Friday, December 30, 2011

Chili Cheese Dip

File this under Super Quick Fix!

This is my go-to appetizer.
It combines three of my favorite things in a recipe:
fast, cheap, and tasty! 

And, as if it could get any better,
the ingredients store well so it's easy to keep on hand
for the unexpected, hungry crowd.




1 can of chili (beans or no beans)
+
1 package of cream cheese*
+
1 bag of chips (camera shy)




Cut cream cheese into pieces.
Place in microwave-safe dish.
Microwave it for 1 minute.




Dump in can of chili.
Stir.
Nuke for 30 seconds.




Stir.
Another 30 seconds in the mic.




Stir well.
Continue microwaving at 30 second intervals
until well blended and smooth. 




Serve warm with chips.
Bask in the glow of admiration
of family and friends.

See? Easy peasy.


*An unopened brick of cream cheese 
keeps in the fridge for several weeks.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Some Holiday Awesome-ness

It's The Little Things
I get the most satisfaction from the smallest of things. I don't know why that is! People often remark, "Doesn't take much to make you happy, does it?"

Well, the blog 1000 Awesome Things, by Neil Pasricha (author of The Book of Awesome) is full of nothing but life's little under-rated pleasures. I love it! He also has a new book on holiday awesome-ness. Speaking of the holidays . . . 


The Holidays
The holidays can be depressing for more people than you know. Personally, the holidays stress me out. Sometimes I think my kids are what keeps me from boycotting Christmas altogether. So this year I'm focusing on the season's tiny pleasures. 


Some Holiday Awesome-ness
source
  • Getting a card from someone you lost touch with
  • Plugging in your lights from last year and having them all work
  • When that kid crying in the mall isn't your kid
  • That moment near the holidays when there's suddenly cookies, chocolate and candy everywhere
  • When your neighbor shovels your little patch of sidewalk
  • Successfully regifting a present to someone who actually wants it
  • Just barely wrapping a gift with that tiny scrap of leftover wrapping paper
  • Knowing Kwanzaa is worth more Scrabble points than Hanukkah or Christmas 
  • When the gift receipt is already in the box

Your turn!
What "makes your day" this time of year? Join the conversation and add to the list! I'll go first...



Saturday, December 3, 2011

My Beautifully Ugly Tree


This is a reprint of a note I posted on Facebook about a year ago.
________________________________________________

You may know that I am not fond of decorating for Christmas. I don't fully understand why, I just know that for many years I have viewed it as a chore. For 2 years now I have searched for a "primitive" style christmas tree. I thought that such a tree with its sparse branches, would be less work. Last year I purchased a (traditional) pre-lit tree, thinking that would help. The tree was up and ready to decorate in record time, no thanks to my whining about it. And this tree still does not look good. The bottom 2 rows of branches are significantly longer than the rest of the tree. {sigh}

Well last night I found my primitive tree




I decorated it this evening and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment spent lovingly placing each branch. My kids think the tree is ugly. This doesn't surprise me; they don't share my aesthetic. Their assessment is technically correct. There is nothing symmetrical or abundant about the tree. The branches are skinny and wiry. The trunk has bare places. No matter how I place shims under the base I can't seem to get it to stand straight. 

But as I hung my crafty country style ornaments on my tree, I wondered why this was not onerous and burdensome. Why was this tree different? It took time to unpack and set up - someone had put it in the box with the branches pushed down instead of up. 

Then I realized I liked decorating this tree because there are no expectations of this tree, or it's decorator

No one expects this tree to compete with those on display in stores and town squares. 

This tree accepts its weaknesses, even embraces them. 

There is beauty in its honesty. There is beauty in its lack of pretense. There is beauty in its simplicity. 

It reminded me of us as humans. We all have ugliness in our hearts. But there are those who see the potential in us. And there is One who values us regardless of our outward appearances, who saw our pathetic state and said, "This one is worth something. This one has value not seen by others."

As I lovingly coaxed my tree to life, I found the lyrics to "Perfect People" by Natalie Grant running through my head. "So come as you are, broken and scared.... Who lived and died to give new life To heal our imperfections...."  


My tree only has a few ornaments and no star for a crown.  Yes, my tree is ugly.  But only to those who don't recognize its value.




