Oct 31, 2011

Day of rest, week 8: no treats

Another Sunday has passed.  We witnessed the latest UT loss in Knoxville on Saturday (yeah, we're a little bitter.)  Since it was a late game, we spent the night before driving home Sunday morning and dropping off a nephew and his friend on the way.  When we arrived back home, I broke out an old-but-favorite tomato-basil cream soup recipe, and grilled some cheese sandwiches for our dinner. So it was a mostly non-consumer day; hotel breakfast notwithstanding.

Today is my least-favorite holiday.  Last year, I gave an explanation as to why I don't do Halloween anymore.  And I realize that makes me a bit of an oddity among my friends. (But so does my Sunday-day-of-rest thing, so I'm 2 for 2!)

In case you wondered, I can say I have never been afraid of poisoned candy or finding razor blades or needles in the treats. Nor have I ever been concerned that I or my children would be abducted by a satanic cult or opportunistic creep, even though we approached our share of strangers' doors on a dark night.

As a non-Catholic, I just can't celebrate Halloween as "All Hallow's Eve."  If I don't celebrate All Saints Day, it would be disingenuous to claim to celebrate its eve.

So why do I avoid this holiday?  In a nutshell, I'm a Christian, and it seems that modern society is quickly growing intolerant of Christians; I guess this is my proverbial line in the sand.  While I don't expect non-believers to adopt my beliefs, I hope they will reciprocate my tolerance and  understanding if I refuse to buy into a day that celebrates a combination of paganism, hedonism, gothic and the occult.

While I know everyone won't jump on this bandwagon with me, I hope that more will begin to open their eyes and realize there's probably a connection between the downplaying and marginalizing of Christian holidays and practices, with the swift rise in the commercial popularity of this one. 

Mr. Official asked me f I thought we'd have many trick-or-treaters.  Since we now live on a quiet country road, I'm hoping our unlit porch light won't disappoint too many out looking for some treats.  For those of you who participate in the festivities tonight, may you have a safe and happy evening. And I hope I've given you some substantive food for thought to go with all that candy.

Marty Feldman, Gene Wilder and Terri Garr in "Young Frankenstein"
If you drop by our house, be prepared to hang out a while - you'll undoubtedly get drawn into watching Mel Brooks' "Young Frankenstein" with us.  It is my one concession (aside from my beloved Charlie Brown images) to the day, with its goofy, campy send-off on the classic "horror" flicks of decades past.

Happy Monday,

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Oct 29, 2011

Home, sweet home

Houses are a bit like us girls - they can use a day of beauty every now and then, ya know?  We can't take a house to a spa, but we can treat our dwelling to a day of refining and beautifying.

No, this isn't yet another post about our new house.  We recently offered our old place for lease (read: we stuck a sign in the yard) and were pleasantly surprised by the immediate response (within hours!) from several families interested in renting it.

As I showed the house and eventually made arrangements to lease it to one particular family, I began to look at our old home through the eager and bright eyes of a prospective occupant, rather than the weary eyes of the one who moved out.

The whole-house paint job looks great, but I realized the blinds needed cleaning (they weren't gnarly gross but they wouldn't pass anyone's white glove test.)  Ditto for the windows.  And the floors.  And the bathrooms and kitchen were passable, but I knew if I were moving in, I'd have to spend some time cleaning before I put my own things in the cabinets and drawers.

So this past week, I spent several hours (over the course of several days) deep cleaning and gently buffing and polishing everything to move-in condition.  At long last, the storage towers and hanging rods were installed in the bedroom closets, a new wire shelf/rack was up in the hall closet, the spot where the TV hung in the master bedroom was painted over, the bathrooms were sanitized to operating room condition, and all the floors were mopped and gleaming.  A flipped-over closet switch was righted (up is on, off is down), and the front door lever now operates properly.  It's the pesky little things you live with when it's yours, but you wouldn't wish on anyone else. (And after you do them, you wonder why you didn't find a few spare minutes to do it months or years ago!)

As I worked, I thought back to our own move-in experiences over the years.  As I reminisced, I thought how nice it would have been to find a few essentials and niceties to welcome us.

So I put myself in their shoes and made sure all the toilet paper holders were full and the bathroom sinks each had a dispenser of hand soap. I wiped out all the bathroom drawers and put a penny (heads-up) in each bathroom (because everyone needs a little luck, right?); changed out the filter on the HVAC system, and left the rest of the three-pack in the laundry room to encourage changes when needed.

