depth of flavor.  The beans were polished off and we were all raving about them.  My sister told us they were purchased at Aldi and a new favorite was born.  TRY THESE-for $.95, it's an inexpensive gamble.

Mandarin Orange Chicken

Found in the frozen section, I grabbed a bag one day for a quick dinner.  Although I ate something else, I did try a piece and it was really good.  My husband and son said it tasted like Panda Express but I cannot say for sure as I have never had Panda Express orange chicken.  For $4.99, it is a quick, easy dinner that my kids and husband enjoy.  We steam white rice and serve veggies alongside.

Willow 1-ply Bath Tissue

Lately, we have had an issue with (ahem!) boys using too much t.p., thus creating a back up.  This t.p. is fantastic.  Super cheap ($2.49), the 4 roll package lasts a long time since it's 1-ply.  My dad is horrified as he insists on the most plush t.p. ever, but to each his own.  My family's derrieres will have to deal with the one-ply because I am not about the mop up another stopped up toilet disaster.


Amazing.  $3.99.  Don't believe me?  Read the reviews on makeupalley:

Darling Chicks
Aldi is a great place to find little holiday treats.  Their chocolate is decent and super affordable.  I always splurge on some Fannie May, but these are nice fillers.  $2.99 or about 12 foil chicks.

Another item I love: the Light and Fit Ranch Dressing (100 times better than Hidden Valley)!

That's all, folks.  Have a lovely weekend as we celebrate our Risen Savior and King Jesus!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Homemade Fruit Leather

Last week I had a tremendous amount of plums, peaches and apricots that were very ripe.  I pitted them and then cooked down the fruit for a couple hours in a covered pot.  After running the cooked fruit through my trusty Foley food mill, I had a huge bowl of puree left.  I added a little bit of sugar and then cooked to hard ball stage.  The plum "jellies" never firmed up enough...they were like a thick, smooth jam.  Delicious, but we already have too much jam.

I stirred in a box of apricot jello and then spread the jammy goo onto parchment-lined baking sheets.  Baked at 200 degrees for about 1 hour, then left in the oven overnight.  This morning they were tacky and almost done.  A quick blast of heat and a rest in the oven (about 2 hours) had them ready for peeling and eating.

They peeled off easily and taste so delicious.  I rolled the parchment into long tubes (GIANT fruit roll-ups).  They will not last long with this crew.  Don't have room for a dehydrator, but this method worked really well.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Sugar Cookies, Chicken and Dumplings and February Fun

After a long break from sugar cookie orders, I was asked to make some lamb cookies for a baby shower.  The request came from a woman who had tasted one of my cookies about 3 years ago.  SHe is soon to be a grandma and was hosting a shower for her daughter.  

The theme was baby lambs and their color was pink.  I ordered a cutter online and was disappointed when it was much smaller than described.  To remedy the size issue, I used a large 3.5" square cutter with a crimped edge as a base for the small lamb.  Simple marbled royal icing in pink and white was the blue to adhere the iced lambs.  They were darling and quite a hefty portion of cookie when all stacked and "done".

On a savory note, I am grateful that my Grandma Wilder does not have access to the internet as I have discovered a new dumpling recipe.  Her recipe is wonderful and tastes like delicious memories each time I have made it, but I think I much prefer my new recipe.  Adapted from "America's Test Kitchen", these dumplings are beyond wonderful....akin to a tiny fluffy biscuit in savory chicken soup. 

Here is the recipe:

I did omit the peas and thyme.  Will be making again this week with a few changes.  I will post the pictures, too.

My friend and I are going to be planning several freezer meals in the next couple weeks.  In an effort to be healthier, better organized and less stressed (about dinner), I look forward to grabbing a bag of pre-chopped veggies, meat and seasonings that I can toss in the crockpot. 

No big Valentine's dinner this year as I was battling the flu for a week. 

Happy end of February!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Soft Fudgy Cookies

The post should probably read Soft Fudgy, Minty Cookies because C and I added Nestle dark chocolate and mint chips.  When Meijer had their after Christmas sale, there were many bags of these holiday chips left for an insanely low price (86 cents?).  They are now in the deep freeze for my meltaway fudge recipe.

After searching for cookie recipes online, I found one that I decided to change up to increase the chocolate intensity.  Here is our recipe.  (Charlie a.k.a. sous-chef thinks they are delicious.  Then again, he thinks anything edible is delicious).

1 cup butter, softened
1 3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 generous tsp. vanilla
1 cup cocoa powder
2 cups flour, sifted
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
(chips, nuts, dried cherries)

Cream butter and sugar.  Add eggs and vanilla.  Add cocoa and mix until smooth.  Add rest of dry ingredients.  Add your mix-ins (optional) last.  Scoop into balls and bake at 350 for about 8 minutes on parchment paper. 

We froze this batch.  I line a 9x13 pan with parchment and scoop balls with my small cookie scoop.  The recipe yielded: 42 cookie balls.  We cover tightly and place in deep freeze.  Once frozen, remove to freezer bags until ready to bake.  Label bags with oven temp. and time.  They will take a bit longer when frozen. 

Yay!  Our freezer will have more cookies.  Right now we only have 2 logs of slice and bake sugar cookie dough that I made last week.

We have had a wonderful and busy 2012 so far but have been thanking God for our overflowing blessings!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Red Velvet Whoopie Pies

Illinois is icy cold tonight.  The chill is seeping under the doors and we are all wearing socks and slippers.  Dinner was simple: spaghetti with Italian sausage.  My husband is a lover of comfort food (who isn't?) and I love to have the house smelling delicious when he comes home. 

To combat the cold, I decided to bake.  T was at soccer and E was heading off to a meeting at church, so another simple recipe was in order since the priority was heating up the kitchen.  I remembered a quickie recipe that I once made from Allrecipes for red velvet whoopie pies.  All ingredients were on hand: cake mix, eggs and oil.  (We omitted the bourbon but would love to try in the future!) 

After mixing red velvet cake mix, 2 eggs and 1/2 cup oil, I used to ice cream scoop to place onto parchment-lined baking sheets.  We baked at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes until baked through.

After cooling, we sandwiched with a basic buttercream (butter, whipping cream & confectioner's sugar). 

They were really yummy and so simple.  My favorite pastime is cooking and baking....and I love challenging pastries.  But sometimes simple is fun and I forget that I don't need to make something elaborate to please my boys.

I had half of one (thank you, WW points).  These would be a darling Valentine's treat or fun snack for your loved ones.  My husband has a big old whoopie pie waiting for him when he gets back from his meeting.  I love him!