Tuesday, January 8, 2019

ANTIQUING FOR VINTAGE ORNAMENTS, JANUARY ORGANIZATION, & A LIGHT SOUP RECIPE




January Gloom outside my window

I'm back in time to be a part of the New Year in the blogging world.  What a shock.  Is this a new leaf, or evergreen branch I'm turning?  I'm just feeling good, energized.  As per usual, I came down with my after holiday cold/flu, New Years Day to be exact.  I hunkered down in bed, slept the days away, struggled with my asthma, and slowly got better.  The last few days have me congested and coughing, but oh so ready to get it all going. 

 Have you ever been incapacitated in any way, sidetracked by a bad bug or even something really bad like surgery?  You have that time to contemplate all you want to do, and maybe lament that you didn't do it when you were well.  So while I tossed and turned (when I wasn't snoring through my stuffed up nose), I thought about that linen closet that was overstuffed and overflowing,  the Tupperware in my cabinets that I had planned to organize, the new quilt and bed skirt I wanted to update our bedroom with, and the purging that never seems to end in this little old house.  I felt that frustration that I hadn't seized the day when I was feeling good.  Oh...the pressure we put on ourselves.  Happily, our weather has been mild and even if I haven't accomplished any spring cleaning, I've managed to get out almost everyday, just for a few errands.  Oh, that fresh air feels so good.



Milo is not doing well, I'll leave it at that.  A few week ago I could say that every day was different.  It's not that way anymore.  I know we are going to have to make a decision very soon.  I've been able to rework my feelings and confusion in  way that I hope helps any of you facing the decline of your pet.  We have those puppy months that we just want to eat them up, even when they are mischievous and frustrating.  And then we move on to that comfortable familiarity where they fit seamlessly into our lives, our family. The aging stage may come on gradually...the slowing down, the graying of their fur, and many other physical changes, and we start to realize they won't and will not live forever.  

With Milo, I have watched him go from a 7 week old puppy, to a 15+ year old dog.  I often think of these stages, and while I feel grateful to have had this great amount of time, there are days when I think this is the one part of his life where I hold the strings.  I have to decide when it ends.  It's very hard.  I write this now because I don't think I'll be able to later.




Ah, weekends in the cold Midwest.  It's hard to come up with things to do, especially when you have to weigh going out into that gloomy, miserable weather, or just stay warm and comfy inside.  Other than a few little trips out for groceries or errands, The Husband and I tried a few new restaurants nearby.  One featured Vietnamese, Thai and French food.  It was an incredible menu and we each had scallops done in completely different ways.  We will definitely be back.  Another was a Brazilian place and that also had a great menu, small but interesting...one that makes you want to try everything over time.   

It has also been a long time since The Husband and I have explored antique shops and malls.  An effort to keep clutter down,  no specific desire or need for anything, and the fact that we have been to many places in and around our homes in Illinois and Michigan, sometimes multiple times, these outings have fallen to the wayside. 

Sometimes you get an inkling for pieces you'd like to focus your search on, and for me it was to scout out some of my favorite things that I had lost sight of. I've always loved mismatched silverware, and pretty much anything silver plate, and in this venture, I was really longing for candle holders and silver trays.  I've also been looking for vintage mirrors.  The chippy windows that I love are starting to get old, and I'm longing for a huge old mirror, or a few to layer above that massive fireplace mantel I have and loathe.  Of course, I've gotten inspiration from Pinterest and Instagram...these are great sources for stirring up ideas you haven't yet put your finger on.

So, my frugal haul.  I found so many little Christmas treasures.  At the risk of offending anyone who loves vintage, and that's really a huge part of scouring antique stores,  I don't collect that sort of thing.  I personally can't commit to a lot of small pieces, nor does it play a part in my decor, holidays or anytime.  But...sometimes you find things that tug at your heart.  



I couldn't resist these!  I have two little vintage Santa salt and pepper shakers that are going to look darling next to my little old guys.  I think I paid about a dollar for these.  All Christmas items were 50% off.

.


It took awhile but I found a set of silver-plate candle sticks.  These are large and heavy and have the perfect amount of tarnish (or patina).  I'm going to keep looking... I simply love them compared to glass and crystal, although I wouldn't stick my nose up to any! ;-D



I never gave much thought to vintage Christmas ornaments, although I love seeing my  blogger friends with original boxes of Shinybright ornaments, not because of their value, but those who have had them passed on from generations.  While I was checking out, I quickly Googled the Holly brand. One box was being sold on eBay for $36.00.  The box is in perfect condition and I guess the matters.  Wow, I really know nothing about the collecting world.  I paid $4.

My growing up years remind me of the Dick Van Dyke Show.  We had mid-century modern furniture,    large lamps, star burst mirrors, and huge ashtrays on the coffee table.  But nothing old.  It seems my parents shed everything from family and city life in Chicago to start over in the middle of nowhere Illinois. 

When my father passed a few years ago, I think what my sisters and I were very agreeable on and wanted to share, were the Christmas ornaments that hung on our fresh tree every year.  I really prized them, although I can't really remember any particular one.  It's just a special feeling that these were on that tree in a room where I laughed and played as a tiny little girl until I was grown and gone.  

You can also see the little bells in the picture that I thought could jazz up a wreath, and in the front right corner, six silver-plate napkin rings.  Perfectly tarnished for the grand 'ol price of $2.  Happy dance! :)

This year I decided to put things away properly.  My cleaning girl has offered to help me organize all of my seasonal and overflow decorations and pieces.  The first thing I did was order divided cartons that hold 64 ornaments each.  I first looked at The Container Store and once I added what I needed to my cart, I nearly fainted at the total cost.  So I went to Overstock.com and this is what I ordered.  Not a bad price at all.  