New lightbulbs were inserted in all the the sparkly clean light fixtures and ceiling fans, and I tucked a few starter packets of dishwasher detergent under the sink; a scrubbed and bleached almost-new kitchen trashcan and a few trash can liners is at the ready.

On a whim, I snagged an inexpensive plastic  pumpkin and filled it with candy (they are moving in over the weekend and I have a hunch their trick-or-treating will be pre-empted by packing-and-moving.  As a final touch I filled a small basket with some apple-scented dish soap, new sponges and dishrags and a cute Thanksgiving towel to say "Welcome Home!" 

After I finished giving the old place its spa treatment, did I wish we were the ones moving in?  It did look pretty and welcoming.  But I am very content with our new home and I don't regret any part of our decision to find and move to a different home.

I have very high hopes for the future of the new family moving in.  I wish many blessings and joy on them as they make our old home their new home.

Happy moving in (and on),
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Oct 27, 2011

Thankful Thursdays: Gimme an A!

Two weeks ago, I started a countdown of six things I'm most thankful for and each begins with one of the letters of the word "THANKS".   First was Today, because it is all we can really say we have for certain.  Last week was Health, something I all too often take for granted. This week, I am thankful for...


Webster's defines "abode" as a temporary place to abide or dwell; a habitation.  Our homes may be old or new, humble or grand - it's all relative.  As long as we are mindful that our earthly dwelling is temporary and we use it wisely, our home is truly a blessing to all who gather under its roof.

By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established;by knowledge the rooms are filled  with all precious and pleasant riches. (Proverbs 24: 3-4)

"Home for Thanksgiving" by Grandma Moses
I love our home and the good times and wonderful memories we create as a family living inside these walls.  Someday, it will be just a place we passed through.  Until then, I pray that God continues to bless our home and all who dwell within with wisdom and faith.

Are you ready for Thanksgiving?  Friends who know me well also know I skip past Halloween, so that gives me lots of time to decorate our home with fall stuff.  This Grandma Moses print is especially poignant, as I remember a Moses print hanging above on the wall behind the dining room table in my grandparent's home.  I think it captures the true essence of welcoming family home for the holidays.  It's not about having a grand home or setting a magazine-perfect table, but the joy of seeing family and friends gather together.  I snagged a copy of this from eBay for $3.50 the other day - can't wait for it to arrive so I can frame it up and move the mantel forward another step toward the holidays.

Of course, these days there's almost always something cooking or baking as I plow my way through old and new recipes for rib-sticking, heart-warming foods.  (Yes, last week's focus was on health, which means avoiding the fattening and rich foods of the holidays.  It's not a paradox  I cook up a storm, but then send plates of goodies with Mr. Official to share with his staff and co-workers - a few nibbles and bites for everyone means no lasting harm to anyone's waistline or blood sugar levels.  This week's bake-a-thon is turning out cinnamon pumpkin pull-apart bread, pumpkin-spice baked donut holes and sour cream chocolate chip bread.  Mmmm, mmmm, good.)

Happy thanks-giving,

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Oct 26, 2011

Recipe of the Week: Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili

Okay, this week's recipe is technically not pumpkin-based.  However, you *could* make it from pumpkin.  Although if you've ever tried cutting a raw pumpkin into chunks, you know why sweet potatoes are a whole lot easier, and they are really very similar in taste and texture once they're cooked.  Close enough.

And I wanted to include at least one savory recipe in this little recipe series.  They're pretty scarce, so this may be the only one.

I spotted the original recipe in a Penzeys catalog.  It was for a filling (without tomatoes) to stuff into flour tortillas for enchiladas; it sounded pretty good but I was looking for a sweet potato chili recipe to try on my family, and the ingredients  attracted me because of the unusual way of cooking the sweet potato chunks.  You'll see.  And trust me when I say it's worth the extra step - the apple cider vinegar and soy make the sweet potatoes much more flavorful.  This is one way to get your pickiest eaters to eat some super-nutritious sweet potatoes on the sly.

I provide some either/or options below so you can adapt it to your family's preferences and what you have available.  For example, I have a bottle of dried shallots from World Market that I want to use up before they lose their flavor, so I tossed a generous handful in with the potatoes while they cooked.  If you don't have dried shallots, a small onion or a couple leeks (which is what the original recipe called for) browned with the sausage will be just as tasty.

It's not often I declare any recipe a "winner" the first time out of the chute. This one has that distinction, so without further ado, I'm happy to share it with you.

