Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A peacock and a lady screaming?

If you have never been around peacocks at night the title of this post must be confusing, or intriguing perhaps?
My favorite uncle and aunt lived on a large farm that covered an even larger hill (read mountainish) in Kentucky. I used to love to go,stay with them and explore the farm. I also loved tagging along with my older cousins. I had one I particular who fascinated me with her teenagerness. She had the most gorgeous long dark brown hair and was/is beautiful. I'm sure she hated having her little city-cousin following her all over the farm, but she never let me know if she felt this way. Even her name was exotic to me as it was her parent's names put together. This was before the days of it being a fashionable southern thing to do to give your kids a double name.
My anut and uncle had all tgoes of animals on the farm. Everything from cows to chickens to...yiu guessed it, peacocks. I'm not 100% sure how they ended up with peacocks on a farm in northern Kentucky. Things like this just seemed to happen with them. These were the same people who had so many chickens that they started to roost in the trees close to the house. When you would drive up the gravel road almost at their house they had two chicken trees. Let's just say you tried to never walk under these trees!

So back to the peacocks. I was staying overnight with them and in the middle of the night I was awakened by a lady screaming! I was about 10 years or so old, but was still sure there was someone out there in need of help. I got out of bed and walked to the big sliding glass door and peered out. Again a scream! I was way too (dare I say) chicken to actually walk outside and did not want to wake up my aunt or uncle. I waited out the night scared to death with what the day might bring.
First thing in the morning I told my aunt what I had heard the night before. She howled with laughter and told me there was nothing to be worried about. Apparently when male peacocks are feeling 'amorous' they call out to the ladies around. I wish that she had shared this piece of I formation with me the afternoon before. To this day I can't see a peacock without also hearing an echo of a lady screaming.

My aunt and uncle's peacocks eventually became something's dinner or someone else's worries because they left the farm. They didn't leave without a trace though, my aunt collected all the beautiful feathers they left behind and gave them to my mom and me. I displayed them for awhile in different areas of the house until they lost their appeal and became a dust magnet. I would never get rid of them for their history, but have now repurposed some for Christmas decorations. I jazzed up some plain, boring green wreaths with glitters picks in peacock colors as well as some of the feathers.
My uncle is no longer with us, but he is a part of our Christmas celebrations every year without fail.




Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Oh Christmas tree!

Before having a child in the house I had one of those "perfect trees". You know the kind with the perfectly matched ornaments and draped just so. I had so much extra time on my hands (and a heavy dose of OCD) I even made my own large ornaments! Oh to have that kind of time again.....sigh

Now our tree looks different, I think better but the word different is a better descriptor as a nod to my former self. Now the tree has a mismash of ornaments, a lot of them homemade still. These are so much better than my old ones, these have things like 'Kindergarten 2009' and Merry Crissmass' on them. This year we even have a boat from a recent Cub Scout Raingutter Regata making an appearance. Our tree has become a visual journal of our lives together and apart.
There are also ornaments from the annual ornament party to bring back great memories and ornaments from special friends.
This year a friend made me an initial ornament that I am in love with! Not only is it personalized to me, but it's also made with German glitter. Germany holds such a place in my heart that I cannot find the words to describe it. One word is home while others have either not occurred to me or haven't been invented yet!
Another new ornament this year is from a new friend who knew that not only do we have a dog with an underbite, but also a new decorating angle featuring Bulldogs. Ornaments are a great gift for friends and families. It is a way to weave ourselves together into each other's holiday stories.



Consider an ornament as a hostess gift this year, show someone you were thinking of and about them when picking out that special gift. And just in case they aren't a Christmas nerd like me, hang it on a good bottle of wine!




You may have noticed that the tree is elevated. When the tree was bought we lived in a house with 8ft ceilings. When we moved into this house the ceilings were quite a bit higher and the tree looked tiny. Rather than buying another tree I put it on top of an old round table and covered it with an oversized tree skirt. Not only does it give the tree much needed height, it also frees up floor space for when Santa comes! 


Monday, December 15, 2014

Deck those halls and everywhere else too!

