Nov 30, 2011

Recipe of the Week: Cinnamon "Gingerbread" Ornaments

December's recipes will focus on holiday foods, but to kick things off, I'll start with one of my all-time favorite crafts:  cinnamon dough for "gingerbread" men and women.  This recipe is quick, easy and the results will smell good for years to come - I've had my ornaments for at least five or six years and they still exude the scent of cinnamon when I open their storage tin each year.

Cinnamon dough for "gingerbread" ornaments

1 1/2 cups ground cinnamon (cheap dollar store will work as well as the more expensive brand-name gourmet cinnamons)
1 cup applesauce
1/3 cup white school glue (Elmer's or other non-toxic glue)
Whole allspice
White puff paint for decorating
Ribbon for hanging

Mix the ingredients together until a dough forms. knead for a few minutes. Placed on waxed paper that has been dusted with cinnamon; place waxed paper on top and roll out to 1/4-inch or slightly thicker. If the dough is sticky, dust the dough, your hands and rolling pin with more cinnamon - you want it to be tacky but not too soft to maintain its shape.

Cut out with cookie cutters in the shape of your choice.  I used a gingerbread man and woman; simple shapes are best.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment or foil.  Use a large flat spatula to transfer cut-outs to the lined cookie sheet. The pieces can be placed close together, just not touching. Use a drinking straw to make a hole for hanging (the ornaments and hole will shrink upon drying, so leave at least 1/4-inch between top of ornament and hanging hole.)  Use the allspice to make buttons and eyes; press into dough.

Heat oven to low (170 degrees) and "bake" for several hours or until dry to the touch. Transfer to wire rack and allow to air dry for another day or two before decorating and hanging.  Note:  these will be darker than true gingerbread when dry.

Use white puff paint like "icing" to outline the shape, color buttons, and add other embellishments to make them look like cookies.  Thread ribbon through hanging holes and hang on tree.  If storing in the attic after Christmas, be sure to layer with tissue paper or plain newsprint; the puff paint can soften and stick when it meets the summer heat of an attic.  Makes at least a dozen 3-inch ornaments.  Be sure to keep out of reach of hungry and curious toddlers, although one attempted nibble should be enough to stop them in their tracks.

Happy (fake) baking!
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Nov 28, 2011

Saving Christmas: Decorating Dilettante-Style

We're back from our Thanksgiving trek.  On the trip home, we were briefly serenaded by Christmas music, just to put us all in the holiday spirit.  And now begins the countdown to Christmas.  So how does a dilettante do Christmas?  Here's this week's list of my must-do's:
Monday: Laundry and cleaning the house are at the top of my to-do's for this evening; it's also  a chance to snag the last of the fall decor from around the house.  If there's time, I'll print off Christmas card address labels, even though we won't have cards ready to mail just yet.
Tuesday:  Up goes a new (bigger) kitchen tree, bedecked with Fiesta ornaments and assorted kitchen-related accoutrements I've collected over the years.  A few weeks ago, I snagged several packages of bright-colored rick-rack to hang the ornaments this year, for a truly Fiesta feel.  The kitchen table and china hutch will also get a quick green/red makeover.
Wednesday: The dining room gets shifted from fall to wintery white and shimmery blue and silver; it's the easiest room to switch up, so I scheduled it for the night I have the least free time.  The off-white Christmas dishes will be washed and stacked on the buffet for easy use.
Thursday: The bonus room tree goes up, displaying our true colors, loud and proud:  it's orange and white all the way, baby.
Friday: Mr. Official is working the Tennessee 5A championship game tonight, so I may or may not have time to Christmas-tize the den and sunroom, or just prepare the spot for the big tree.
Saturday:  Fun, old-fashioned family breakfast followed by outdoor decorating and indoor tree-trimming activities.  I debated on the cut tree vs. artificial tree, and decided to go back to my artificial tree for this year since I have room for it.   Weather permitting, we'll also get the outdoor porch decorating done, then spend the afternoon and evening putting ornaments on the tree in the den, and get a family Christmas photo in the process.
Sunday:  As soon as the family shot has been uploaded and photo cards ordered, it's time for some rest and relaxation so we're prepared to launch into the next week full-throttle. Unless I get the urge to put up another tree or two in the bedrooms.  But if not, it's no big deal.

