Tuesday, November 30, 2010

It's beginning to look a little like Christmas

Around my house, you know Christmas is here when my husband drags out the Christmas mugs. From the day after Thanksgiving until New Year's Day he drinks out of his Christmas mugs. We have a pretty large collection of inexpensive mugs we have saved over the years and I don't think the holidays would be the same without them. His favorite ones are the cups with nutcrackers on them.

In a few days we will be dusting off the Christmas tree and getting out the nutcrackers that spend their Christmas sitting on our mantelpiece. We'll also shop for poinsettias and begin my least favorite chore, wrapping presents.

Until then, we will have our cheery cups filled with coffee and holiday chai and decorated with nutcrackers, bows and holiday swirls to give us a little Christmas cheer. That is especially nice on cool and dreary days like today.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Rosemary wreaths

At our Thanksgiving Dinner this year I really wanted to share something from our garden. My sister and I put our heads together and came up with using the rosemary that was thriving in our garden. We decided that if we made wreaths to decorate each plate, each person could take the wreaths home, store them in the refrigerator and snip little bits off to use in soups, stews and other dishes. Rosemary is great on potatoes and pork, too.

They weren't hard to make. We just used fine green wire and curved the rosemary stems and tied them, twisted more rosemary and tied it with the wire and then used hot glue to put a lacy bow on our creations. It was very easy and the fragrance was wonderful. Rosemary has a nice smell, kind of like evergreens, but nicer. If you look closely in the arrangement in the center of the table, above, you will also notice that we used rosemary in the arrangement. The cooking smells, plus the rosemary lent a wonderful aroma to the room.

It took a couple of hours for my sister and I to make them on Tuesday, but we stored them in the refrigerator and they were perfect on Thanksgiving. They would also be perfect for Christmas with a pretty red or plaid bow.

You will notice that rosemary can be purchased as little evergreen potted plants. They are usually shaped up like Christmas trees. I almost always buy one to put in my entrance and I add a little light strand to them and it adds a nice smell there, too.

I hope you all had a Happy Thanksgiving and maybe this little tip will be something you can use in the future.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

I want to wish you all a Happy and blessed Thanksgiving. I am sure that we all have things in our lives that are distracting and we could get away from the message while cooking, cleaning and living in a hectic, busy world. But the timeless message of struggling against all odds, sharing and being thankful for what we have (be it little or great) are not only worth teaching our children, but worth remembering for ourselves. Today, more than ever, the history of the day is very relevant.

When we our family gathers to pray a thankful  prayer over our Thanksgiving feast I will, hopefully, say it with a Pilgrim's heart. Have a wonderful day!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving indians

Indians are coming to our Thanksgiving dinner this year. Last week I was feverishly making an Indian costume (for school) for our 5-year old granddaughter and realized she was planning to wear the costume to school AND to my house on Thursday. I knew I would have to make two more headbands, at least, for our grandsons who will be arriving on Wednesday. We can't just have one Indian. I thought an Indian headdress would be so much easier than a Pilgrim hat, after all. I think the adults will have to be the Pilgrims.

As I was making them, I thought it is a particularly easy idea for the fun the little ones get from wearing them. It is also a good teaching tool. I would rather my grandchildren know the history behind the holiday and not just that it is a national day of stuffing oneself.

Ours are made from faux suede but this craft could be made from strips of Kraft or art paper with self-stick Velcro on the ends. Insert a feather and it is done. The children could draw an Indian design on the headband and it would be such an easy learning tool.

I will show you photos next week of my little Indians.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving take away

Every year after Thanksgiving dinner, I like to send my guests home with leftovers. It it nice to know I can share a little bit of what's left so my guests can enjoy it later. I think it is better sharing than having leftovers that I may not even use.

I used to wrap up paper plates with plastic wrap or tin foil but that was kind of messy. After that, I tried plastic containers but found it to be too expensive and people really didn't like to take my containers home.