I love Christmas. I know that's not a particularly bold statement to make, but it's the truth when it comes to me. I love shopping throughout the year, yes I'm one of those people, and finding the perfect gift for someone. I try to keep a lookout throughout the year and buy when I see an item. Thei helps not only on the December sticker shock, but also relieves some of that Christmas stress.

Today I am thinking about decorating. How else can you change up a room and have it gone before you get tired of it? Yup, Christmas decorating!
I usually start in the days following Thanksgiving. I am a purist when it comes to the timing of decorating. Not until after Thanksgiving and always comes down before Jan 5th or so.
I also try to change things up every year. This year I finally got around to decorating the one area I have always wanted to, the light fixtures above the bar. I envisioned how the garland would look wrapped around the chains and the lights themselves. I threw in a couple of inexpensive picks from Michaels and it turned out so nicely.


Next up we had to put out the many trees. I cut back this year and only put up the big tree, my Dr Suess tree, and a few Aspen trios in various spots throughout the house. I normally also have a "wine tree" and my son has his own tree. 
I have collected Dr Suess ornaments for years and have slowly had to get bigger and bigger trees to fit my collection. This year is no exception as I think I've outgrown the small purple tree! 



  
 


Tomorrow I'll go into the big tree and a few other decorations. My Snow Village plays a big part in my decorations, so that'll be up next!





Thursday, December 11, 2014

Chicken chili - crockpot style!

I love my crock pot, no maybe that's not a strong enough statement. What do you call the emotion you feel when you walk in the door after a long day away and you have food hot and ready just waiting for you? Oh yes, that emotion is indeed love!

So into the crockpot you will need:

3 frozen chicken breasts
3 cans northern beans (drained) or white beans in chili sauce
1 medium can green Chilis
1 - 14oz diced tomatoes or 1 can mild rotel tomatoes
1/3 cup chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp oregano
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 chopped white or yellow onion
32 oz chicken broth

Throw everything in the crockpot and cook for 6 hrs on high or 8 hours on low. When you get home, or about 5 hrs into the cooking, pull the chicken out and chop into small chunks. Return them into the soup and cook for 1-3 hrs more depending on temperature chosen. If you don't have that extra time, no worries. Chop,the chicken and return it to the soup just prior to serving.

Serve with crackers, a dollop of sour cream, or some shredded Monterrey jack cheese. Whatever your preference is for this awesome chili soup.



Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Quick spaghetti sauce, yup you heard right

I used to be a jar sauce kind of gal when it came to spaghetti, until I made my own sauce. Now having spoiled myself for...myself I find it hard to ever go back!



Tonight's meal is a favorite in this house and so fabulously easy that it seems almost sinful.

Need:

1 can (or jar) of either crushed or whole tomatoes
Chopped red, yellow, and orange peppers
1/2 white or yellow onion
5-6 garlic cloves (or to taste, we LOVE garlic)
Fresh or dried basil (my favorite in the colder months is in the tube*)
2 tsp oregano
1 tsp fennel (if you like it that is)
1 lb turkey Italian sausage
- any veggies you have leftover be them tomatoes, carrots (not too many as it can sweeten the sauce), mushrooms, peppers...you name it and it can probably go in this sauce!)

Cook the Italian sausage throughly and add the fennel and chopped garlic cloves. Add the onions and peppers and let them simmer with the meat. When the veggies have cooked down a bit add the tomatoes. If I am using whole tomatoes that either I or Hunts have canned I use my emulsifier to 'sauce them up' a bit. I leave a few chucks here and there. Add the basil and oregano and let the sauce simmer in the meat.
Cook your spaghetti and serve with a nice chunk of fresh garlic bread.

* I have used these herb tubes for a few years now and really like them. They're especially nice in the winter months when my herb garden is not available and my stockpiles have been depleted. For my tomato sauce I like to use the Italian blend. So yummy and easy!
http://www.gourmetgarden.com/en/story/39/about-us




Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Lazy burritos

Day two recipe from the one day of prepping is what I refer to as Lazy Burritos with Guacamole. Lazy because I mix the refried beans straight into the taco meat. This way you can use it as taco or burrito filling.