Linking to


Monday, November 28, 2011

Quick Tip: Don't Get Cheesed


~  QUICK TIP  ~

When cleaning up cheese
whether it's cheddar on the grater
or melted mozzarella in the lasagna pan
use COLD water to remove the cheese.

Why?

When warm or hot water hits the cheese
it melts and gets all gooey.
It gets stuck in your scrub brush.
Or sponge.
Or dish cloth.

{corny joke alert}
Stringy cheese in my scrubber really grates me the wrong way.

After the cheese is gone, 
clean as usual with hot water.



Linking up to




Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Grate - FULL

Thanksgiving (U.S.) is right around the corner. Guess who's thankful? Me! Guess who's cooking? Me! Guess who is still working on the menu? Uh, Me!

Thankful
I've been pondering what I'm thankful for this season. And the one thing that keeps coming to the top of my list is my husband. More than ever I appreciate the balance he brings to me as a person and to our family. I spent too many years resenting our differences, when I should have been appreciating our differences. We each bring different strengths to the table, and that's what makes us a strong team.  

Cooking
It has been quite a few years since I've cooked Thanksgiving dinner. Or Christmas dinner for that matter. I either brought a dish to a friend or family's house, or I made reservations. I resented (there's that word again) the work and clean up.

But I am cooking this year. And I'm not dreading it. I've been thinking about what might have caused the change in my attitude. I'm pretty sure this blog and the reason I started writing it is a big part of the change. I've been focusing on caring for my family by preparing meals for them. I think it's changing my perspective. And everyone on the home front said, "Yay!"

Menu
I still haven't decided exactly what is going to be on the menu. I'm not completely behind on the shopping; I have a turkey thawed and waiting in the frig. I considered one of Rachael Ray's 60 minute Thanksgiving meals (here, here and here), but in the end I decided to go a more traditional route. I might get too much resistance to a completely new menu. 


A couple of menu items are non-negotiable: mashed potatoes and cornbread dressing. The cornbread dressing is a recipe from my southern mother-in-law that this Yankee girl has come to love over the years.  And the kids have informed me that Stove Top stuffing is also a must.

Other than those few things, I'm still up in the air for what's going to be on the table in less than 2 days. I'm considering a brine for the turkey, and a sweet potato custard instead of casserole. I would like to start a tradition of trying one or two new recipes every year.

Help!
Have you ever brined a turkey? What are you "must-haves" on the holiday table? Are you going to try a new recipe this year?

Update:
While looking online for brining recipes, I read here that using a previously frozen turkey is not generally a good idea because of they are injected with a sodium solution. But I did stumble across this idea here for cooking a turkey by spatchocking. Hmm.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Oh My Darlin', Clementine!

Season's Greetings! 

It's THAT time of year. 
Yep. I have waited all summer. All fall
The hubby was patient. The kids, not so much.

But today when I stepped into the grocery store, 
my eyes caught a glimpse of wonderful
A tower of awesomeness
Literally. A tower.
See?


It's Clementine season!

Clementines, I think, are the perfect orange.

~ easy to peel ~
~ juicy ~
~ full of flavor ~
~ seedless ~
~ not too big ~


If you haven't tried Clementines, you should!
You don't even need to put them in a produce bag.
Just grab a box!


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Fastest Way to Cereal For Breakfast

The original title for the post was to be


I was testing out a recipe to hopefully share with you guys. I found it at Quick and Easy, Cheap and Healthy food blog. It's a recipe from The Minimalist Cooks Dinner by Mark Bittman for roasting chicken in your oven in 30 minutes. 

I ran into a few snags along the way. It took much longer than anticipated, and no one cared for how it tasted, so everyone ended up fending for themselves for dinner (read: cereal). Well, here are my lessons learned:

  1. Read the ingredients carefully. The recipe calls for a 3-4 lb chicken. The size of the bird would be critical to the cook time. I had chosen a nice plump 5+ lb chicken. Mistake 1.
  2. I don't care for Tarragon. The recipe called for using Tarragon, a spice which I am not familiar with. I considered using alternatives instead, but thought, why not try something new. I smelled and tasted the Tarragon before using it - it has a minty taste.
  3. Breast Side Down vs Breast Side Up. The recipe directions said to place in pan "breast side up", but the photos show "breast side down". I went with the "up". I think this also affected cooking time. (More on this in a second.)
  4. A whole chicken is messy. Once it was finally done cooking, I had to let it "rest", then carve it. The carcas, the juices, the bones... my kitchen was a disaster area. Not a weeknight Quick Fix I was looking for. 