Last year I found these tin take out plates with lids and everyone really seemed to appreciate having them for leftovers. They are more sturdy than paper plates and are just perfect for people to take even generous portions home. Guests don't feel they have to return them, so it is an all around good thing.

The thing I like best about these tins -- they only cost a dollar at the dollar store for 3 to 4 plates. I am sure they have them at Party City but I will bet Dollar Tree has them beat as far as price is concerned.

Do you have a better idea? What do you use for leftover take aways?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Thanksgiving crafts

When is comes to Thanksgiving there are a few things my grandchildren expect. One is to get plenty of attention. Another, I will try to cook at least one of their favorite foods and most importantly, we will work on a craft. This year, we will be making pom pon turkeys. They aren't hard but I had to work on it to get the pattern down.

I saw something similar at Michael's the other day and I thought my little ones would LOVE it. It is a tight small pom pon for the head, made from yarn (on sale now) and a larger, looser pom pon for the body. I tied them together by a chenille stem (we always called them pipe cleaners) and used the stem to help stabilize the turkey.

I used 4 fingers to make a pattern for the tail feathers from two pieces of felt and glued them to the back of the turkey and cut a triangle for the beak and a red teardrop shape for the wattle, also from felt. I added two google eyes and I was finished. I am thinking about cutting two chenille stems in half to make some comical feet. I think my two 5 year-olds and my 7 year-old will love it.

Last year we made pomegranate turkeys.

There have already been some inquiries about the pomegranate turkeys. We may have to make them, too.

Another thing I would like to do is make a ring toss game with some of my fall decorations. You must admit they are perfect and a chenille stem made into a ring is also perfect. I think they will have fun. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Thanksgiving decorations

On Thanksgiving, I will try to spruce up the place a little bit. I will probably buy some fresh flowers (if I can afford them) and try to mix them with some of the outside fall splendor. I will have to gather that the day before. It might be pine cones or even some brightly-colored leaves. It really just depends on what I find. I love to use magnolia leaves and I have noticed that my nandina berries are now in the orange stage, rather than the red they will be. I think they will be a good choice.

I also will fill some baskets with fall fruits and veggies. My gourds, recently picked from my garden will do nicely, Also the pumpkins, left over from Halloween will make a great decoration. I also will use pomegranates, pears and probably apples. I think the organic look of fruits and vegetables are perfect for the Thanksgiving theme of plenty.

Do you decorate and what will you use?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Preparing for Turkey Day

We're getting ready for Thanksgiving at my house, one chore at a time. I have a number of cleaning chores left to be done. I have spotted my dining room chairs because the seat covers needed cleaning. I am almost finished with oven cleaning -- don't do that very often but I hate smelling burned food when I am cooking my Thanksgiving dinner. I don't think my guests would like that either.

The photo above is not of the turkey in my backyard! It is one my daughter took this summer at the Highland Park Inn in North Carolina. Love the turkey. I also love the turkey I bought this past weekend at Whole Foods. It was a free-range, antibiotic-free turkey and it was only $1.49 a pound. They said when these were sold out, they would be selling fresh ones for $1.99 a pound. Both prices are phenomenal for a turkey like this.

A couple of years ago, I priced one at a local grocery store for more than $45.00 and I passed on it, so even though the Whole Foods turkey is more, it is worth the price to me. I will also add that we cooked one last year -- the same brand -- and it was the best turkey we have ever cooked. It seemed like there was more white meat and it was delicious.

I also have my menu almost completed. Besides the turkey, we will have ham, sweet potato casserole, broccoli casserole, mac and cheese, green beans, cornbread dressing, oyster dressing, cranberry sauce, deviled eggs, and a few vegetables that are TBD.

For dessert I will be making a carrot cake, but I will also have a pie bar. I hope to cook a pecan pie, a chocolate pie, a pumpkin pie, a cranberry pie and maybe a peach custard. I am still working on this list.

