Monday, November 26, 2018


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'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


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