The concept behind the Fastest Way to Roast a Chicken is to preheat the pan and the oven together while you are prepping the chicken. So when the chicken hits the pan, it's already starting to cook. I love this shortcut! If I had placed my chicken breast side down in the pan, the meatiest parts would have started cooking immediately and my cooking time would have been faster.

I may decide, some day after the trauma of the evening fades, to try the recipe again. Instead of Tarragon, I would substitute one of the following:

  • Garlic
  • Rosemary
  • Poultry Seasoning
  • Lemon Pepper Seasoning


What's your favorite roast chicken seasoning? Let me know if you give this recipe a try!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Military Spouse

I came across this article on Yahoo a few days ago, and since today is Veteran's Day in the U.S. I thought I would share it with you.

Being a military family has its challenges, but I don't think I could begin to describe how rewarding it is. It always touches me deeply when a stranger comes up and thanks my husband, shakes his hand, and wishes our family well. And of course, I am super proud of my hubby and all he has accomplished.

Thanks for taking the time to read this article. Remember to thank a military family today.



1. When a deployment is imminent, we just want it to start. That doesn't mean we want our spouses to leave. We don't. But when the date has been set and our husband's bag is sitting half-packed in the corner of the bedroom, we start getting anxious, worried and a little bit angry. We think about the upcoming months and everything he's going to miss and everything we're going to have to do alone. It's overwhelming. Once they leave, we can start to tackle the challenges one at a time and that's so much easier than the waiting. But those last few weeks before he leaves are wrought with frustration, nervousness and a little fear.
2. We are not miserable the whole time they are gone. We don't like that our family is split up, but we can't live in the future or press a pause button on our life, so we focus on other things. Hobbies, children, visiting friends and family, work; our life is still full. Just not complete.
3. But there are tears right underneath the surface. Whenever our children do something new, or something exciting or sad happens, or even when there have been just too many nights that we've stayed in alone, we get really sad. And we can't always be sad because we don't want to upset the kids.
4. That being said, most of us like our lifestyle. We enjoy the adventure of moving every few years, starting over, making new friends and living in various parts of the country and world. We have close friends everywhere. It's stressful yes, but also exciting.
5. We rely on our friends a lot. Even when our husbands are home, we are used to be canceled on at the last minute, not knowing schedules until an hour before an event, or having a job take precedence over the family. So, we have friends who are reliable, patient, flexible and who make us laugh. We love and truly appreciate our friends. So do the kids.
6. Our children are well adjusted and okay. In fact, most of the time, they are amazing in their ability to see the silver lining in every challenge. From the beginning of their lives, they've moved around, started over and had a parent leave for huge amounts of time. We have lots of strategies to help them stay connected, and we analyze how to make each deployment as painless as possible on the children.
7. We don't need or want pity. We look for love, friendship and fun. We don't need you to say "I'm sorry," when we tell you our husbands are away. We knew what we signed up for when we got married. However, we'd be so grateful for a helping hand. Helping us with something that would normally take two people, like shoveling snow or even just bringing in our grill for the winter would be awesome and will relieve the stress a little.
8. Please don't ask us what we are going to do to "keep busy" when our husbands are gone. Just like you have a healthy relationship with things outside your marriage, so do we. We don't need to "keep ourselves entertained" or "find something to do to pass the time" while he's gone. Those comments are insulting. We will just continue to live our life. Yes, there will be a hole in it, but we will not be pining away for six months or a year. So don't try to give us projects or find stuff to keep us busy. We'll be fine.
9. There are romantic moments about military life that rival only the most dramatic movies. We've been spun around by a man in uniform after he hasn't seen us in months. We've seen our children run toward their daddy with pure glee and excitement. We've dressed up like royalty and attended military galas and we've watched ships pull into port, with sailors standing at attention around the perimeter.

Homecoming - August 2003
When my husband returned from a year at GTMO, Cuba.
10. And sometimes the civilian population can be so supportive and sweet that it just brings tears to our eyes. These moments are precious and get us through all the tough stuff. So thank you. We appreciate all the thoughts, good wishes and the extra stuff you do to make us feel better. We notice it. We see it. And it really does help.
Sarahlynne is a Parenting Guru and has been married to a United States sailor for 3 years and 3 deployments.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Chevrons and a Bowl of Pears

What does one have to do with the other other?