I've also added to the large plastic bins that go on sale at this time of year.  I like the ones at Home Depot.  They can be stacked and labeled and save tons of space.  I will be so relieved when that downstairs spare bedroom is organized and clean.  I've actually started to store things in Abby's old room, or our guest-less room.  Do you have any storage tips to pass on?


Jane's Shrimp and Vegetable Soup

After the carb infused, filling foods over the holidays, I was craving light and simple.  I was thinking clear soups, more broth than anything.  This picture above actually photographed a lot thicker than it actually was because of the color of the tomatoes I added.  But believe me, it was light and fresh and I can imagine eating it chilled during the summer months.

20-25 medium shrimp, cleaned, peeled and deveined
2 32 oz. boxes of chicken or vegetable stock
1 T olive oil
2 large shallots, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 green onions, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and cut in 1/4 in. rounds
1 plum tomato, chopped
1 T dried thyme
Small pinch of red pepper flakes
Salt & pepper to taste
1 1/2 c fresh spinach, roughly cut

Heat the oil over low in a large soup pot or dutch oven.  Add shallots and sauté until just tender.  Add garlic and stir for 1-2 minutes.  Pour in the stock and bring to a boil.  Add the green onions, carrots, tomato, thyme, red pepper, and S&P.  Reduce to a simmer with lid on for 15-20 minutes.  Add the shrimp and let cook 2 minutes.  Stir in the spinach, adjust seasonings and serve.
Serves 6-8.  I added a little shaved Parmesan to the top and also had some toasted garlic bread on the side.  

I still don't have that Pin button working.  Grrrrr...in the meantime you can copy and paste my recipes to a folder if you'd like.  


Just a few questions.  Please tell me what you're watching on TV now and really loving.  Also, some book recommendations would be great.  I finished Kitchen Yarns, which I wrote about in my last post, and just started a new one called Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell.



This is a page turner so don't pick it up unless you have a good amount of time to get into it.  Read about it and order here if you'd like.


Enjoy these slow days of January.  Find simple pleasures and when you are bursting with unspent energy, bring some organization and changes to your home.  Before you know it spring will be here and you won't want to be inside!

Jane x

Saturday, December 29, 2018

GOODBYE 2018...LOVE, BLONDIE


Madelyn  (photo credit: Emily)


I guess this will be my last post of the year.  I get so disappointed  with myself when I see how I've slid down the side of the mountain in blogging.  This will make my 17th post for the year.  In 2011, I published 101.  Hmmmmm...I did achieve my goal and dream to write professionally by practice, discipline, and most of all, the sweet and encouraging comments from you, my readers.  

My long term goal was to write for the newspapers and ultimately syndicate.  And an even loftier plan was to freelance with magazines.  Things were shelved temporarily when I had my surgery in April.  I have to sit down and really make a plan, break it down into steps.  And I need to keep connecting with all of you; shorter and more frequent posts.  I read a blog post today written by La Table De Nana and she mentioned that she doesn't make resolutions or focus on goals for the coming year (not a direct quote), but she simply tries to do her best.  Isn't that perfect?  Isn't that all we really need?


Christmas 2018


I was really thrilled with the Christmas tree I hunted down this year.  First, I do this on my own.  I'll see a tree I like, The Husband will find his.  I usually win but in the last ten years or so I just go to our nursery alone and he stays home nice and warm.  ^^.  I became infatuated with those tall skinny trees that are so darn cute and the perfect size for my tiny little home.  The Noble fir isn't native to our area but can be shipped for a pretty penny from the PNW.  I went as far (and this is a huge far) in looking for an artificial tree, and perhaps white lights.  Again, very expensive.  I found this guy and even though it's a Douglas Fir, it is tall and skinny and even before the branches fell, it looked like it was surely from The Land of the Misfits.  Everyone that walks in the door comments on the Grinch tree and agrees it is very cool.  

I was overspending at Hobby Lobby one day and came upon white lights.  They weren't a fortune and  while I noticed they could be used indoors or out, I failed to comprehend what icicle lights are.  As I wrapped them around the tree, I untangled dangling lights every 14 inches or so and they fell nicely, draping over the lower and inner branches.  Alas, I ran out so I made a quick trip to Home Depot.  They only had one box left and the lights were on white coated wire so it would not look nice at all.  In asking two employees if they had anymore hidden in the stockroom, I told them how important it was as I had more than half the tree done.  The tree?  The Treeeeeeeee?!  Those are for outdoors, Missy.  I stood my ground and told them how gorgeous my tree was looking.  They looked at each other for a minute, and then the man said, "Wow, maybe we have a new thing going here."  Anywho, the white lights came off and the colored ones went on.  And I'm in love again.  Next year absolutely no artificial tree and possibly, no white lights.  

Master bedroom


I'm not one who rushes to take the tree down and pack everything away in a New York minute after the holidays, and that's only because I'm too lazy.  I have to smile, every year bloggers and Instagrammers discuss the socially permissible time to start holiday decorating, usually the weekend after Thanksgiving.  And then everyone gives their say as to when they take it all down.  Some say they hate the clutter.  Maybe they should have a little restraint the day after Thanksgiving.  ;-D


I tried my hand at a hot cocoa bar.  It was cute but not very much used.  Turns out little Madelyn doesn't like it although she was loving stirring the marshmallows around until they disappeared.  She is however, crazy about sweets and I have to hide my candy dishes and cookie jar when she comes over.  