Any suggestions for my menu?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Taste of Home Cooking School and a Giveaway

This past Thursday night I participated in The Taste of Home Cooking School, an annual event at our local Performing Arts Center. This is my second year helping with the show and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Here I am with fellow workers, from left, me, Anna, Leigh and Angela. (We are all looking at the other camera.) I love my apron and will enjoy using all year long.

The view from backstage in the morning. We are preparing the food backstage.

We prepared all the pre-show food and placed it on trays and in the refrigerator to get ready for the show. Everything is well orchestrated and the timing has to be perfect for the show to go smoothly. Some things we cooked but many of the foods are prepared at showtime. There were ten recipes including Upside down Banana Pecan French Toast, a Chex Mix recipe, French Cranberry-Apple Pie, Apricot Beef Stir-Fry, Bacon, Cheddar and Chive Scones, Corn Bread Stuffed Turkey Breast, Cookie Dough Truffles, Gingered Carrot Soup, Chicken Balsamico and Sausage Stuffed Red Bell Peppers.

Meanwhile some very talented folks decorate the stage.

The stage was all ready by late afternoon and we returned for the show.

The culinary specialist, Michelle Roberts (who is incidentally holding the latest issue of our magazine) and Joanie, the local show coordinator of Newnan Utilities go over some last minute details. Michelle runs her show like clockwork and we enjoyed her humor. She keeps the audience in stitches for two hours and by all accounts was a big hit for the sell-out crowd.

Many local sponsors donate free gifts for the audience. Every recipe has a sponsor and they give away free gifts, too. Taste of Home also gives away cookbooks throughout the evening. Everyone who attends receives a free magazine subscription, so that pays for the whole cost of the show.

I will admit I really enjoyed my evening. I don't get to see the entire show but I really enjoyed being behind the scenes and it is a learning experience for me.

I also have a couple of free Taste of Home magazines to give away to two lucky winners. Post a comment on my blog by midnight, November 16, and two people will win two lovely, Taste of Home magazines. These magazines are totally packed with really good recipes, so it would be worth your time to enter. One of the magazines has all of the recipes presented at the show. Good luck and I know you will enjoy it!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veteran's Day salute

A couple of days ago, my sister wanted to show me her "patriotic corner" in her living room. I thought it was really wonderful, especially since one of the things she was displaying was a photo of herself receiving an award during her time in the army.

I realized that Veterans Day would be a good time to mention her service to our country and express my thanks to her for her courage, and that she chose to serve. I think it took quite a lot of courage for her to go into the army while she was very young. It's no wonder she is deeply patriotic.

One of the treasures she is displaying in her corner is a photo of my dad's platoon from World War II. One reason serving was so important to her is because it was so important to my Dad. I am proud that they both served with distinction.

Another item in her display is an antique top hat covered with her medals and awards from her service along with patriotic pins. It is really interesting and impressive. The large medal in the center is the medal she received in the photo at the top of the page. It was just one of many.

Today, we will be honoring veterans, some at ceremonies all across our country. Our service men and women gave their time so that our freedoms could be blessed, cherished and protected and we appreciate them all. I want to salute my sister and her fellow patriots who have served so well over the years.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Hot tomato gravy

The other night my husband asked me to make some hot tomato gravy for our peas. This recipe has long been a favorite of our family. My parents always made it for New Year's dinner, and served as a garnish over black-eyed peas, it really dresses up this common southern dish. We had fresh turnips greens, too.

I made a half recipe this time. To prepare, I opened a pint jar of tomatoes, canned from our summer garden and mashed them with a potato masher.

I then stirred in a half cup of sugar, salt and pepper to taste and two jalapeno peppers.

 I usually only use one pepper but these peppers were not very hot.

One thing I need to mention is that this mixture is very bubbly and sometimes I have problems with the mixture boiling over and popping out and burning my hands. That is why I like to start it early and cook it more slowly when I have the time.  

I cook it on medium high for about twenty minutes, stirring often, until it becomes thick and serve it over peas. It is really good over black-eyed peas. We served it over field peas and that was good, too.