You'll need:

1lb ground turkey 90/10
1/4 cup chili powder (or to taste, we like a lot!)
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp salt
4 tbs dried onion (or 1/2 white onion chopped if I have time)
1 can refried or black beans

Cook the first 6 ingredients together until fully browned and then add either a can of low-fat refried beans or a can of black beans - drained well.

Guacamole!

3 large, ripe avocados
1/2 purple onion finely chopped
Cilantro - big handful, roughly chopped
2 medium tomatoes
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp powdered garlic
1/2 lime, juiced

I am very hands on with this recipe, so wash your hands very well before proceeding! Scoop the avocados into a medium bowl and add the chopped onions, salt, and garlic powder. (If the kid isn't eating the guacamole I will also add red peppers or finely chopped fresh seeded jalapeƱos).
I squish all these ingredients together making sure to leave some chunks. I know most people use a fork and or knife, I think this gets the job done faster and leads to the consistency I prefer.
Next add in the chopped cilantro and tomatoes. For this step I do use a fork to combine. This keeps the tomatoes and cilantro from getting too bruised.

Right before serving, lightly mix in the lime juice. It really brightens up the guacamole and adds a nice tanginess.


Oh guacamole! If loving you is wrong, I don't wanna be right...

Monday, December 8, 2014

A many meal kind of day

Back when I worked full-time I would prep and/or cook all my food for the week ahead on Sundays. When my son was a baby this time also included making his baby food and freezing it into portions for the week.
Today I decided that we have been eating out far too much and the main reason is because I've gotten lazy. Lazy in that I not only had no food prepared, but no food in the house! So today I revisited an old habit and revisited some recipes I haven't made in a long while. This week's menu is:

Monday - easy chicken enchiladas
Tuesday - beef burritos with guacamole
Wednesday - spaghetti with garlic bread
Thursday - crockpot chicken chili

Although I made all these meals today, I will be adding the recipes as the week progresses. Tonight's recipe is for easy chicken enchiladas with sour cream/green chili sauce. My family does not like corn tortillas, well I should say that I am outvoted 2-1 on flour vs. corn tortillas!

Chicken Enchiladas with Sour Cream/Green Chili Sauce

3 chicken breasts 
6-10 corn or flour tortillas 
1 medium yellow onion
1 block low-fat cream cheese
16 oz low-fat sour cream
1 medium can green chilis
1 can low sodium cream of chicken soup
1 block 2% sharp cheddar

Today I poached the chicken with some pico de gallo leftover from one of those aforementioned restaurants. Shred the chicken and set it aside. 
Chop the onion finely (I use a cuisinart mini-chopper) cook the onions until translucent and pour them over the block of cream cheese. Mix the chicken, onion, and cream cheese with 1 tsp ground cumin and 2 cloves of chopped garlic. This is your enchilada 'insides'.

For the sauce - mix 16 oz sour cream, 1 can cream of chicken soup, and green chilis together. 

Stuff each tortilla with the enchilada 'insides'. Tonight I chose to make them a little larger than usual, so only 6 - 10 inch tortillas. If I make them a little thinner I use 10 - 10 inch tortillas. If using 10 tortillas I use a 3 qt. Pyrex dish. With 6 tortillas I used a 10X10 glass dish. 

Spray the glass baking dish of choice with a nonstick spray and place the stuffed tortillas with the seams facing down, side by side. 
Pour the sour cream mixture over the enchiladas and spread it across making sure all the tortillas are covered. 

Grate the cheese and spread it over the enchiladas like so:


Bake for 1/2 hour at 350 degrees. I like to put sliced jalapeƱos on my serving(s) for a little extra spice. 


Sunday, November 30, 2014

Ornament Party & Traditions

Nineteen years ago I started a girls only party in my 620 sq ft apartment. Somehow we all fit in there and had a blast. I remember having to open the windows and turn on the air conditioner because of all the...well...hot air! The party had a few rules associated with it. First you had to bring a wrapped Christmas ornament, one that you yourself might like, and also bring your favorite holiday food. There were probably 10-15 girls at that first party and we unknowingly started a tradition that lasts to this day.
The first party was held on a Thursday night because we were all single and didn't want to 'waste' a weekend night. That reason seems funny to us now, but just try to change the day of the party and there would be mutiny!
Since that first party I have moved countless times, (I was an apartment hopper) until finally settling into my first house post-marriage. We're on our second house and so much has changed, but the party remains the same.
The weather here in the south is unpredictable. There have been years when people have shown up in shorts and sandles then the next year a heavy sweater and coat. Last year was the first where actual winter weather threatened. We had our first ice storm and luckily it held off until after 11pm. It was a smaller, faster party but it was still a party.