Meg and Declan's, Christmas Day

As always, it was family celebrations in the days leading up to Christmas.  They are absolutely festive and fun and unwaveringly traditional.  Drinks, food, and a crazy grab bags where gifts can be stolen, sometimes several times.  The party at my son's house is absolutely nuts.  In this swap, playing cards are used to pick a gift in a particular order according to the card pulled, then the gifts are passed to the right or left or five persons down...mad.  The Husband's brother leads the game.  As a retired college professor, there is nothing he loves more than standing in front of a roomful of confused people making something once fun very complex.




Karen and Marty's, December 23


The girls are happy with a simple game of Spoons although throwing them is frowned upon.

At each party the food was incredible.  Marty and Karen served pulled pork and barbecued ribs.  My son hosted Christmas Eve and had Chicken Vesuvio, and on Christmas Day we went to Megan and Declan's for a crown roast of pork.  Everything was excellent.  My Christmas morning brunch was an absolute great time, but my egg casserole was a flop again.  It was undercooked as it was last year and I had to keep putting it back into the oven.  By then everyone had eaten Emily's cinnamon rolls and I had plenty leftovers from my epic failure that finally set after an hour and a half.  Anybody have a sure fire overnight egg casserole recipe?



Christmas 2018

We were so happy and grateful that we get that annual picture of Papa with his grand and great grandchildren.  Front row: Emily, Madelyn, Conor, Papa.  Middle: Maureen (Mo Mo), Elsie, Grace, Brooks.  Back row: Kevin, Patsy, Eileen, Abby, Jeff, Maggie, Liam, Tricia, Lizzie.

A shout out to my niece, Lizzie.  She's a senior at Villanova University in Philly, and has been a football cheerleader all four years.  If you've heard of the Wildcats, you'll know their outstanding record and how rousing the games are.  She recently cheered at Madison Square Garden.  Oh, the places you'll go!

Miss Mad


As another year nears it's end, I'm feeling as contemplative as Madelyn here.  Hmmmmm...what trouble can I get into?  What mishaps or broken bones will I face?  Will I lose my mind as Abby and Tom's wedding date approaches?  Will The Husband and I finally start to travel again?  Where will go?  He's retiring this summer---don't want to think about that now.

I had been trying to decide if I should go back to the gym.  I've signed up, paid my membership and parking fee three times and never lasted more than three months.  I so have to get in shape, especially in time for Abby's wedding in July.  I'll be happy with 25 pounds and slim arms.  I finally checked out the fitness programs on the premium networks and hit on one I really like.  The one I've tried is the 21 Day Transformation.  Please don't scoff at the title, I'm not settling for just 21 days.  There are many, many different videos from fat burning cardio to yoga.  I've been doing the cardio now for three days and I'm feeling pretty good that I'm stretching and twisting in a way I never thought I would after the back surgery six months ago.  I do it before lunch, in my pj's and in the comfort of my living room.  No getting dressed, warming up the car, working out in a class, so I'm optimistic.  And as you can see,  I did not wait for the New Year.  

I subscribed to Amazon Prime Network to get the fitness channels free, but you can rent them until you decide if you like the method.  If you have Netflix or HBO or whatever, they probably have fitness videos, too.  But I've been wanting to start watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which has such rave reviews, and a few episodes in I'm just loving it.  Any recommendations for other series on any of these networks?





This is the book I've been immersed in.  Ann Hood is the writer of The Obituary Writer, which I read years ago.  Excellent book.  She has two previous fictional novels that look really good.  Kitchen Yarns reminds me of the writings of the late Laurie Colwin and her stories of dipping her toes into the world of cooking and entertaining.  My link will take you to Amazon where you can read more about it.  Be ready to get hungry, recipes included!

So that's all for now.  I hope you had a wonderful holiday season and cheers to a Happy New Year!

Jane x

Monday, November 26, 2018

PAUSING TO BREATHE...PRE~CHRISTMAS CHAOS


Hey!  It's me.  Seems I was just here but it was a bit of a cheat.  I was feeling very overwhelmed by life and simply posted my December column for the lake newspaper.  I shared a lot of Christmas decorating tips and some holiday-ish recipes so if you are interested, go take a peek here.  

I'm in the here and now, and with Thanksgiving behind us, I can breathe and try to make the next few weeks feeling a little less harried.  We had a wonderful Thanksgiving, albeit a little more quieter than recent years.  The Husband really loves his holiday dinner so I made the turkey and all the trimmings with a plan to have leftovers.

My stuffing was insanely good, but I learned from the best.  My late sister, who coincidentally  worked for Pepperidge Farm for over 25 years, gave me my very first Thanksgiving Day stuffing tip.   I asked her how I would know that my stuffing, or dressing if you prefer, wouldn't  turn out dry.  She told me very seriously, to pick up a handful of the mixture and throw it at a wall.  If it stuck, it would be too dry.  If it dripped down, it was perfect.  Of course I've never done The Wall Test,  but I think of her every time I make that carb casserole.  And I always use Pepperidge Farm seasoned bread crumbs.  One thing I learned after deciding not to actually stuff the bird, is to fill the cavity with roughly chopped carrots, celery, potatoes, onions, whatever you have.  These will steam in the turkey and make it nice and moist.  Good idea for roast chicken, too.  I discard the veggies before we carve.