On New Year's day we always serve it over peas. According to my husband, the peas, greens and tomato gravy were a preview of coming events.

Hot tomato gravy

1 large can tomatoes, crushed
1 cup sugar
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Simmer in a large saucepan until thickened. Serve over peas.

A yard sale helps me get ready for Thanksgiving

This past Friday I stopped by a couple of yard sales before work and I found some great items that will help me to get ready for Thanksgiving. The first thing, a set of ten embroidered napkins with crocheted lace around the edges. I think this is a perfect color for Thanksgiving. They were in mint condition and I washed and ironed them and placed them in a drawer so that is one chore out of the way.

I didn't expect to get new napkins but I really love these. I also love that I have nice, clean, crisp and ironed napkins ready for Thanksgiving dinner. What are the odds that I would find a set of ten napkins? The most I have ever found before is a set of eight so this was excellent timing since I need more than eight. They were also only forty cents each.

I also found a new set of full sheets, still in the package. I don't think I have ever seen a set of sheet at a yard sale still in the package. These sheets were also the perfect color for my guest room. They will replace a set of sheets that were kind of thin and 100 percent cotton. They will make my guest room bed a nicer place to sleep. The thread count is 210 and the price was $10 -- fully worth it to me.

There are a number of other tasks I need to complete for Thanksgiving like crafts for grandchildren, decorations and of course the food, but I am happy with my progress so far.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Confessions of a "bagaholic"

Today I was in Publix doing a little grocery shopping and I noticed they had their new ninety-nine cent Christmas shopping bags for sale. I had to buy the new ones because I am definitely a "bagaholoic." I rarely see a shopping bag I don't like. I think they are so much better than the terrible plastic bags they give you at the grocery store.

I think I will be giving some of these bags for Christmas. I don't intend to wrap them up and present them to someone. I plan to put a present inside, along with tissue paper and use them as I would a paper gift bag. The present will be on the inside AND on the outside -- very practical -- and as you can see they are decorative and colorful.

The only down side is that you often have the name of a business on the side. Not a wonderful thing but I think the person who receives the gift won't mind. It is nice to have good, heavy-duty shopping bags.

My sister actually gave me the idea. At a family birthday celebration she gave a gift using a great Tractor Supply bag as the gift bag. Everyone (including me) thought she was a genius for doing this.

While I was in Publix, buying my bags a nice gentleman told me they have customers who come in and buy a number of bags and use them for all their gift giving. I love the idea and I wouldn't mind if my presents all come in shopping bags, but what else would a "bagaholic" say.

Friday, November 5, 2010

A purple present

Yesterday we had my sister's birthday party. When she arrived presented ME with this beautiful potted plant she put together herself. She does have a green thumb. It's no wonder that I enjoy gardening with her because she just has the knack for this kind of thing.

The photo is not very good so I will tell you there are three plants in this pretty pot, a purple violet, purple passion and purple waffle. I really like her choice of plants because they really compliment each other. The colors and textures are very nice. I really love the purple passion because the leaves are covered with a bright purple fuzz. I have always loved violets, too. It reminds me of my grandmother who always had some really beautiful ones.

My sis also brought me a tile to sit under the plant and suggested I purchase some large beads to glue on for legs. I think this is a great idea and will help protect my table from water damage. She also told me I need to be sure to water from the bottom because watering from the top of the pot can cause these plants to rot or mold. The plants will absorb the water they need from the tray at the bottom. The plants are sitting under my skylights so they should get plenty of indirect sunlight.

Thank you sis. I really love my plants and hope I will take care of them as well as you would.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Recipe journal

A couple of weeks ago I was shopping online for a 2011 calendar and I ran across something I just had to have -- a recipe journal. I immediately purchased both the calendar and the journal and the later is, by far, my favorite purchase. I will admit I also liked my calendar but the recipe journal is something I know I will enjoy for years to come.