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili

2 or 3 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced into bite-size chunks (1/2 to 1 inch)
1/3 cup soy sauce (I used light/low sodium - regular would also be fine)
1 cup apple cider vinegar, divided
2 tablespoons dried shallots or two leeks or a small sweet onion, diced fine
1 pound chorizo sausage (Not ringing any bells?  See my notes below)
5 cloves garlic, minced or 5 teaspoons diced garlic-in-a-jar
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ancho chili powder
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 - 1 teaspoon cayenne (more or less, to taste)
2 cans black beans, drained
2 cans Rotel or (1 can Rotel and one can plain diced tomatoes for tender palates)
1 cup beef broth (more or less to achieve the desired consistency)

In a medium saucepan, place sweet potatoes, soy and dried shallots (if using) and 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar.  Bring to boil and reduce heat and cover, simmer for about 20 minutes or until the potatoes are fork-tender and most of the liquid is absorbed.  (Keep a close eye on it - don't allow it to dry out and scorch.) Set aside.

In a Dutch oven (recommended) or other soup/chili pot, brown together the chorizo and garlic, and leeks or onions (if using instead of dried shallots.)  When browned, remaining apple cider vinegar, cumin and chili powders, beans, tomatoes and beef broth.  Gently mash the sweet potatoes, leaving some lumps.  Add to other ingredients and simmer for 20 minutes or until hot and bubbly through.  You can add more beef broth if it gets too thick.  Serve with sour cream, grated cheddar cheese, and corn chips or saltines.

Makes 6 servings.

Footnote:  in case the word "chorizo" stopped you in your tracks, here's a picture of the brand I used (and would recommend). Unless your only option is chorizo links, look for bulk chorizo - it will be located near other sausage "chubs" in your grocery store.  If you have to use links, try to find a package labeled "fresh chorizo" and slice open the casing (yeah, that is as gross as it sounds) and scrape out the sausage into your skillet or pan, discarding the casings.  You don't want sliced chorizo links in this dish unless it's your only option. 

Happy cooking!

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Oct 25, 2011

Crockpot, you're my hero

A few weeks ago I realized I used my crockpot for four dinners out of seven:   on Monday, it held pork chops; Tuesday, Hobo Stew.  Thursday, it was chicken and wild rice soup, and Friday it got a back-to-back workout roasting 3 pork butts for pulled pork.  Not bad for this humble, hard-working kitchen appliance.

I even waxed eloquently about my crockpot-a-palooza back here.  But I think my crock pot has flexed its culinary muscle even more this year.

There are some tricks to crockpot cooking - off the top of my head, here are six things everyone should know about crockpots.

1.  Ask not what your crockpot can do for you, but what you can do for your crockpot.  Not everyone is home most of the day (as I am), and even I have learned the hard way that it's imperative to respect its limits and yours.  If the food is going to cook for 8 or more hours and you don't have a high-end programmable crockpot with delayed start, auto shut-off and keep-warm-options, then steer clear of recipes that call for a short 4-5 hour stint in the crockpot.  They just aren't going to work on a weekday.  Save them for a weekend or day off when you can adjust your start time accordingly Long-cooking foods like briskets, roasts and beans are generally safe bets, but don't expect the crockpot to keep your food in a holding pattern for much longer than the recipe's cooking time. Overcooked food is dry, tough and tasteless, and that isn't your crockpot's fault.

2.  Less is not more.  You may be a "the glass is always half full" optimist, but if your crockpot is less than half-full, it is a disaster waiting to happen.  Seriously, your pot should be two-thirds full of stuff.  Otherwise, you may come home to the charred remains of the-dinner-that-was.  If you don't need that much food, double the recipe and freeze half in individual portions for quick meals later.  Or buy a smaller crockpot. Really.  Bigger is sometimes better.  Sometimes it's just bigger. And sometimes bigger is a big honkin' headache.

3.  Crockpots and slow cookers are cousins, not identical twins.  A slow cooker heats from the bottom while a crockpot heats around the sides.  That doesn't always make a huge difference, but if the recipe specifically calls for one or the other, know what you have and be prepared to adjust accordingly.  This is especially true if you're making candies or baked goods - heed the recipe directions.