Bottom line:  This week's list is daunting for sure.  But keep in mind we travel cross-country for Thanksgiving and the typical weekend-after-Thanksgiving tree-trimming activities are on hold until we get back. However, it's feasible to squeeze these tasks into evening and weekend hours because my decorations are fairly well organized and accessible from the walk-in attic.  (I've said it before, but really - God bless the person who first thought of giving over some second-floor room to attic storage.  You have my undying gratitude.)

Next Monday, I'll post pictures of the to-do's that have turned into "done's" along with a rundown of the second list of must-do's, so we can get to the fun stuff.

Happy holidays!
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Nov 26, 2011

Black Friday? Bah, humbug!

I guess I led a sheltered childhood.  Living in a rural, remote area in Colorado, we were 80 miles from the nearest mall.  So all the hoopla about "Black Friday" never really made its way onto my family's radar screen.

When we were still newlyweds, I worked as a secretary for a small chain of bed-and-bath stores while Mr. Official finished up his degree.  I remember being surprised and dismayed to hear that I would not enjoy a long holiday weekend with my in-laws, but instead we would have to return to Knoxville on Thanksgiving night so I could be at work bright and early on Friday morning.  My introduction to Black Friday was a shock to my sensibilities, to say the least.  And maybe that's why I feel the way I do about this dark day.

To be blunt, I resent the demands it places on retail employees, even more so now that stores are opening on Thanksgiving day or at midnight.  Those employees are giving up their holiday for you, Black Friday shoppers.

And I question the hype and hysteria retailers have created among the rest of us, although arguably, no one has to buy into this madness.  Shoppers are giving up family time, too - and in exchange for what?  To rush around trying to outwit, out-maneuver, or simply out-push the throng of other avaricious bargain hunters?

It is not our finest hour as mankind.   (Maybe calling it "Black Friday" is appropriate after all.)

If you came away from Black Friday patting yourself on the back for the deals you snagged, even after factoring in the stressful hours you stood in line or jostled for a parking spot, I hope you'll consider how many employees were present in each store you visited and the hours they gave up with family just so you could shop on Thanksgiving or some dreadful hour on Friday.

It is my hope that we can step back and ask ourselves if this frenzy really makes sense, or if there's a saner alternative - like having the stores open at their regular time- or even opening late - on Friday.

*Employees could enjoy the entire Thanksgiving day and evening with their families.
*The sales and deals would be exactly the same.
*The crowd would be exactly the same - if you're a Black Friday shopper, you'll be there when the doors open, whether it's midnight or noon.

As with my feelings toward a Sunday day of rest, I'm not advocating any laws or government interference with private companies - they should be able to open their doors when they choose.

But as consumers, we can vote with our wallets and feet. Let's sustain and reward small businesses with our purchases - and not just on Black Friday.  If enough people refused to patronize the stores during these ungodly hours, they would return to a more sensible opening hour - they are in the business of making money, and they won't do something if it isn't profitable.

As for me, I'll leave the ruthless bargain-hunting, parking space fights and crowded stores to those who are willing to put themselves through the ordeal.  And I extend my sympathies to the retail employees who are forced to participate in order to have their jobs.

Happy (?) shopping,

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Nov 24, 2011

Counting my blessings

"Thanksgiving" by Norman Rockwell

I wrapped up my Thankful Thursdays series last week.  I'll let you decide if it was intentional or a miscalculation.  (Before you decide, remember I do hold degrees in accounting and finance.  On the other hand, I'd rather balance a buzzing chainsaw than our checkbook.)


The six-week countdown was a good reminder of just how much of my life falls under the blanket heading of "blessings."  But they are/were pretty general in nature, and occasionally I suspect God likes to hear some specific thank-you's from me.  So here's just the tip of the iceberg of detailed things I'm grateful for, from A to Z. Some of these are more profound than others, but really - shouldn't we be grateful for everything we have been given, whether it's inconsequential or completely essential to our life?

A is for Anthony Shea.  Oldest son, owner of Sadie, my beloved grandpuppy.  He was our parenting guinea pig, and seems to have survived his childhood with a fairly well-adjusted outlook on life, and has become a confident, fun and capable young man.