When I looked around last year I saw women I love dearly, women who have stood by me through the good and the bad. Through boyfriends, bad haircuts, job changes, marriage, and the birth of my son. I see women who have loved and lost in the same time period. We've seen marriages happen and fall apart together, we've celebrated births and mourned loss with each other. We have private jokes and stories that only we think are funny. We have history, we have each other, we have the ornament party.
Every year there are friends who have seen each other recently as well as friends who haven't seen each other since last year's party. Every year I hear people exclaim that "we need to get together sooner" and "you know we say that every year and never follow-up". That last statement followed by laughter and sweet jeers that only friends can get away with.
We pass around the ornaments and joke about who has the best one that year. We ask for recipes and tell each other how great the other looks. It is a night where we are ourselves and we celebrate the begining of the holiday season together.

In the end we all know it's not the ornament or who brought the best food. It is the comradery and genuine love felt in that room. I encourage you to find your own tradition that is for you and your friends. Take the time to celebrate each other and enjoy each other's company. I'm better for this party and better for having the circle of friends I have.

Here's a scene from a few years ago. The one regret is that I have not taken photos every year.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The easiest & best fudge you will ever make!

I have been making this fudge for quite some time and give out the recipe all the time. Anytime I do I feel guilty because it is insanely easy to make! (Even easier to eat, trust me)

You'll need:

3 cups of chocolate chips - I've used semi-sweet & dark, it's your preference
1 can condensed milk
4 tbsp butter - trust me, use real butter
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt 
Aluminum foil
8X8 pan

Line your 8X8 pan with foil and lightly spray it with a non-stick spray

Basic recipe:

Put 3 cups of chips, full can of condensed milk and 4 tbs butter cut into smaller chunks. 
Microwave these 3 for 1 minute, no longer of the chocolate can scorch 
Remove from microwave and stir like crazy until all ingredients are blended. Mix in 1 tsp of vanilla and 1/4 tsp salt. 

Pour this mixture into the lined pan and chill for 2 hours. After chilled turn the pan over, peel away the foil and cut the fudge into small portions. Trust me, this fudge is very rich and you do not want big brownie-sized pieces!

Additions:

Sometimes I like to put toffee bits and a small amount of sea salt on the bottom of the lined pan 
before I pour in the fudge mixture. It is so good and gives it a salty/savory taste that is sure to please even the snobbiest of fudge eaters. 


After two hours flip it, peel the foil, cut it, and eat it!



Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

Day Before Thanksgiving Haiku:

My shopping is done
Kroger cannot lure me now
Time for gluttony

I love Thanksgiving for so many reasons, but the biggest one is that I love to cook. I am not a good baker, but a savory cook? I hold my own.

This year's menu:

Chorizo cornbread stuffed turkey
English peas (aka rich man peas*)
Mashed potatoes/pan dripping gravy
Yeast rolls
Orange/Cranberry sauce
Italian stuffed mushrooms

The recipe for the chorizo cornbread stuffing was one that started with a recipe I found online and over the years I have made it my own. The key is the chorizo. Never use chorizo bought at a chain grocery store...unless you're in Mexico! I go to an awesome little taqueria in a town close by and as a bonus I usually grab some of the best baked goods around. The other important thing I learned after sharing with my sister, is that chorizo is different. She lives in the NE and when she bought chorizo it was Portugese. The Portugese chorizo is more like a hard sausage instead of the wonderfully crumbly Mexican chorizo. Here's the recipe:

1.5 lbs chorizo (from a Mexican butcher remember, not Kroger or the like)
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots (adjust to your liking)
1/2 cup chopped dried cranberries (adjust to your liking)
1 medium yellow onion - chopped
2-3 stalks celery - chopped 
3 cloves of garlic, I use roasted garlic
2 loaves of cornbread (I use Martha White sweet cornbread)
Chicken broth as needed 