4.  Newer is not necessarily better.  

This is just like mine - only whiter.
This is especially true on the plain-Jane (high-low-off) models. If you're lucky enough to have an older crockpot (circa 1980 to early 2000s), you may be able to relax a bit on the cook times, because they cook at lower temperatures; a recipe that calls for 6-8 hours may still be perfectly edible at the 8-hour mark.  Thanks to our general phobia about germs and bacteria, and the ever-present threat of a lawsuit, crockpot manufacturers decided to up the ante--and the thermostat--on crockpots about 6 or 7 years ago.  "Low" settings are now more like the "high" settings of old.

Don't have an old crockpot?  Trade with your mom. Or haunt yard sales or thrift stores for someone's castoff.

This is just like my first one :-)
Telltale signs:  it'll probably have cute country blue and rose decorations, and maybe a blue insert.  Or it'll be glazed brown insert with a beige, orangey-red or mustard yellow casing and lettering that just screams circa 1981. Just be sure it isn't too old - the truly original crockpots didn't have a removable insert.  That made washing up a bit of a challenge.

5.  The highs and lows.  Here's the lowdown on that high/low knob:   there is no difference between high and low except in the time they take to get to simmer temperature (209 F), and then they stabilize regardless of which setting you selected.  Really.  Who knew?  But don't fool yourself into thinking a 6-hour recipe can hang tight for 8 hours if you cook it on low.  It might work, or you might come home to a crusty mess, especially if you're cooking in a newer model without a "keep warm" option.

6.  Keep yer hands off.  If you are hovering over your crockpot, don't.  It works best alone. At least refrain from removing the lid repeatedly. Every time you lift the lid, you let several degrees of accumulated heat dissipate into thin air.  It's like opening the oven to check on the cake - just don't do it.

So now that you're armed with more info about crockpots than you ever thought you could want to know, let's talk recipes. Crockpots are most forgiving for dishes that have lots of liquid like vegetable or meat soups and roasts.  And foods that need to cook for a long time to tenderize, like brisket.   Thicker soups and stews will do well if you heed the advice above, and don't ask them to cook all day.

Other foods can be prepped and placed in the crockpot, then transported cold with you, and plugged in to cook for a few hours so they are heated through and ready-to-serve at the appointed time.  In addition to starchy dishes like potato casserole and mac and cheese, crockpots work GREAT for heating up fudge or caramel toppings for ice cream or apples when you're serving a crowd.  Just another useful use for our trusty crocks.

it is wise to test-drive these types of recipe ideas at home beforehand, and know exactly how long they need to cook/heat, and how long they can hold,  before you spring your dish on a crowd.

Since January, I've made the usual lineup of chili and chili-esque soups and stews of course, along with countless pork butts.  Other memorable recipes include:

Macaroni and cheese (surprisingly good and perfect for office potluck lunches)
Corn with cream
Hobo stew
Potato soup
French dip roast beef
Ranch chops
Creamy bean dip
Garlic-lime pork chops (not-so-moist, but I think with a creamy chile verde sauce it has potential)
Lasagna (yes, really - and it was pretty good)
Chicken and wild rice soup (recipe needs to ramp up the flavor, but it's high potential)
Steak and brown rice (an old recipe shared by a friend - she and the dish are pretty wonderful)

This week, the crockpot gets another workout with a new chicken teriyaki recipe, plus some beef barley stew when the temps are destined to dip again in a few days.  Hmmm, now that I think about it, I might have to do a crockpot recipe series after the holidays.  Stay tuned and break out those crocks.  'Tis the season.

Happy crockpot cooking!

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Oct 24, 2011

Day of rest week 7: This is getting easier

Seven weeks does not a new habit make, but I will say it is getting more natural to plan ahead and make sure I have everything I think I will need to tide us over from Saturday to Monday. (Did I really just use "tide" in a sentence? After Saturday night's epic fail to 'bama?  Abject apologies to all my Vol-fan friends and family.)

Anyway, we ate up a variety of leftovers for lunch and it was as varied as a restaurant menu, with choices including 3-cheese pasta with chicken and alfredo sauce and toasty warm French dip sandwiches. Hot, fast, delicious and it used up food that would probably wind up tossed out otherwise.

After lunch was out of the way, Mr. Official and I each headed to the old house - he to mow, I to install closet cubbies and rods. I coulda/shoulda spent part of Saturday on this task but I chose to play with the grandpuppy and bake instead.  I knew before I went that I'd stall out midway - there were some items I'd need to buy in order to finish up (which is why I had planned to work on it Saturday.  Procrastinators Anonymous meets tomorrow, right?) 

Background, in case you didn't follow our house adventure.  It began almost a year when I got a wild hair to look at our old Oklahoma house, which turned into a wish list of features I'd like to have in a house.  In turn, that became a casual, then serious house hunt and eventual purchase and move.