B is for books.  Starting with the Bible and winding my way through cookbooks, Dr. Seuss, my beloved literary giants, even frothy fiction on the beach.  Books are one of life's greatest and simplest pleasures.  The smell of bookstores and books, new or old, the way the spine creaks when you open a book for the first time.  And the way a well-crafted story draws you into it, and makes you feel and think differently when you've finished reading it.

C is for chocolate.  It is and will always be my favorite flavor in the whole wide world.  Creamy milk or smooth and dark - it's all good.

D is for David Brice.  Younger son, and the child everyone would vote as most like his mama in so many ways.  He too somehow survived his "wonder years" under our parentage and has a way of looking at things that is uniquely his own.  Life with Brice will never, ever be dull.

E is for Eden:  my birth family.  My grandparents, aunts, uncles and my parents and brother all bear this name and they surround me with love, and I love 'em back.  Without them, I wouldn't be!

F is for football.  It took me a long time to be able to say I love the game, but recently on a trip home (after another frustrating defeat), the car was filled with football talk about the game and upcoming high school matchups that would lead up to the state final championship. And I realized I was in my element.

G is for gardening.  There is something about watching seeds become seedlings and the smell of fresh-turned dirt in the spring that brings me in tune with the One who created me and everything I see when I'm down on hands and knees, tending to things of this earth.

H is for Highland Heights Church of Christ. My spiritual family.  May God bless every one of my brothers and sisters.  It's not about the place, it's about the people and the faith and hope we share.

I is for ice cream.  Homemade is best.  A hot fudge sundae can cure almost anything, and an offer to slip out for some ice cream can make an ordinary evening rather extraordinary.

J is for Jesus.  He is my savior, my king, my teacher, my brother.  Everything I need to know about living in this world, I can learn from His example and teachings.  Without Him, I would have no hope for anything beyond this life.

K is for kisses from the dogs.  Puppy kisses are wet and sloppy and their doggy breath is stinky.  But they love me and  never tire of letting me know they do.  The trust and unconditional love of a dog is a treasured gift.

L is for Lea.  Many years ago, my husband's family opened their hearts and shared their name with me. My mother-in-law is an amazing and precious woman, my brothers- and sister-in-law are as close as blood.  You don't marry your spouse's family, but I think I got a pretty good deal when I married into this one.

M is for marshmallows. Roasted and toasted, or all soft and gooey floating on hot, hot chocolate.  Everyone's life should include some puffy goodness every now and again.

N is for needlework.  From the time I was a child, the women in my life taught me to use my hands to sew, embroider, crochet and knit.  Admittedly, I am not an artistic person by nature, but with a needle in hand, I can create something useful, soft to touch, and pretty to look at.  I'm grateful to those who taught me, and I've enjoyed teaching others.  It's a pass-along gift from one generation to the next.

O is for the Olympics. For thousands of years, humans have pushed their bodies in order to compete against each other.  Watching Olympic athletes is both inspiring and deluding - they make it look so effortless we sometimes forget how much blood, sweat, pain and tears it took them to reach the place where they are.  But it's a marvelous tradition that has stood the test of time, and continues to challenge us to be better tomorrow than we are today.

P is for polish.  I have a plethora of polishing and cleaning concoctions.  The smell of furniture polish says the house is clean.  Squeaky shiny mirrors and doors let light sparkle and glow.  The simple act of buffing and polishing something from dull and dirty to a soft sheen or high polish reminds me of how God works to remove my rough edges and and dirty spots.  Not to mention, a fresh coat of polish on my toes can make me happy from head to toe.

Q is for Q-tips.  Pure genius.  So small, so soft, and yet so totally useful. And cheap.  Really.  Just try to imagine life without them and then you'll be thankful for them, too.

R is for rainy days.  There is something healing and soothing in hearing rain drop to earth.  It's a cool respite in the middle of summer, a gentle noise that can lull us to sleep.  Naps on a rainy day?  Pure, simple pleasure.

S is for Shelby. Our youngest child and only daughter.  Swimmer girl is a beautiful creature inside and out.  I am humbled by her faith, and awed by her capacity to love and understand others, and her love of God and life. Sooner than I care to think about, she will be ready to strike out on her own, and I can't wait to see how her life turns out.

T is for Tony.  Aka Mr. Official.  And truly, my better half.  God must have thought a lot of me to put this man in my life.  There's so much more I could say, but if you know him, you know why I love him with my whole heart.