Cook the chorizo and drain all the excess fat. Set aside. 
Bake the cornbread and after cooling crumble it into a large bowl.
Cook the onion, celery, garlic, cranberries, and apricots in a skillet. When the onions become translucent pour this mixture over the cornbread. 
Fold the chorizo into the cornbread mixture. I use my hands to fully mix everything together. I have found that there is enough seasoning in the chorizo and do not need to add anything else. 
If the mixture is too dry add chicken broth as needed. 
Stuff the bird and cook it according to weight. Pit the rest of the stuffing into an oven safe dish. Cook the extra on 350 for about 30 mins. You may need to add a bit of broth post-cooking as you "fluff it" before serving. 
Simple as that!


This is during the assembly today. I try to do as much in advance as possible to make the actual,day just a bit easier.

The Orange/Cranberry sauce is also one that started from a recipe and through the years I have made it my own. It's super easy and very good. 

12 ounces of whole, fresh cranberries
1 cup sugar (my family doesn't like the sour but you can adjust to your tastes)
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup freshly squeezed Orange juice - seriously it is worth the extra but not required
Zest of one orange

Cook it all on medium heat until the cranberries start popping (and they will!) Lower the heat and reduce. I decided to put the sauce into some cute Mason jars which has given me the idea to possibly go a bit farmhouse chic on the table scape tomorrow. I will post pictures if I do. As for now I leave you with the cranberry sauce as I need to go clean a million or so pans! More recipes as the weeks go on, specifically the Italian stuffed mushrooms and a five minute fudge I also made today. 








Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Downward slide to 50?

Random thoughts on the day of my birth, or would that be anniversary of my birth? Either way I didn't do any of the work, thanks mom!
I admit that I didn't know that being 46 would feel like this. I'm not sure what I thought it would 'feel' like, but I can assure you that when I was 18 I thought 46 would be all about early-bird specials and comfortable shoes. OK, one out of two as comfortable shoes do win the battle 99% of the time.
The beauty of aging is that the things that once were vitally important somehow faded away into things that truly are important.
I had a great conversation this morning with a dear friend about 'first world problems' and how we all need and have reality checks throughout our lives but don't always pay attention to them. This particular friend recently beat cancer. <I'll let that one sink in for my 18 yr old self because I bet she wouldn't have been able to wrap her head around a friend being that kind of sick.>
Our conversation also got me thinking about life and how very, very lucky I am to have the kinds of "problems" I think I have. I'm happy, healthy, have a great family, am in a challenging volunteer position I love, and am surrounded by other happy people who make me laugh.

So what does age bring you? Age brings you a kind of peace that even though you have seen and lived some pretty awful things, that there is so much more good in the world than bad. Call me a Pollyanna, but I am a firm believer that there is infinitely more good than bad.
Age brings you the ability to laugh at yourself. There are things I do now that I would have been mortified if they happened to me when I was younger. I laugh at myself all the time now and I laugh with others now much more easily. I also did not realize I would still be as immature when I was 46. Eighteen year old me would not believe it if she knew that fart noises are still funny and that I still can't sit through a meeting without getting into some kind of trouble. Speaking of, having friends who laugh and make you laugh, now that's a treasure. One's you can get into trouble with, even better. (Not the trouble that brings the law into it though!)
Age allows you to choose to accept people for exactly who they are, flaws and all...or not. It also reminds you that sometimes the best thing to do is cut your losses and move on. Sometimes you can learn from the experiences and other times the other person (or you) was just a jerk and had no lessons to teach you. Next!
Age allows you to have financial peace if you have played the cards you were dealt with smartly. If not, age gives you the kick in the pants you need to right that wrong...we hope.
Aging in this day and...age also means Facebook birthdays! I love seeing the happy birthdays as much as I like writing them to others. I have heard some say that FB birthdays are silly or useless. I beg to differ. I know that every time I have written happy birthday to someone that I have also thought about that person and had great thoughts about them. Imagine that, a day where people are thinking about you if only for a moment. I'd say that is a pretty awesome thing, wouldn't you?