 I always use brown Idaho potatoes for the mashed potatoes but I used red this time.  I'm not sure if this was a mistake. There was something sort of earthy tasting about it, and even with some cream cheese and sour cream added, the taste wasn't so great...sort of like dirt.  Another one of my sister Leslie's tips was on how many potatoes to cook.  Her answer?  Nine.  Nine large or small?  Just nine.  I can't tell you why, but it always works, whether I'm having five people or twelve   The same number  goes for potato salad.  

The turkey was nice, as was the gravy. I'll share more further in this post.  Sorry, no pics but I set a nice table with flowers and candles burning in mercury glass containers.  Remember when we all had to have mercury glass?  Well I love it and still have every bit...somewhere.




November is such a perfect time for getting out of the house, especially on a Sunday when there is nothing but football all day.  I'm not much of a football fan and really don't understand it, maybe that's why I don't like it! :). A few of us gals in the family decided to go to brunch recently and we had such a nice pow wow.  You need that with your tribe once in awhile.  And the Bears were on so there was a nice friendly, happy, crowd.




This spot has a really great menu and they serve breakfast until 3:00.  I've had the steak salad that's loaded with sliced avocado and a festive Baja vibe, and recently I had the breakfast tacos with scrambled eggs, chorizo sausage, avocado and a little salsa.  I love brunch, the possibilities are endless.  And look at these Bloody Mary's.  They are like a salad in a beverage.  I don't really care for liquor or mixed drinks, but one of these (or close runner up, a lemon drop martini) is so refreshing.  

We had a great time and the next week my friend Snow and I met at the same place for--yeah, brunch.  Again. the Bears were playing and it was a happy crowd.  It was good atmosphere for two friends to catch up. Summer seems to spread family and friends out in a lot of ways, but you really have to reach out.  Snow and I will be doing some Christmas shopping together soon.



I've been sharing a lot of home decor on Instagram (I'm here).  As with blogging, I never wanted to compartmentalize what I wrote about or photographed.  Sometimes though, the accounts I look at with so many ideas and inspiring photos is like leafing through a magazine, only they are real people just doing what they love.  So very much like blogging but 'portable'.  You can browse through when you are sitting in a waiting room, standing in a long line, feeling like you can't sleep but don't want to get out of bed...it's so easy. And I've made a lot of new friends along with visits from long time blog followers.  It's just fun.  

Anywho, I thought I'd quickly show some pics of the family room here in the city.  Its actually large for a room in a house like mine, but I filled it with a lot of oversized furniture and while it's super comfy, I should have considered scaling down in size.  I've had the slipcovered furniture for about 13 years.  I've never had to wash it.  I have two little ink pen spots that I'd be afraid would spread out if I even tried to spot clean them, but I'm okay with it.  I'm ready to have the room repainted next spring.  When I was redoing it all those years ago, The Husband was insisting that I have color on the walls.  I was just so flustered and could not decide on anything.  And then I chose this yellow and have hated it ever since.  Sadly, it's also going down the hall.  


I'll change out the curtains, too.  These are from JC Penney and I like the fabric, but I think they are a pretty bright white and I'll look for something a little creamier in color.  And maybe I'll store some of those pillows!


The other side of the room is an area that we made for the kids to do homework or projects, but it basically became a place for them to play cards, as in poker, as in when we weren't home, possibly with real money and cold beverages.  But I still enjoy writing here.  The back door is in this room and the windows look out at the backyard...




...and I'm feeling a little sad looking at this picture, because right now it's 22 degrees with snow and ice on the ground.  Brrrrrrrrrrr...



In other news (as in jumping-up-and-down news), I got a new car last week.  This is me and my salesman Antonio posing in front of it.  The Nissan dealer takes pics for their website so this wasn't planned.  I do look happy though, don't I?  

It was a strange week from the start.  Remember the line of Lemony Snicket books, A Series of Unfortunate Events?  My girls read them when they were little.  That's how all of this felt, for a little bit.  I'll keep it brief. 

 I went to a mall as I heard Old Navy was having a good sale and there's nothing better than a lot of cheap clothes to lie around in all winter long.  Especially new cheap clothes.  On the way out of the mall I lingered by a nail spa dreaming about how great a pedicure would feel.  I really can't remember the last time I had one, especially in the winter--I mean who sees your feet?  The pretty Chinese owner smiled and motioned me in.  I ended up getting some sort of tropical package for the pedicure that took over an hour, and then signed on for gel nails, which I've only done once as they really damage your actual nails.  But I felt like a fearless woman apparently.  So much that as my fingernails were drying, I was watching women go in and out of a room in the back and then saw a little sign on the door--Waxing.  Ugh.  No.  No way.  I'm blushing as I type this.  And sure enough, the pretty Chinese owner came to me and gestured to the room.  She said, "Eyebrows?"  Ha!  If she couldn't tell, I use my fair share of pencil.  Then she talked me into having a semi permanent brow filler, it is 'sketched' on and wears off in a few weeks.  Well, of course!  And I walked out with very dark eyebrows and a much lighter purse.  I regretted the whole day.