U is for uniforms, especially those worn by men and women who defend and protect us.  Since ancient times, soldiers have worn clothing that sets them apart from civilians, and I am always proud and humbled when I find myself standing next to a member of our military, whether they are in their dress blues or whites, or fatigues.  They have stepped up to the line and set themselves apart by their actions and their attire, and they have my undying admiration and respect.

V is for vacations. In my life, I've been privileged to visit from sea to shining sea and quite a few of the places in between.  The thrill of packing in anticipation of a trip, experiencing new vistas and foods, finding just the right keepsake to bring home, and finally returning to our own beds after some time away gives us memories that last a lifetime, and sometimes a new-found perspective.

W is for water.  It's not only what we're largely made of, but it replenishes us when we drink it, invigorates us when we jump in, cleanses and calms children (and adults) before bedtime, and reminds us of God's power and presence when we see his handiwork in thundering waterfalls, mirror-like lakes and pounding ocean waves.

X is for Xerox and X-rays, and all the other marvels of the technological age we live in, where we can replicate anything at the touch of a button, and peer inside our bodies and see babies growing, pinpoint cancerous tumors to remove, and see broken bones that can be made good as new.  We live in a truly amazing era.  And what we know now simply points out how much more we don't know.

Y is for yoga.  It is part physical, creating flexibility, strength and balance.  It's also part mental, soothing and calming with steady breathing and focused attention.  An hour of yoga is an hour well spent.

Z is for the zillions of blessings I haven't begun to list here.  Try to count your blessings, I dare you. They are infinite and they just keep coming, so keep enjoying the life you have and thank God for the the good things He sends your way.  As Harriet Beecher Stowe so eloquently put it,

"Give this one day to thanks, to joy, to gratitude."

Today is the big day.  It starts with the Macy's Day Parade (shout out to Evan O'Neal, who will be marching in it!) and turkey and all the trimmings. I pray for safe travels for all of us going "over the river and through the woods," and an edifying and peaceful day of giving thanks for all we have.

Happy Thanksgiving,

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Nov 23, 2011

Recipe of the Week: Pumpkin Caramel Blondies

Today marks the end of this "Great Pumpkin" recipe series; next week, we swing into full-bore Christmas cooking and baking.  Some of you may be breathing a sigh of relief, or maybe that was a wistful sigh of contentment I heard.

There are so many yummy pumpkin recipes I haven't tried yet, I may continue test-driving them on my family and friends over the next year, and have a whole new lineup for an encore performance next fall.

We'll see.

Mr. Official says I'm starting to sound like Forrest Gump's friend Bubba when he rattled off all the ways you could cook shrimp.  I've got recipes for pumpkin biscuits, pumpkin soup, pumpkin butter, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin donuts, pumpkin fried pies, pumpkin brownies, pumpkin trifle....the list just goes on forever.  Or as long as the canned pumpkin holds out.

Today we'll take several fave flaves, including chocolate, pecan, caramel and pumpkin and swirl them together in these gooey pumpkin blondies.

I made these on Monday and planned to send some with Mr. Official on Tuesday morning. But Middle Son looked forlorn when I mentioned sending them off, so I left them for him enjoy while he and the pooches house-sit this week.  They are pure decadence, so make them when you can spread the love and calories over many eaters, or give to a few eaters with high metabolism.

Pumpkin Caramel Blondies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 egg (2 for cake-like texture)
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup pumpkin puree
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 cup chocolate chips
3/4 cup butterscotch chips
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1/2 cup caramel syrup

Preheat oven to 350.  Line a 9x13 pan with parchment or foil; if using foil, grease or butter well.  SEt aside.  In large bowl, cream together butter and sugar.  Add eggs, mixing well.  Add pumpkin and vanilla.  Stir in flour, soda, salt and spices just unti incorporated. Spoon about half the batter into the prepared pan and smooth to cover bottom. Sprinkle with chips and nuts; drizzle with caramel. Drop remaining batter over top, then use a spatula to smooth and cover the caramel layer.  Bake for 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean (it may have caramel on it.)

Cool and use foil or parchment to lift from pan; pull away lining and cut into squares.  Makes 20-24 bars.