My, how time flies. We moved out of our old house back in May, then somehow the summer flew by and we never quite got around to putting it on the market (an unusual situation, to be sure.)  The good news is, we have a family moving into it in a matter of days.  The bad news is, all the postponed to-do's must turn into checked-off "dones" in the next few evenings.

It's a manageable list, especially since I no longer need to cool my jets outside the swimming pool for a couple hours each evening. Yes, another vehicle has joined our caravan, so swimmer girl now has her own wheels to get her to and fro.




Dinner last night was a new recipe featuring sweet potatoes and black beans in some spicy chili.  (Recipe will be posted on Wednesday.  I know I'm featuring pumpkin recipes for the next several weeks, but sweet potatoes and pumpkins are nearly indistinguishable once they're cooked right?)

And because I planned ahead, I am enjoying my coffee with cream this morning as I type this.  (I was running dangerously low on both by Saturday, so swimmer girl and her oldest brother took my credit card and headed to fill up "her" Highlander and snag a few foodstuffs from Publix.)

So are you tempted to join me in this little social experiment?  C'mon...it's easier than it sounds. And honestly, doesn't it sound pretty simple to just steer clear of the mall and restaurants for one day a week?  Give it a try - you might find, like I am, that it is fairly easy and certainly more economical to give your family (and yourself) a day of rest, with a combination of leftovers and freshly prepared food that hit the table faster than most sit-down places can deliver. 

Happy Monday,

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Oct 20, 2011

Thankful Thursdays: Gimme an H!

Last week I started a quick countdown of six things I am most thankful for, that begin with the letters of the word "THANKS".   Last week, I expressed thankfulness for Today, because it is all we can really say we have for certain.  This week, I am thankful for...


I could complain about my creaking knees, tetchy calf muscle or my periodic bouts with asthma and allergies. But truth be told, I have been blessed with an abundance of good health throughout my life.  One of my favorite passages in Isaiah is 40:31 because it offers an encouraging promise to every one of us:

"but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
   they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
   they shall walk and not faint."

There will come a day when all our physical problems and limitations are removed, and we will soar like eagles and run and not grow weary.  If you've watched a loved one, whether young or old, suffer with severe health problems, this passage holds hope and promise for them.   Some day, we will all be freed from the pains and aches of this life.

But in the here and now, I hope you'll exercise your body every chance you get, to the extent you can.  I eat better, I sleep better, I feel better physically and emotionally when I exert myself on a regular basis.

Whatever you can do, do it.
Do it today.  
If you're sore tomorrow, do it again anyway.
If you're not sore, good.
Push yourself a little harder, a little faster, a little longer.

For those of you who know me, you know I'm a fan of getting (and staying) fit and healthy.  If you're blessed with a similar outlook, I hope you'll encourage someone you care about who isn't at their healthiest.  (Don't nag, encourage.)  Take a walk with a friend - a mile is a mile whether you click it off in 10 minutes or 30 minutes.  Don't wait for the new year to begin a new resolution; give someone the gift of your time, encouragement and support to become healthier now.

Happy, healthy thanks-giving,

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Oct 19, 2011

Recipe of the Week: Spicy Pumpkin Ooey-Gooey Cake

Yes, it's pumpkin time around here.  Last week was sour cream pumpkin bread.  

This week's recipe is a takeoff on Paula Deen's "Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake" (which is known in some parts as a "dump cake" or "ooey-gooey cake.")  I tried this recipe on for size last year around this time. I recommend using a spice cake instead of the yellow cake mix listed to give it a more authentic "pumpkin pie" flavor.

On PD's website, a round cheesecake-looking dessert is shown as the final result of the recipe, but her directions (and dump cake protocol) call for a 9x13 pan.  However, it would make for a more sophisticated presentation to make it in the round.  If you have a large (10-inch or larger) springform pan, go ahead and give it a whirl. It's not like you were going to use that pan for anything else this week, right?

One word of caution:  this is a very rich and sweet dessert, so I strongly recommend cutting it into small slivers (if you use said springform pan) or petite 2-inch squares from a rectangle.  Your guests can always have seconds if they are so inclined.

(Note:  To pie purists, this is not in the same league as  traditional pumpkin pie, but if you're serving a crowd, it could do in a pinch, especially with good whipped cream on top.)