The next morning I was back to Old Navy with a pile of clothes which didn't fit.  On a good note, they were too large.  I tried to pull my face down into my wool scarf as I walked past the nail salon but that pretty lady saw me and waved enthusiastically.  I grumbled and got my cash refund in Old Navy, and then went on to an appointment with my back doctor.  The receptionist looked my name up in the computer and said, "Ms. B.  Your appointment was last Thursday."  Egad, that's embarrassing for anyone, but when you are getting on in the years like me, it's downright scary.  So I rescheduled and as I walked away, maybe because I looked so sullen, she said, "Don't worry, go shopping!"  Well, obviously she hadn't been around me for the past 24 hours.  Nevertheless, driving home I passed a Nissan Dealer and remembered I needed a new battery put in my key fob.  And that's how I ended up with a new Nissan Rogue.  I guess I can be talked into just about anything.  



I'm off to bed to start devouring this book.  It's just been sitting on my coffee table since my last trip to Target, the day it came out.  Does anyone have it?  Thoughts?


And very, very briefly, I was determined that we wouldn't eat turkey sandwiches for days so I made these three recipes for dinner:

Shepherd's Pie
I used up my mashed potatoes. 

Turkey Tetrazzini 
Used up dark and light meat.

Turkey Chili
More turkey...

Click the links if you want to go to the recipes.


I also made Turkey Enchilada's, and was going to make Turkey Pot Pies but I ran out of turkey.  I'll post that next time as it's insanely simple when you use puff pastry for your crust.  And you'll have your Christmas leftovers to use up.    

Going to double down on more decorating this week and then I just have to get a tree and do some baking.  Simple, simple, simple.  Has anyone started shopping?  What's your thing...malls, shops, online, Etsy?

See ya soon!

Jane x

Sunday, November 18, 2018

A THANKSGIVING TABLESCAPE, RECIPES, AND BLESSINGS


Hi everyone.  I'm posting my December column that I wrote for one of the papers I write for.  I'm incredibly busy; Milo is not doing well, and I just have to take a few things off my plate.  I've been so aware that I'm slacking on blogging and it bothers me.  I truly want to continue with all my heart, so I have to give myself a little wiggle room without guilt.  

So here is the article I was writing until midnight Friday.  I hope you enjoy it and I wish all of you a very Happy Thanksgiving!

*****

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!! Ho Ho, Neighbors!  I really love writing this year end column, and nooooooo, not because I have a little break!  It's that I truly love to do my spin on an event, party, or holiday.  It's time for experimentation and self expression.  I really love to make something out of nothing, put time in making people feel special, or in a crunch, make it look like it took a lot of time.

Seriously, just as the women's movement going back over fifty years sought equal opportunities and wages for women in the working world, we now have a whole new tribe of women who stay at home raising their little ones.  They are not satisfied with just scrubbing floors and having the whitest laundry, and are saying, "Take a look at what I can do!"  

As a young mother raising four kiddos, I found myself somewhat lonely and lacking a sense of purpose and direction for myself.  But soon the simple activities I gravitated toward became the base for many of the interests I have that I now love to share on my blog, in my columns, and with anyone who might want to listen.  I learned to cook because it was absolute boredom to make Mac 'n Cheese from a box, boiled spaghetti with jarred sauce.  Biscuits from a can (you know--the ones that you bang on the counter and have a near heart attack when they pop open).  I picked up magazines and clipped out the recipes, bought my first couple of cookbooks, and made a huge mess in the kitchen.

I can say the same for gardening and my love of nature.  If I had to sit on the front porch watching my children play, I might as well pull weeds, cut the lawn, or even plant flowers.  Again, I read what I could my hands on and asked a lot of questions. 

So where am I going with this?  I think we can choose our direction.  And if your legacy is having your recipes passed down to generations or having them printed in a newspaper, it's all good.  When you create, you are giving back to the world.  And you have a valid reason for patting yourself on the back.

That said, I'm a huge proponent of getting great things done without killing myself or breaking the bank.  Since I'm very lazy and usually broke, I have excelled at this.  I hope in this column I can take some of the pressure off by inspiring you to make or improvise some of your own personal gifts, holiday decorations, and maybe just tossing flour around the kitchen to get that pie just right.




I have had this old, wood carved goose forever.  I think I found it at a gift shop in Paw Paw, MI.  Somehow it made it back to the city, as if we see geese here all the time.  One December it was sitting   on a shelf looking totally out of place and I mindlessly tied a green velvet ribbon around the neck.  Voila! It is now a favorite Christmas decoration that comes out in December, and only in December.  You know what you can take from this?  Get some pretty ribbon from a craft store or your stash, and jazz up some of the everyday objects you have in your rooms.  Tie a pretty red ribbon around the top of your cookie jar for the kiddos to see.  Wind a wider festive ribbon or piece of fabric around a pot holding a plant to dress it up.  Twist a wired piece and make a garland as a window valance of sorts.  I like to wrap thick ribbon around a bundle of logs to place on the hearth.  I stack the bundles up and we just toss them in when we want to start a fire.  Inspired?

I have so many blog friends all over the world who do handiwork such as knitting, crochet, quilting, sewing, crafting---the list goes on.  I'm in awe, as I can't do any of these things but I will tell you, many of us, especially myself, wish we could gift our loved ones with treasures we create.  So if you are one of those talented ladies, please know you can give a gift that is above and beyond anything store bought.  




We tend to get together with family and friends a lot during December.  We might have office parties or a girlfriends night.  Be ready for these celebrations as well as people who drop in uninvited...I mean  casually.  I know there are magazine articles that have you freezing little puff pastry cheese sticks and mini handmade pizza puffs, but keep it really simple.  Have some chips and crackers in your cupboard, assorted nuts, bread sticks and jarred olives.  I love store-made dips, like spinach and artichoke, onion, dill...such a great variety and so flavorful.  Keep that in your fridge.  No need to slave over it when you don't know if anyone is going to come around and you'll find yourself eating it  in the forgiving light of the fridge at 1:00 a.m. 