Happy baking,

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Nov 21, 2011

Saving Christmas: the gifts are tagged and bagged

Confession: as my blog name bears witness, I am a dilettante:  a dabbler in many things domestic, but flighty, flitty, fun, and even a little flaky.  If you were looking for that super-focused, relentlessly driven to pursue perfection blogger's blog, you're in the wrong place.  I can be over-organized one minute, and a disaster-looking-to-happen the next.  I can be crafty some days, but if the project doesn't get finished while the wind is in my sails, it might stay unfinished for a long time.  Maybe even forever.  I'm more like Tigger than Pooh.  My interests vary widely and my attention span is shorter than I am (and that's saying something.)

Which may explain why I'm suddenly thinking about Christmas before my best and favorite holiday (Thanksgiving) has come and gone.

I agree with the turkey.  No trees, no red-and-green until next week!

But this isn't just a case of me jumping the gun, or getting my holidays out of sequence.

Last year, Mr. Official did a 3-day stint in the hospital right before Christmas and it taught me a hard lesson about procrastinating on important aspects of the holidays - like um, shopping for gifts.   This year, we're headed down to the Florida Keys mid-December, so I'm even more motivated to get my ducks in a row early, even though this early bird stuff makes me feel like a duck out of water.  Yeah, I'm wearing out the hunting metaphors.

So now I'm going to let the cat out of the bag.

Spill the beans.

And give myself a pat on the back.

Because for the first time in a long time (oh, heck, let's be honest:  first time EVER, maybe????), my Christmas shopping is nearly completed (I have 4 or 5 items left to purchase) and it's not even Thanksgiving.  I started knocking it out with online purchases several weeks ago, and on Saturday, I declared open season on the outlet malls in Gatlinburg.  Unlike most of the rest of the world, I don't do Black Friday shopping (for a plethora of reasons), and by the time we return home from our Thanksgiving trip, we're knee deep into December and I feel I'm way behind before I even start. 

Anyway, the tagged-and-bagged gifts are cooling their jets in the back of my closet, and I can now resume our regular Thanksgiving programming.  In case you're wondering, my idea of a perfect "Black Friday" is a late, leisurely breakfast and then a few hours of ambling through some local stores and antique malls.  I'll think warmly of all of you trying to outgun each other from store to store.  As for me, I won't be enduring crushing crowds or interminable lines to stand in - I might snag a few good bargains or just enjoy browsing.

Starting next Monday, I'll share my weekly plans and ideas I'm using to save Christmas - and my sanity - in the hopes I can help you keep yours, too.

I adore this season with my whole heart, and I believe we can pull it off with our own individual style, grace and aplomb, without setting unrealistic expectations for ourselves.  Some realistic prioritizing and a little ingenuity can give us the sweet rewards of a joyful low-stress holiday that we actually remember with fondness.

If you haven't done your Christmas shopping yet, here's a sanity-saving tip I found helpful this year. I carried along a pack of big, bright Post-it notes and a marker, along with my trusty list of recipients and gift ideas.  As each purchase was completed, I slapped a sticky note with the recipient's name on the gift receipt (be sure to ask for those if there's any chance a return is in order), and tucked them both in the bag with the gift.   When we got home, everything was consolidated and everyone has one bag with all their stuff.  I don't know about you, but we have several family members with similar tastes, styles and sizes; the intended recipient can get a little fuzzy when we start the gift-wrapping frenzy.

Looking for something to get you in the true spirit of the holidays?  I heartily recommend Grisham's 2001 novel "Skipping Christmas" as a timely read this time of year.

The book is far better than the movie "Christmas with the Kranks"  and it articulates what many of us have felt about the approaching holiday season.  I don't advocate skipping Christmas, but I do want to enjoy it it the way it was meant to be celebrated, instead of dreading it.  So how do YOU save - and savor - the holidays?

Happy Monday,

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Nov 17, 2011

Thankful Thursdays: Gimme an S!

A few weeks ago, I started a weekly countdown of six things I am most thankful for, each of which begin with the letters of the word "THANKS".   So far, I've covered:

Necessities and niceties
Kith and kin

This week, I am thankful for one final thing I'm thankful for, and that is the...


I'm thankful for each of the four seasons that distinctively divide our lives each year, each one segueing gracefully to the next just like clockwork.  But I'm especially grateful for this season, when we can take time to reflect on the blessings we enjoy, and to be grateful for them.