(Links to photo sources below.)

A few days ago, this was on my dining room table:


Pears

Green and Yellow Pears
aka "Grellow" Pears

More on the pears in a moment.


I'm slow to warm up to most trends. Especially the retro ones. 
No owls or peacocks in this house. 

Gray and yellow?
Ewww! 





Turquoise? Too bright. Too 70's.





Chevrons? Why?!
Chevrons AND turquoise?
Chevrons AND turquoise AND yellow?!
Get me outta here!




Then one day
I put on a gray pair of pants for work.
I added a yellow shirt. 
And threw a denim jacket over it. 



My heart went pitter-patter. 
Weird! It kind of freaked me out how much I liked loved it. 
I think it was the gold stitching in the denim that tied the look together for  me. 

And then a few days ago with the bowl of grellow pears on my dining room table.


Why am I suddenly liking this color so much?
Maybe I'm reading too much Young House Love.



But I was sure
I would never get on the chevron train.

Then this sweater at TJ Maxx caught my eye: 



Why did I suddenly like chevron? Maybe it's the gradient colors? It's not as color-blocked as the other popular chevrons. I tried it on, but it just didn't fit right so I left without it. 


But that's okay. There's a lesson learned. Even if you don't like a current trend, don't judge the trend. You never know when you'll find it in your own personal style.


(Thrifty Decor Chick talks here about how sometimes our styles change, and it's okay if we don't fit neatly into a design label.)


Wait. Did I just use the word grellow? Maybe I am trendy after all.

Photo links:
http://pinterest.com/pin/186282977/http://pinterest.com/pin/210487272/http://pinterest.com/pin/170880774/http://pinterest.com/pin/171090643/http://pinterest.com/pin/329684006/http://pinterest.com/pin/270380746/

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Secret's In The Sauce II

If you've been in the grocery store this week, you've noticed that baking season is upon us. Now, I'm not a baker. But that doesn't mean I can't take advantage of the sales in the supermarkets this time of year. This is the perfect season for stocking up on spices, herbs and seasonings. But which ones and what for? Great time for another installment of . . .

The Secret's in The Sauce

The previous Secret's in The Sauce included my secret for Chicken Noodle Soup: poultry seasoning! The kids have even started adding it to canned chicken noodle soup when they fix it for a snack.

Here are a few more creative uses for those seasonings. And this time, they're not all cooking!



vacuuming - cloves
salt substitute - onion powder
pest repellent - bay leaf
mulled cider - cinnamon sticks
potpourri - out-dated seasoning


Deodorize with cloves: Place whole cloves inside your vacuum bag or sprinkle ground cloves on your carpet a half-hour before vacuuming.

Repel bugs and pantry pests: Place a bay leaf in your flour, rice of cereal. (Okay, I haven't tried this one. Not sure if the bay leaf change the flavor of the container contents. I found this idea here.)

Freshen up your kitchen with last minute home-made potpourri: Add rough-chopped fruit (apples, oranges, lemons) and spices to a pot of simmering water. Just open jars, take a whiff, and give a few shakes of whatever smells good! My favorites are rosemary, thyme, basil and cinnamon. This is a great way to use fruit past its prime and recycle old seasonings. And if you have a hood that vents inside instead of out, make sure you turn it on!


What are your favorite seasonings? Are you going to be baking during the holidays?



Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Menu and Schedule Board: Pinterest Challenge

Pinterest is a place where you can have a virtual collection of bulletin boards. Anything you see online, of have a photo of on your computer, or see someone else "pin", you can pin to your board. It's a great source of inspiration.

I took a challenge from Young House Love to complete a project that's inspired by Pinterest.

Here's my inspiration piece, a Wipe Off To Do List / Weekly Menu Board:

Source
It's easy!
1 - Take a frame
2 - Add scrapbook or other paper behind the glass
3 - Use dry erase markers to write

I loved this idea, but I wanted to do it on a larger scale -- a combo schedule and menu to hang on the wall in our kitchen/dining room. I kept my eye out for an old window. I scooped this up at a yard sale for $5:




I painted the front red and added a light-colored scrapbook paper behind the windows.

I decoupaged gingham checkered wrapping paper all around the sides.