Now, the people you don't like...I mean didn't really expect, are here.  Dash off to the kitchen and make an arrangement on a tray, or in my case, a piece of chalkboard on which you can write what sort of cheese or what have you on it.  A cute little trick I found was to take a few slices of cheese and make a cutout.  Just a few as it wastes a perfectly good slice of cheese, just to make everything look very Martha Stewart-ish.  Use a variety of ways to serve your little tidbits (or snickie snackies as my late mother in law called them), In this picture you will see that I placed the bread sticks in a glass candle jar, and the creamy veggie dip from the grocery store is in a bright red pottery bowl.  Please don't serve it in the plastic container it came in.  It's tacky and clearly, you can't claim it as your own. If you want a garnish and don't have any fresh parsley (or edible flowers) available, use the leaves at the end of a celery stalk.  A sprinkle of dried basil looks pretty.  Be creative.  Have fun.  


I'm not much of a baker.  I'm actually really bad.  I don't like to measure things and there is nothing more aggravating to me than cleaning up flour off the counters.  I would use a wet dishcloth and turn it to glue, forget to sweep the floor and have footprints tracked through the house, and my little black dog looked like she was left out in the snow.  Naw, I'm bad.  So---when I bake, I try to make something reaaaaaaaly fancy.  Yep. Here's why:  1). I never bake so when I serve an intricate dessert or insanely gorgeous cake, people think I save my talents just for them.  2). I love a challenge because sometimes  I get bored with simply jazzing up meatloaf topped with crumbled bacon instead of ketchup.  3). It's still a tasty sort of success even if it fails in appearance. 

But I regress.  For years I've been making little gift boxes for friends, neighbors, and the little boys who knock on your door offering to shovel for $1 and you don't want to admit you pay $25 to a guy with a plow on his pickup.  Give the little dudes a box of cookies. 

 So my hack on giving food gifts is to make no more than two types of baked sweets, like cookies, fudge, brownies, gingerbread.  Don't do a lot of decorating on top because it's just going to fall off.  Use food coloring or sprinkles to lend color and some differentiation.  Make some simple candy like almond bark topped with peppermint, chocolate pieces, crushed pretzels--the sky is the limit. Dip pretzels in melted almond bark, tie them in bundles with ribbons.  

Now you need to get crafty.  Get a large bag of mixed nuts and bundle them up in a piece of netting with a gold twist tie.  Get some Hershey Kisses and toss them in.  Tasty Pepperidge Farms cookies or even better, some fancy European candy or confections.  

I found these boxes (pictured) at Michael's and know you can get them at any craft store.  I have gone   larger in past few years because I like to add some tissue paper to line the box and fold over.  This is so simple and fun because you are having more fun assembling the box than you would slaving in front of an oven.  


A couple of years in a row I made granola.  A lot of people like this sort of thing but some don't.  And it's usually a BIG love or BIG hate.  I loved jazzing up simple Ball jars with a piece of muslin and a gold lettered top.  So festive.  If you are going to go through the trouble of making something with so many ingredients, although very quick to toss together and bake, you need to double, even triple the recipe.  This was a hit, and several friends and coworkers of my daughters wanted to buy a few jars to give as their own gifts.

So here is the recipe...



Simple Granola with Fruit and Nuts (Blondie's Version)

*****

3 cups oats
3/4 c slivered almonds
3/4 c raw pumpkin seeds
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t salt
1/4 c canola oil
1/2 c maple syrup
2 t vanilla extract
1 c dried cranberries
1 c dried apricots (chopped)
(you may substitute any dried fruit you like chopped uniformly)
2 T honey

Preheat oven to 325 degrees
In a large bowl mix the first 5 dry ingredients.  In a small bowl stir together the oil, syrup and vanilla.  Drizzle the syrup mixture over the dry and mix thoroughly.  Spread on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 50 minutes, stirring every once in a while to brown evenly.  Remove and toss with dried fruit.  Drizzle with honey and let cool.  Store in an airtight container.






Jane's Sugar Cookies


These cookies should not even be called "Sugar Cookies".  They are crispy and golden on the outside, soft and buttery on the inside, almost like a shortbread cookie.  The delicious crunchy part is that you roll each ball of dough in sugar and that gives it a sweet, sparkling bite.  You will love these!

3 c sifted flour
1 1/2 t baking powder
1 t salt
2 sticks softened butter (1 1/2 c)
1 1/2 c sugar + extra for rolling
2 large eggs
1 t vanilla

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line 2 baking pans with parchment paper.

Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.  
Beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, don't skimp here!
Add eggs and vanilla and continue beating until well blended.  
Slowly add the flour mixture in and beat on low to mixed well.  
Add about  1/2 cup granulated sugar to a small bowl.  Shape the dough into small balls, try not to handle too much-it's delicate.  Roll the balls in sugar and place 2 inches apart on your pan.  Bake 9-11 minutes until softly golden.  Let cool on pan.  I added some simple sprinkles just in the center.  Makes approximately 3 dozen.

                                                                        *****
I shared a recipe for Turkey Pot Pie last month--I mean we can only eat so many turkey sandwiches, right?  This month I have a recipe for Turkey Chili which is simple and warming with a nice twist. I did not share a photo of it as it was awfully disgusting looking.  Or maybe it's my photography skills!   Enjoy!!