The absolute best part of  aging is seeing everything that I have learned and experienced in these 46 years and looking forward to the next 46. I can't wait to see what else is out there and who I will be as the years go on.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

The perfect woman

I have achieved many things in my life, but a few days ago I acheived Perfect Woman status...I lost my voice! Now please don't go all feminist on me, this is just a little joke. I'd say the same thing about the Perfect Man if *any* of the guys in my life lost their voices.

So this weekend I am 'going to ground' as they say. My guys are out camping and I am home with the pooches, some hot toddys, ranch bean soup, and NyQuil. Oh and my Roku for some serious TV watching.
Marathons they're called. I find that phrase to be very funny. We as a society have taken something as completely crazy healthy as a marathon and turned it into a way to describe sitting on the couch (or snuggled in bed), watching hours and hours of TV.  'Merica!

"What's Ranch bean soup?" you ask in what has to be a Yankee accent. Why am I being a geographist? It's only because I think that Ranch Bean Soup has to be unique to the south. Maybe I'm wrong as it has no Velveeta in it, but it does have a can of Ro-tel!

So basically you brown a pound of meat (ground turkey, ground beef, ground chicken...you get the idea) with chili powder, a little cumin, and some cayenne pepper. Basically whatever you use to season your chili with. Then here comes the southern part - dump 1 can of Ro-tel with the heat level of your choice, 2 cans minestrone soup, 2 cans of Ranch beans (or chili beans), and 1 large can of diced tomatoes. Then add about 3 tomato cans of water and let it simmer for awhile. It will make your house smell awesome and make everyone think you are The Deal.

So I am off to my TV marathon and soup while I snuggle with these two stinkers. Jealous?









Thursday, November 13, 2014

The South and Snow


I posted on FB today that my application to be a Southerner was revoked because it snowed and I only had a 1/2 a loaf of bread in the house. Only someone who lives in or has lived in the south could understand that there is an element of truth to in that statement. The truth comes in the fact that if you were not born a southerner...well you will just never really be one!
I myself am a geographic bastard because I am an Air Force brat. I was born in Oklahoma, but was only there for 2 months. My joke is that I saw everything there was to see and crawled out on my own. No offense to Oklahoma at all, I have had great times in OK, it just wasn't in the cards for me to stay long there or anywhere really. But now onto southerners...

Southerners have a love/hate relationship with snow. I came from the north where snow is just a part of winter. You deal with it the best you can, but you never let it hinder your day to day life. If it ever closes things down it's not so much snow as it is then a blizzard. 
The South and snow go together like anchovies and chocolate. Some may think to try it, but it would not become a staple in anyone's pantry. With the mention of snow the true Southerners reaction is to immediately get in the car and drive to 'The Kroger' to make sure that one is stocked up on bread and milk. I've never understood this combination as you can't even make French toast with it. I personally make sure that we have all the essentials such as a nice full-bodied red and some hot chocolate for the kid types running around. Grocery-wise I also make sure I have all my chili ingredients. Screw milk and bread, this is chili weather people! 

So today I awoke to a dusting of snow on the neighborhood. It wasn't record breaking by any means, but it was the earliest snow recorded in decades. Definitely the earliest I've seen snow since moving south. 


To give you an idea of what it normally looks like sans "snow" and tarp, here is a shot from about a month ago when everything was green and the humidity was way too high. It looks so sad now!


For now I will have to live with not going to Kroger today and hope that there's not a snowpocolypse forecasted for this weekend because we really are out of milk!

Ironic Canner?

A friend and I went to a new coffee shop today and had our normal gal-talk thing going on. Today it so happened that I brought along a few items that I had canned and was now gifting/sharing with her. We started talking about how "in" canning is right now and I jokingly said that I was doing it ironically. OK, truth be told I also said I was going to grow a mustache ironically, but I think we all know that happens after 35 anyhow. 
So then the Ironic Canner was born. I have a lot to say and not a lot of places to say them in. This just may be the spot after all!

So the coffee shop was Cafe Brunnelle and I have to say that I really enjoyed not only my company, but also my perfect temperature Tokyo Tea Latte. And the chocolate croissant wasn't too shabby either. 

I will discuss the canning aspect of me soon as I get more comfortable with this. I have been making a lot of flavored extracts and if we are friends you now know what you're probably getting for Christmas!