The word itself is ancient, rooted in the idea of having a time of year for sowing, followed by the natural ripening and aging process, which creates sweetness and delicious and complex flavors in foods.  Which is probably why it is also intertwined with a second meaning in modern usage; to flavor food with seasonings.  The onset of the cool months are when we welcome the flavors and aromas of many delicious spices and herbs:  cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, cardamom play important roles in desserts and other sweet foods, while thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano and  peppers are indelibly linked to many savory foods we associate with this time of year.

Solomon was a truly wise man, and in Ecclesiastes he gave us timeless words of advice for putting everything in our lives into proper perspective:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted"

This is the season of harvests and thankfulness and graciousness. I wish it lasted all year 'round, but maybe because it only comes once a year, it makes us appreciate it more.

nearby cotton field in late October
'Tis the season.  Not for giving gifts and decorating trees and cookies - not yet.  But it is the season for welcoming friends and family, and sharing with them the customs, traditions and foods that have been passed down from past generations to us, and from us to our children.

In this and every season, may we all enjoy the day while it is called today, our own measure of health, our abodes, our many material blessings, and the rich blessings of friends and families.

Happy and blessed thanks-giving,
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Nov 16, 2011

Recipe of the week: Pumpkin Biscuits

We're nearing the home stretch with this miniseries of pumpkin recipes.  As witnessed by my posts over the last few weeks, most pumpkin recipes are sweet: pies, cakes, cookies, muffins, donuts, etc. And most of them partner cinnamon (and often nutmeg or allspice) with the pumpkin to achieve that familiar "pumpkin" flavor.

This week will take us in a more savory different direction:  pumpkin biscuits.  if you look around, you'll find there are recipes for sweet biscuits featuring pumpkin or sweet potato puree, with brown sugar and the traditional spices. But this one (adapted from Country Living) is decidedly not sweet.  Instead it has a yin and yang of  cayenne pepper and ginger, and only a small squeeze of honey; no sugar, no cinnamon.   The biscuits can be eaten warm and buttered or slathered with apple or pumpkin butter.  Or - as you can see here, I upped the ante with slices of Black Forest ham (country ham would be total awesomeness, but I didn't have any on hand) and a dollop of apple butter for a yummy flavor combination that would be perfect for a holiday breakfast or brunch spread.

Spicy Savory Pumpkin Biscuits

The salt and honey arrived late on the scene...
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespooon + 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold
3/4 cup pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
2 teaspoons honey
1/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 400.  Lightly grease a baking sheet or line with parchment paper; set aside.  In a large bowl combine all dry ingredients until blended.  With a pastry knife, cut in the cold butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal.  In a small bowl, combine the pumpkin puree and honey; add to the flour mixture just until blended.  Mix in buttermilk until the mixture clings together.

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and lightly knead and fold douh a half-dozen times.  Pat out 3/4 to 1-inch thickness and cut with a biscuit cutter or drinking glass.  I used a 2-inch cutter.  Place on baking sheet leaving an inch or so between biscuits.  Press scraps together and cut again until the dough is used up.   It will make 12, 2-inch biscuits.  Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown; transfer to wire rack to cool slightly before serving.  Best served warm.

Happy baking,

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Nov 15, 2011

A dilettante's dither

Last Sunday morning, we had an unhappy surprise:  we discovered we were out of checks. Using up the last of our checks is not a bad thing, considering we moved back in May.  (We only write one, maybe two checks a week, so it took a while to whittle down the last of the old ones.  But somehow I missed the important REORDER NOW reminder when I snagged the last batch.  Oops.

Checks are fast becoming a throwback to the good old days.  Our adult children have checks, but they almost never have to write one.  Everything is swipe-and-go these days.  Except writing one on Sunday morning, and the occasional check to a friend for something-or-other.

But I still like checks - I always have.  At least I like picking out checks. Before it was de rigueur to personalize every. stinkin. thing. you own, your personal checks were one way to express something unique about you.  We have never had plain blue security checks.   I've always tried to take into consideration that Mr. Official has to use the checks, too and pick out something that was expressive but not too girly. Pre-internet I would hold onto the glossy Sunday newspaper inserts and pore over them until I found the "right" design for the next order - that was back in the day when I actually had to write a half-dozen checks each month to pay our bills.

The internet has made it simultaneously easier and more difficult to choose a design; there are dozens of places to order from, and they all have a plethora of designs to choose from.