Leftover Turkey Chili

2 T vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1/2 poblano pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 packets of McCormick Chili Seasoning***
4 cups dark turkey meat, roughly chopped and/or shredded 
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
2 cups chicken broth
1 15 oz. can black beans
S & P to taste
Sour cream and chopped scallions for garnish

Saute the onion and peppers over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and continue to stir an additional minute.  Sprinkle in both packets of seasonings and stir to combine with the veggies.  Add the turkey, tomatoes and broth, scraping up the bits off the bottom of the pot.  Simmer over low heat, covered for approximately 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the undrained can of beans during the last ten minutes and heat through.  Adjust seasonings if necessary and serve in shallow bowls with a dollop of sour cream and a bit if sliced scallions.  Serves 6

***I like individual seasoning packets made by McCormick, Lawry's and the like.  They have all of the components you need if your spice cabinet is lacking something.  These mixes also contain a little bit of flour which thickens the chili slightly.  There are no preservatives and there is not a lot of sodium, in fact, I added about 2 teaspoons of salt.  Want to use your own spices?  You will need 1/4 cup chili powder, 2 tablespoons ground cumin, 1 tablespoon dried oregano, 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes.  Simmer uncovered so that you can let some of the liquid evaporate for a thicker chili.



This winds up my December Christmas column.  I'm hoping by now you are almost finished shopping, are sitting by a your lit tree with a nice blanket, mug of cider, and a dog or two at your feet.  
As always, its such a pleasure writing for Neighbors, and I hope I give you a little something to think about each month, maybe an idea or two.  


From myself, The Husband, Milo & Layla


Monday, October 29, 2018

FALL TARGET SHOPPING & SOME GREAT INSTAGRAM FINDS





Hello.  Trick or treat?  Are you ready for it?  So far our weather has been pretty creepy; cold, windy and rainy.  Just perfect.  Halloween is pretty busy in my neighborhood, younger couples have moved in with lots of kiddos.  Its kind of cool to pass on that baton.  Every year I spend more time than I need to making individual treat bags with a nice mix of candy, creepy fake spiders, snakes, some pencils, erasers, stickers--whatever I can get as cheap as possible at the dollar store. ;-D. But seriously, if you've ever had to wedge yourself in your front door, your dogs wanting to maul anything on the other side, while your outstretched arm holds a 15 lb. candy bowl that's breaking your wrist, you'll get my way of thinking.  It doesn't matter if its a three year-old or twelve year-old, they will hem and haw for 15 minutes before choosing one tiny piece of candy. Well, I've learned and so I make these little bags.  And so now I stand, wedged in the door saying, "Just take one, they're all the saaaaaaaame!"  

The picture above is the hydrangea mania going on in the floral department at my grocery store.  Apparently you can now get a dead flower for $7 a stem.



I thought this was worth including, also in the floral department.  Succulents are all the rage lately, and just to prove how hardy they are, these were shipped fresh from Arizona along with an unfortunate bird that couldn't quite tolerate the 125 degree temps. 




I don't decorate as much outdoors for Halloween anymore.  I think its really an all or nothing thing.  I drive past homes with life size skeletons, tombstones with funny inscriptions, and huge webs with black furry spiders...it's all too much trouble for me, but I get that people like to do it.  I like to decorate just for fall now, but in years past, I'd get haystacks, mums, scarecrows, pumpkins--and the squirrels would demolish it in a day.  And I have a new mantra:  Remember--what you put up today, you'll have to take down tomorrow.  I'm just saving my energy for Christmas.  But please note those four little pumpkins on my window ledge.  They're not there anymore.



I had Miss Mad over last week for an afternoon of baking.  She is really loving it.  She is so, so absorbed in the whole process.  We made chocolate chip cookies, fudge, and candy.  The candy is simply melted almond bark on top of a waffle pretzel and then adorned with sprinkles and candy corn.  If you'd like to see more pictures of this, and a little bit of everything else, you can visit me on my Instagram feed.  

Last Saturday was her birthday party.  She actually turns 2 on November 10, but Emily wanted to keep the party outdoors.  It didn't work, it was cold and windy and we all congregated indoors.  My mother in law always used to say that she loved crowded parties because it made for more conversations.  I sort of agree.  

I'm not going to share any pictures because Emily put a lot of hard work and a personal stamp on everything.  The theme was a Puppy Pawty.  Madelyn is in love with all things Paw Patrol.  Snacks were served in decorative dog bowls, peanuts butter sandwiches for the kids were made in the shape of dog bones by using a cookie cutter, and there was a large basket filled with stuffed puppies for the kids to rescue/adopt.  It was all very cute.  And the adults had a great time, too.  She served Italian beef, Italian sausage (and no, we aren't the slightest Italian, its a natural on the Southside), and pulled chicken.  There was a nice array of side dishes and desserts as well.  



Being on Instagram can open you up to new or new-to-you brands and companies.  I check out products when a person I follow makes a recommendation and sometimes offers a code for a discount.  I just wanted to share a few of the products I've been enjoying and I'm so happy to have learned about.  I am not getting compensated at all.  Promoting brands and being asked to join seasonal or themed blog tours just doesn't happen for me.  

Anyway, I am a tried and true fan of Antique Candle Works.  This was a little business that was operating out of the home of one of the gals in a small Indiana town, and they created these delicious soy-based candles.  And then word got out.  What impresses me most is that I can burn one of these candles for about an hour and the scent fills not only the room I'm burning it in, but surrounding rooms.  I'm not saying its strong, but I was astounded when I would burn one in the Great room at the lakehouse and it would scent that huge room with the 19 foot ceiling, as well as the kitchen and powder room.  You would think I had 3 candles going!  They are competitively priced, but you can check out what you'd like by trying the smaller smaller sizes before moving on to the larger ones.  You will also get a sample or two in your package.  Enough.  Check out their website, sign up for emails, they have a lot of surprise sales.