Spicy Pumpkin Ooey-Gooey Cake

Crust Ingredients:
1 18 1/4-ounce package yellow spice cake mix
1 egg
1/2 cup butter, melted (don't substitute margarine)

Filling Ingredients:
1 15-ounce can of pumpkin
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
8 tablespoons butter, melted
1 16-ounce box powdered sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. To create the crust, combine the cake mix, 1 egg, and butter and mix well with an electric mixer. Pat the mixture into the bottom of a lightly greased 13 by 9-inch baking pan.

To make the filling: In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and pumpkin until smooth. Add the eggs, vanilla, and butter, and beat together. Next, add the powdered sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and mix well. Spread pumpkin mixture over cake batter and bake for 40 to 50 minutes. Make sure not to overbake as the center should be a little gooey.  Serve with fresh whipped cream.

Happy eating,

P.S. Up next week is...you guessed it, another pumpkin recipe. Hope you like 'em.  If not, I am betting I'll give you so many ways to fix pumpkin, you'll have to like one of them.  We'll continue exploring this pumpkin patch as the countdown to Thanksgiving continues.

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Oct 18, 2011

When opportunity knocks, watch out for wet paint

The front door of our new home sported this brick red, which I-M-(not-so-)-Humble-O was vaguely reminiscent of Texas Aggie orange.  That *might* have been okay, but it also suffered from the fate which plagues most metal-and-glass doors:  the caulk and adhesive under the oval molding had slipped and oozed a bit, leaving a cracked and dingy gray ring around the oval leaded glass.  And the paint was scratched and nicked in a few places.

Here it is, with a fall wreath, which managed to work its way off-center as though it were wishing it could quietly slip away and disassociate itself from the situation.
The door was beginning to show its age.
This painting project has been on my hit list of to-do's for a while; in fact, my paintbrush-holding hand has been itchy to pull the trigger since I first approached the door back in late November of last year.   It just cried out for a fresh coat of paint.

But first I had to wait until the house was ours.  (For whatever reason, society and our legal system frown upon attempts to improve property that doesn't belong to you.)

Then I had to find a day when it wasn't blistering hot, because painting the front door involves leaving the door open for a while and the thermostat is in the foyer.  That would have meant sweating out everyone to turn off the air conditioning for a couple hours, or be a wanton spendthrift and leave the door open and a/c units running non-stop. Neither of those sounded like attractive options.

Plus, I wanted to make sure Luci-the-cat wasn't in "escape mode."  (She goes through spells, which probably correlate to the moon phases, where she will persist in attempting to flit through any open door.  Once she's out, she either freezes like a deer in headlights, or goes a little spazzy - either way, we can usually catch her and bring her back inside. But that won't necessarily stop her from making another break the next day, and the next...until her mood changes back to being content with the life of a fat and lazy housecat.)

Finally I had a few weekend hours to spare after fall break, when the weather was mellow and so was Luci. (Random thought:  can a door project have a "WINDOW of opportunity?" Hmmmm.)  Anyway, I had a guy in the paint area of Home Depot brew up a quart of French Roast.  Really - that's what the color is called.    With a little prepping and cleaning, the door went from that to this in about two hours on a mild Sunday afternoon:

Do you see a door hanger?  Nope, me either.
I also managed to ditch the door hanger, trading it in for a super-simple combination of a small angle bracket and some fishing line. 

Basically this plus this:

Looks like this on the inside:

and this to the rest of the world:

I'm using 20-pound test line, but I will probably ramp it up a bit when I hang the next wreath, especially if the next wreath is heavier than this one.

Happy painting!

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Oct 17, 2011

Day of rest week 6: It was a busy day

For the past six Sundays, I have consciously and deliberately tried to avoid shopping or eating out.  (Well, except when we were on vacation a couple weeks ago.)  Yesterday was no exception, and if swimmer girl had remembered earlier that she needed yarn and knitting needles for a group project, it would have been totally successful.  But I did my part.

I spent an enjoyable but busy afternoon in the kitchen.  First up was my first attempt at cassoulet.  I got everything browned and sauteed, then layered it in the crockpot to simmer while I turned my attention to all things pumpkin.

First up was a trial run of double-chocolate pumpkin cake.  The recipe made two small cakes, so we can enjoy one here and I'll take one with me to Bunco tomorrow night. Stay tuned for an assessment of the final product.