This time, I vacillated between some gender-neutral graphic design, a landscape scene, or just a monogram.  But in my heart I really wanted something more "me."  Like Twitter-page swirly branches.  Or owls.  Yes....owls.  But Mr. Official is not a lover of swirly branches or graphical owls.

And then I had an epiphany.  We have a joint account, but where is it written we have to have just one kind of check? Move over, "his 'n hers" checks.  Make room for "his checks." and "her checks."

I  can't believe it took me this long to reach that conclusion but it certainly opened up a whole world of wonderful possibilities. And so I dug around and found these checks:

Referee checks from
But after looking at the 2nd and 3rd checks, I knew were really too European and/or Canadian football-looking.

So I chose these instead for him:
Collegiate checks from

And for me, I chose these:
challis and roos design from

So no more dithering. The checks are in the mail and hopefully one set or the other will arrive by Saturday!

Happy self-expressions,

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Nov 14, 2011

Day of rest week 10: my big, fat crazy-busy, crafty Sunday

Yesterday, a day of rest?  Well, yes and no.

No lunch out and no shopping.  So I gave our local merchants a break.

But rest for our family?  Hardly.

It all started Friday night.  Mr. Official and Swimmer Girl were each at different football games. Big dog and I were home alone and a little bored.  So I washed, dried and spraypainted eight old chargers, taking them from 1990s gold leaf:
to a "hammererd" pewter finish:

That was quick and easy - a can of Krylon Fusion spray paint was all it took.

Then on Saturday, I stenciled a monogram on them - a set of the entire alphabet in 3-inch stencils was available at Hobby Lobby for about $5, which was way cheaper and - just as importantly - faster than ordering a larger letters.   In retrospect, I maybe coulda/shoulda/woulda done a more elaborate background design, but I think I like the elegant simplicity of just the single monogram.  Plus there's a little more saving grace if I'm not precisely centered, although I did make a concerted stab at measuring and marking the center of each plate:

 After mentally weighing the paint options, I went with a blue that is somewhere between wedgewood blue and turquoise, playing off the colors in the dining room and my china. As expected, the stencil's edges were a little rough, so after lunch yesterday, I carefully re-outlined them in the same color.  

The only thing left to do now is spray them with sealer so I can rinse or handwash them as needed.  Unless I decide to crackle them or outline them, or something else.

These were so easy to do, I don't know why I didn't think to do this a long time ago.   And if you don't yet have chargers, check places like Old Time Pottery, Hobby Lobby and Target. They have them in old and silver, plus glossy white, black and lacquered reds - whatever fits your style.  And as you can see, a few squirts of acrylic paint is all it takes to personalize them.

As soon as the monogram touchups were done, swimmer girl and I did a little domestic work (she, vacuuming; I, laundry folding), then dashed out the door to a baby shower for a dear friend.   That's what happens when you overschedule yourself on your day of rest.  Rest does not enter the picture.

We wrapped up the day with an early Thanksgiving dinner with our church family.  All in all, it was a very full, good good day of rest, but definitely not restful.

Happy Monday,

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Nov 11, 2011


"In Flanders Field"
veteran.  /ˈvetərən/ 
A person who has had long experience in a particular field, esp. military service: "a veteran of two world wars".

To all our veterans, I can only say with all sincerity and humility, thank you.  May God bless you for your sacrifice and courage to fight for our freedom. 

And to all our current servicemen and women,  I pray God protects you during your time of service so that one day you can join the veterans of past generations and know that we love and honor you as well.

Happy Friday,

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Nov 10, 2011

Thankful Thursday: Gimme a K!

A few weeks ago, I started a weekly countdown of six things I am most thankful for, each of which begin with the letters of the word "THANKS".   So far, I've covered:

Necessities and niceties

This week, I am once again thankful for two more things.  For one thing, it's hard to limit myself to just one idea per week, and second, these words always sound good together, (especially when Chevy Chase lisps them, "The most enduring traditions of the season are best enjoyed in the warm embrace of kith and kin. Thith tree is a thymbol of the the thspirit of the Grithwold family Chrithmath.") Yes, today I'm thankful for ...

kith and kin

Or better known in modern English as friends and family.  We choose our friends, but fate has a hand in things, determining our pool of potential acquaintances based on where we live, go to school, work, work out, worship, etc.