Another great brand I learned of from Instagram feeds is a popular one that is getting a lot of buzz.  Its a company called Grove Collaborative and you can read about it here.  When you are thinking about doing your part in reducing waste and using natural products, you can find perfect choices from cleaning to storage to personal health and hygiene.  I can't tell you how satisfying it is to fill in the blanks on products I need to stock up on, and then find a box on my front porch filled with what I need for the month.  In knowing that the products are natural, I feel good about washing little Madelyn's dishes or a surface on which she plays, and she's not going to come in contact with anything harmful.  Some of these products can be found in your own grocery store.  I did a quick check on the Mrs. Meyer's dish soap and found that it was $1.00 more than what I pay on Grove.  So...check it out!



Lastly, and possibly the best decision I made was to join a vitamin prescription program with a start up company called Take Care Of.  And again, I saw a few sponsored posts on Instagram and I was curious.  Do you have a hard time remembering to take vitamins?  I can't tell you how many times I've bought a multivitamin or several specific vitamins based on what I had read would be helpful to me (and they are not inexpensive), and then forget about them.  

To get started on this new way of thinking about supplements, I took a short survey on the website involving my lifestyle, health, and fitness.  Its tabulated and a list of vitamins, minerals and specific supplements, some natural, is given.  I was impressed.  Since I started receiving my monthly supply, I am definitely happy with how I feel, how easy it is to remember to take them everyday, and I even got The Husband to try them.  The individual packets come in a box with a dispenser.  On each packet (with a happy hello!) is an uplifting quote or inspiration.  There is something personal here, and I feel its about the self care movement that maybe I've been late on.  Another nice thing about the company, you get an email before your monthly box goes out asking if you need to push the delivery date off for a week or so.  They know we aren't always on the ball taking meds or vitamins, so you don't have to worry about getting more boxes than you can keep up with.  I would say that you at least check it out.  Take the survey.  I have to admit, based on my issues, I take eight supplements a day, The Husband takes two.  Insert eye roll here.  






I took a little trip to Target the other day.  I actually felt more pulled there if you know what I mean. I needed something to transition from between flip flops to boots.  And of course, I walked out with two pairs of booties.  I have to say, here in the Midwest, you find yourself in boots almost every day, whether it for rain, snow and slush, or for warmth.  I really needed the black ones, but totally fell in love with the brown suede.  And don't laugh, again, an Instagrammer actually recommended them and said they were very comfortable.  And she was right.  I've worn them twice and I love them.  I'm always a little anxious about comfort and not falling on my face with a higher heel, but if its chunky, I'm fine.  And I love being taller. ;-D

I happened to hear about these fleece lined leggings.  I have some very worn out, knit leggings that are no longer acceptable to wear out of the house.  And for our cold winter weather, fleece sounds heavenly.  The best part?  They are $7.99.  I haven't worn them yet but I'll give you my opinion when I do.




And my final purchase was a few plates and bowls from the Hearth and Home collection by Joanna Gaines.  I had been tossing out dishes with cracks and chips left and right.  I really like that I mixed up my dishes at the lake, its fun and I can never choose a favorite.  So I've hung on to the old dishes I have here and added a few of these.  I really like the larger soup bowls.  I also picked up a few smaller and deeper bowls, but these are really nice for soup or stew.  And this was dinner Saturday night.  I have a terrible cold and for some reason we always order Chinese food when I'm sick.  This is Won Ton Soup and Hunan Chicken.  

Not much else is new.  I've had a rash of bad luck lately, and that's not counting the same old eczema rash.  I backed into a white van at Home Depot.  It was actually a Home Depot van, unoccupied.  It was in their pickup lane and there were a dozen of contractors around.  They sort of smirked when I got out to look. Nothing wrong with the van, my SUV had some white paint lines from the white truck.  When I got home I realized it wasn't paint, it was actual scratches in my black paint.  I have a relative who does body work so I need to get it in for a little sanding and paint.  I also need to get the hole in my windshield repaired from the rock that hit it while I was driving home from the lake recently.  

The last worst thing that happened to me was I spilled a half cup of coffee all over my Mac.  I was devastated.  I Googled what to do and the best thing was to blot it and then turn it over like a tent for a few hours.  I heeded the instructions and that evening tried to start it and nothing.  I don't know if I was being hasty, but the next day I went to Best Buy and bought another one.  I actually got talked into the Mac Pro, which is smaller than the Mac Air except for the screen, there is no frame so they are the same size.  I have to admit it wasn't the easiest getting used to the different size keyboard so I apologize for any typos.  

Finally, I was going to share a recipe, but I'm not sure if you guys can see the Pin button when you hover over the picture.  I don't on my computer, so if you can just give me a yay or nay, I'd appreciate it.  I've been cooking up a storm from a few new cookbooks which I will share next time.  

This post has been spread out over three days.  I just can't get organized.  I want to ask that we all continue to pray for peace and human kindness in these turbulent days.  Remember to vote, no matter which way you lean.  And finally, a big happy heavenly birthday wish to my sister, Leslie.  Let's continue to push, donate, and pray for cancer research, which is where it all starts.  


Jane x