It is divided into sections, some named and some blank. It comes with stickers to name other sections and to add information to recipes. The front contains informational sections and the back has a handy index. I know I will enjoy it and it will be a helpful tool for me. I am always tearing out a recipe from a magazine or jotting down a recipe idea and this will help me keep them organized.

I like the index because I can flip there and easily find the recipe I need. They are divided into categories but the recipes listed there aren't alphabetical so the index with the page number next to it makes finding things so much easier. At the back there is a pocket where I can store clipped recipes and loose information.

I found it on Amazon and it is a Moleskine. It is about the size of a paperback book and fits in my purse. This was one of the best "gifts" I have bought for myself in a long time and I am sure I will get plenty of use from it.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Gardening in the "short days"

The days are really getting shorter and it it obvious that time is also short to grow anything but greens in our garden. Above the collards are looking good but this photo doesn't really do them justice. We have had a couple of frosty mornings but there hasn't been a freeze. That could happen at any time.

Eggplants are still growing -- now better than when the weather was hot. The recent heavy rain washed up a ton of dirt on the leaves but they are still growing and look pretty hardy.

Our gourds look good but the vines are a bit ragged. I think we will have at least a dozen gourds of varying sizes. They may not be fully dried until the summer but I suppose we will harvest them pretty soon. I don't want to touch them until they are ready. I just don't have any experience with gourds.

Surprisingly we have some tomatoes. I am hoping they begin to ripen soon, but we need daylight to ripen them. We even have some volunteer tomatoes coming up over close to the pumpkin vine. I think the only way we will get any tomatoes on those vines is in a greenhouse -- and we don't have a greenhouse.

Okra doesn't like cold weather and we were lucky to be able to pick any this week. No doubt the okra will be gone very soon.

We have been babying our pumpkin and hoping it will continue to grow. It doesn't have the prettiest shape but it is the best pumpkin we have grown so far. We should be able to use it for our Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. It is bigger than it looks in this photo and really heavy.

We are still getting some squash but it really doesn't look very good overall. I am afraid we are getting some powdery mildew. Very disgusting.

Todd comes out to the garden to supervise. Good job Todd. He won't let me pet him but he often comes up behind me and touches my leg, then runs away -- kind of like a game of tag. When we work in the garden he watches everything we do very closely.

The cucumbers have been slowly growing. We haven't been bombarded with them but it has been nice to have a few for our salads.

Working in the garden in the evenings is a struggle because there isn't very much daylight after 7:00 p.m. The short days and less sun means our garden season will soon be coming to a close. We really don't mind having the rest from picking vegetables, but we will miss them when they are gone.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Halloween recap and a really cute snack for anytime

This past weekend was quite busy for us. We were out of town, had a birthday and then we participated in an event at church. We had so much fun, but are a bit tired.

I must show you my grandchildren, all dressed up for Halloween. Bear with me because they were really cute. They are my favorite part of Halloween or any event or holiday, for that matter.

My granddaughter was a fairy, actually the tooth fairy. I made her costume. I wish I had been able to give it more time, but it is cute. She loved it and she will get to play dress up for some time with this costume. The wings alone (a Wal Mart special) were great. In the top photo she is outside and below that, when she came to my house, she really hammed it up while posing for photos for me. Her father said to look more natural but I loved the posing.

My grandsons were "Super Mario and Luigi." They love to play Wii and this is a perfect costume for them since they are brothers, so it really worked. Of course, I didn't make their costumes but these were cute and I could not have made them as for the price we paid on ready-made ones.

My friend Bonnie sent me a photo of a treat her daughter, Brooke, made for her son to take to school for a salty snack. This was a great idea and I really loved it. She used Sun (flower seed) butter because so many children can't even be in the same room as peanut butter. These snacks are so wonderful and much healthier than candy. I think these would be fun for children at any times, not just for Halloween.

You will need Ritz crackers, straight pretzels, sun butter or peanut butter and raisins for eyes. The assembly is the only thing that takes time and it is so much fun if you and your child can do it together.

Tomorrow I promise to give you a garden update.