I also tested out another pumpkin bread recipe. The plan was to divide it into two loaves (since the recipe indicated it would make two loaves), with one sporting nuts and a streusel topping, while the other got an infusion of cream cheese filling and cinnamon glaze.  The result was a full-size loaf with a very runny cream cheese filling, and a miniature loaf of streusel-topped nut bread. Either I seriously misjudged the amount of batter I placed in the first pan, or the ingredients need tweaking.  (I'm leaning towards the latter.)

Regardless, the resulting loaves were good and I'll showcase them in an upcoming recipe-of-the-week.   I also took step-by-step photos of assembling the cassoulet, and since it also received a thumbs-up from the family, I'll outline my experience soon.

Our weather today was pitch-perfect:  it was warm and sunny, with a hint of coolness on the breeze.  If I hadn't been keeping close watch on the oven timer, it would have been a gorgeous afternoon to spend outdoors.  So how did you spend  your Sunday?  I hope it was restful, relaxing and enjoyable!  If it was also free from consumerism, all the better.

Happy Monday,

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Oct 15, 2011

A force to be reckoned with

Like a lot of you, I have started dabbling in Pinterest.   I have solemnly promised myself it will remain merely dabbling; I am a dilettante, after all.   And I can see where it could become an obsession, so I try to limit myself to a few minutes of exposure a day, and I only pin or re-pin things I actually LOVE or really plan to try (and so far, I've test-driven three recipes I pinned; others are on deck and warming up.)

Anyway.  The other day I was nosing around a quote someone had pinned and clicked through to the underlying website, which led me to this quote.  (Well, the first one  I found was stated a little more...ummmm...."baldly," so then I hunted around for a tamer version, until I found this one):

I mentioned it in passing to swimmer girl.  Actually we were passing time waiting to drop her off at school. (Sidebar: yes, the search for a new-to-me SUV is still underway.  I think we're getting closer to commitment.  Until then, I get to enjoy a few minutes of her time before and after school.)

We tossed around a few ideas on exactly what the quote meant.  Is it a compliment?  Or a criticism?  Or both?  I prefer to think it describes women whose faith and works are completely antithetical to Satan's.   I hope my days are spent looking for and championing the good in people, and sharing my faith, to the point that the evil one is worn slam out at the end of every day.

I told swimmer girl I thought she was already a force to be reckoned with, even at her young age.  She smiled and said I thought I was, too.

Are you, too?  I hope so! 

If you're in my neck of the woods, look for me in Bell Buckle this morning.  It's the 35th annual Webb School arts and crafts fair.  I'm hoping Derek and the boys do better without me in Knoxville than they did last week with me in the crowd.  Go Vols!!!!

Happy Saturday,

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Oct 13, 2011

Thankful Thursdays: Gimme a T!

The U.S. Thanksgiving holiday is exactly 7 weeks away from today.  I thought it would be fun to spend the next six Thursdays focusing on the letters in the word "THANKS" and identifying something I'm especially thankful for that begins with the week's letter.  Does that make sense? Hold on...here's what I mean.

This week I am thankful for...  


It's all we've got; yesterday is gone and tomorrow isn't guaranteed. 

As the saying goes, it's why we call today the "present" - it is the most precious gift we hold in our hands.  May we use our time today wisely, and as Hebrews 3:13 instructs,

"...encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today..." 

We can't change what happened yesterday, no matter how much we turn it over in our minds and think of what we coulda, shoulda, woulda said or done (or not said or done) differently.  

We can't count on tomorrow, even though procrastinators know it is always the busiest day of the year, because that's when we're going to get around to everything.  Uh huh.  Sure.

Squeeze everything you can into today.  And squeeze everything you can out of it, too.

Hug your kids.
Smile at strangers.
Pray for a friend.
Pray for an enemy.
Just do it.

What are you thankful for?  Post a comment with one thing that you're most thankful for today.

Happy thanks-giving,

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Oct 12, 2011

Recipe of the Week: Sour Cream Pumpkin Bread

There are so many delicious recipes with pumpkin these days, I thought I'd try to feature one (or two) a week through Thanksgiving.  Since I'm also trying to work off a few excess pounds before the holidays, I warned Mr. Official that he's going to be schlepping some seriously fattening foods to share with his staff.  It's one of the laws of physics:  high-calorie foods diluted among many eaters does no harm.

We'll start off with a quick bread.  My all-time favorite bread is banana nut bread, and recently a friend asked me if I had ever made it without the bananas (she's not a fan of the yellow fruit.)  I hadn't, but I scrounged around and came up with a few alternatives that were similar in other ingredients, including a strawberry jam and nut bread recipe that has been passed down from mother to daughter in our family, and this pumpkin-spice bread recipe.  I'll try to post the strawberry bread recipe closer to Christmas.