Then I put the initials of the days of the week down the side and labeled one column "sked" (for "schedule") and the other column "eats" (for our "menu").


This has been working great for the family! The kids know to look at the board to see what's for dinner and what is happening in the house that week. I wasn't sure I wanted to keep the background paper the same, but if I decide to do that, I will decopage it to the back of the glass. It will dry perfectly clear, but it will be permanent. Right now it's just taped to the wood frame in the back.

I loved the idea so much, I decided to make one for a to-do list at my desk at work. The background is actually scrap fabric that I glued to a piece of cardboard. It's has a subtle gray/navy swirl pattern.


My to-do list board inspired a coworker to make this dry erase board to notify her team of where she is on any given day, or if she is in a meeting or at lunch.

I love how the frame matches her desk lamp, and also how it hides the computer cords from view!


She also framed our company's monthly calendar, and plans to add additional meetings and events with a dry erase marker:



One simple idea, so many options!

Do you have any projects inspired by Pinterest? I'd love to hear about them.


Oh, and please visit the blogging gals who are hosting this Pinterest Challenge. At the bottom of their posts you will find links to hundreds of inspired people like me who quit pinning and started creating!

Sherry from Young House Love
Katie from Bower Power Blog
Erin from House of Earnest




Also linking up to 



Monday, October 31, 2011

We're On A (Tootsie) Roll


Did you know that Halloween is the
2nd most commercially successful holiday?
(Christmas being the first)

Halloween is the largest candy-purchasing holiday in the U.S.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Today we pay tribute to one of the most beloved candies since 1896 when Leo Hirshfield, an Austrian immigrant, produced a candy in a small store in New York City. He ended up naming the candy after his five-year-old daughter Clara, whose nickname was "Tootsie."



Tootsie Roll Industries is located in Chicago IL and
produces 64 million Tootsie Rolls a day.

Leo’s recipe required the incorporation of the previous day’s Tootsie Rolls into each newly cooked confection, a graining process that Tootsie continues to this day. As such, there’s (theoretically) a bit of Leo’s very first Tootsie Roll in every one of the Tootsie Rolls that Tootsie produces each day.

Tootsie produces these other childhood (or grown-up) favorites:

Andes Candies
Charleston Chew
Double Bubble
Junior Mints
Nik-L-Nip (wax bottles)
Razzles (First it's candy, then it's gum!)
Sugar Daddy / Sugar Babies

All of their products are completely nut free, and most are gluten-free



 How many licks does it take
to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?

For most, the urge to take a bite into the chewy center is too hard to resist.
Scientific studies remain inconclusive.

Since 1970, Tootsie has received more than 20,000 letters from children around the world who believe they have solved the mystery behind how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop.

Not only do they respond to every letter,
they also send out a certificate called "The Clean Stick Award"
(A printable version is available online here.)

The Tootsie website also has factory tour videos,
classic commercials, and even recipes.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

90% of parents admit to sneaking goodies
from their kids' Halloween stash. 

Admit it! We promise not to tell.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Dryer Sheets: Not Just For The Dryer

One of my new favorite online newsletters is

Here's a recent article: New Uses For Dryer Sheets -- 
Which caught my eye, because I rarely use them in my dryer. 

remove saw dust

 Makes sense. Why didn't I think of that?!


book deodorizer

I have a few books that could use this.


drawer sachet

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

GB: Clean Up Trick

You know Rachel Ray... 
30 Minute Meals chic and my hero?



She uses and coins hip terms such as:
jonesing (craving)
EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil)
and

Now my kitchen isn't very big.
I couldn't imagine how a garbage bowl 
on my counter would speed up my process.
It would just take up valuable counter space. 

Don't knock it 'til you've tried it.
Not bending over to toss stuff into the trash 
can make a big difference!
I especially use it when chopping lots of veggies




What's your trick to make clean up easier?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sunscreen and Mittens

I have a small trunk near my front door.



In it I keep summer items
like pool towels, sunscreen, bug spray,
goggles, pool toys, etc.



Except when it's winter. 
Then I keep gloves, scarves, hats,
and even an ice scraper in there.




The off-season items are stored in a bin in the basement.
Same bin for summer and winter. 
Just swap contents with the trunk when (sigh) summer is over and fall sets in.




What are your snow-gear storage ideas? 
How do you keep gloves paired and hats in reach?