The pumpkin bread sounded deliciously similar to my beloved banana bread, so I had to try it for myself. (Friends don't give untested recipes to friends, right?)

I whipped this up yesterday, and tapped my toe until it was cool enough to slice.  It was met with two thumbs up from swimmer girl, although I think it would benefit from a little baking lagniappe (see my recommendations below.)

Sour Cream Pumpkin Bread

1/2 cup butter (or margarine) slightly softened to smear texture
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda 
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup (1/2 can) pumpkin puree
1/2 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt   

Directions:  Heat oven to 350.  Generously grease a 9x5 loaf pan (or 2-3 mini loaf pans) with shortening.  Don't use spray or butter - trust me.

Cream butter and sugar together.  Add eggs and vanilla; mix well. Add dry ingredients and mix until just blended. Add pumpkin puree and sour cream or yogurt.  Pour into prepared pan and bake for 60-70 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean (don't overbake.)  Slide a thin blade around the edge to loosen from pan; invert onto cooling rack.  Allow to cool completely before slicing.  Wrap loaf in a tea towel to store overnight, or let cool completely and freeze for no more than a month. 

Terry's recommendation:  This is a good, basic recipe, but I think it needs a little something to jazz it up a notch.  I'd recommend any one of these three options (and I'll be trying them myself soon - perhaps even some combination of these three):

1.  At a minimum, throw 1/2 to 3/4 cup chopped nuts into the batter.  Preferably pecans, but walnuts would work, too.
2.  Add a streusel topping (1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup chopped nuts, 3/4 teaspoons cinnamon, 2 tablespoons butter, crumbled together and sprinkled over the top of the batter before baking.)
3. Cream cheese glaze (1/2 cup powdered sugar, 1/2 cup cream cheese, softened, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, 3 tablespoons fresh orange juice, beat together until smooth; drizzle over loaf after removing it from the pan.)  Garnish with chopped nuts if desired.

Happy baking,

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Oct 11, 2011

One thing leads to another...

Last week, I found myself gravitating toward the Le Creuset store while swimmer girl and one of my "other daughters" (friends of swimmer girl that I happily adopt on a temporary basis now and then) were prowling through yet another boutique.

I love my Lodge Dutch oven. (Remember?) But even I know the gold standard of Dutch ovens is Le Creuset - unless you are a Staub fan. They're both made in France and both makers are extremely proud of their products, which is reflected in their hefty price tags. I had no plans to buy another Dutch oven, but it is fun to look. (I took a long gander at the Staubs while in Williams-Sonoma a few days later. Again, killing time while the girls bushwhacked their way through the labyrinth of shoe stores and other shops.)

Anyhoo, back to Le Creuset. As soon as the clerk heard me utter the word "Lodge," she put on her best French-American accent and tsk-tsk-ed me for buying a cheap Chinese import. (Yes, Lodge cast iron is made in South Pittsburg, Tennessee, but their enamelware processing is in China, thanks in large part to the laws that make it impossible to manufacture them on American soil.) I gently rebuffed her overtures and promised that if/when my Lodge fails, I will be looking to upgrade to the real deal. In the meantime, I'll live with the chips in the rim of my Dutch oven.

I found two treasures while I was there. One was a marked-down jam/marmalade jar in "flame" (aka ORANGE) 

and a small cassoulet in the same screaming shade:

In generalities, I was familiar with cassoulets and the distinctive shape of the dish they are prepared in (and why), but I bought this cute little number as a small side bowl for vegetables or relish.  (Another terrible faux pas in the eyes of the Le Creuset store staff, I'm sure.)

After I left with my purchases tucked away, I started contemplating cassoulet.

And the fact I've never made one.

With weather starting to turn cooler, it's more conducive to heavy, rich dishes full of meat and beans. So I did a little research, satisfied myself there is no "right" way to make one (it's a regional food, much like gumbo or chili - everybody's got their opinion as to what ingredients are authentic and which are blasphemy.) I'm ready to take a stab at it for Sunday's big meal.  Lardons (salt pork), chicken (because you can't find ducks, let alone duck leg quarters in just any old grocery store), cannellini beans, chorizo and all the spices are on hand to give it a whirl.

And...I will cook it in my Lodge Dutch oven, which surely elicits a "Sacrebleu!" somewhere in the universe.

Happy cooking,

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