We have even less say about who's in our family:  we're all born into one, and many of us marry into another.  We get what we get (and they get us, too.)

No matter how we wind up with them, friends and family provide the stuffing that makes our lives full and rich:  love, laughter, tears, even heartache, pain...and the hope of reconciliation.  The story of the prodigal son in Luke 15 shows us the enduring and fierce love of family, which is only a mere reflection of God's love for us, and I especially love imagining the scene where a humbled, broken son returns to find his father was always waiting and watching for him:

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him..."

Norman Rockwell never met the Griswolds.
Friends and family can and will disappoint and aggravate us to the breaking point.  But our family members also put up with our quirks  and eccentricities, and they (usually) forgive us of our transgressions.

Maybe that's why I'm so fond of this particular Christmas movie: it shows the best and worst of holiday togetherness, and in the end, love for family trumps  everything else.

Because no matter what, the bonds of family and friends are the ties that bind us until we are loosed from this earth.

Have you hugged or called a friend or family member today?  Whatcha waiting for?  Only two weeks left before the tryptophan hits and you'll be too tired to do more than slouch on the couch and dream of pie!

Happy thanks-giving,
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Nov 9, 2011

Recicpe of the week: Baked Pumpkin-Spice Donut Holes

It's open season on pumpkins these days - everywhere you turn, somebody is touting yet another recipe full of orange goodness.  I've got several cans of pumpkin in the pantry (just in case there's another shortage) and several more pumpkin recipes pinned and ready to try.  This week's pumpkin recipe is one I've seen on several websites and I've been eager to try for a while. 

Now that I have test-driven it, I would have to say they should probably be called mini muffins, not baked donuts.  But whatever you call them, they are good and easy - just be sure you have a crowd on hand to woof them down as soon as they're made, as they are best warm and fresh.

Spicy Pumpkin Baked Donut Holes

Dry ingredients:

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoons nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ginger

Wet ingredients
3/4 cup canned plain pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
1/3 cup buttermilk (you can substitute sour cream)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 and spray mini-muffin tins (1 large 24-muffin pan or 2 12-muffin pans).   In a medium-sized bowl, measure and mix together dry ingredients.  Set aside. In a large bowl, combine wet ingredients, mixing well.  Fold in dry ingredients just until blended. Drop into muffin tins, using all the batter (it will fill all 24 pans.)

Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Immediately melt 3/4 stick butter in a bowl, and in a separate bowl combine 1/2 cup sugar with 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon.  Dip top of each muffin in butter, then in sugar mixture; flip over and dip bottom in butter, then sugar mixture to coat.  Place on wire rack or serving plate.   Alternatively, you can glaze them with a traditional powdered sugar/milk glaze, which will hold up a little better than the butter and cinnamon-sugar dip.  Makes 2 dozen bite-size muffins/donut holes.

Happy baking!

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Nov 7, 2011

Day of rest, week 9: A super-sized, souper day!

Yesterday was the annual day to roll back our clocks, and that extra hour makes for a super-sized day.

It couldn't have come at a better time - instead of getting back from Knoxville at 11:30 Saturday night, we could tell ourselves it was only 10:30.  Reverting to standard time comes with its own adjustments to psyche and Circadium rhythms, but early morning rising will be a little easier - at least until the newness of the time change wears off.

I was mentally patting myself on the back yesterday morning, since I knew I had all the ingredients for a "souper" Sunday with vegetarian chili for dinner.  Then I remembered that lunch comes before dinner.  Eeek!  Fortunately, we had enough tag-ends left over that we all enjoyed something: pasta e fagioli, homemade pizza and tuna fish were up for grabs, along with a gameday bowl of creamy refried bean dip scooped up with big corn chips.

With the mealtime dilemmas out of the way, my afternoon was clear to accomplish some tasks.  For starters, I won this soup tureen on eBay:

Less than $5.  Woot!
I've been scouting vintage tureens for years.  And this one was pretty AND dirt cheap - that's a tough combination to beat.

After I scored the tureen, I turned my focus on the kitchen:  middle son recently requested monster cookies.  A big batch of these oversized monstrosities was in order, before our family devoured the huge bag of M&M's I bought especially to make them.

And I wanted to try a batch of apple cider caramels (most of which are going with Mr. Official to work today.)  So it was a pleasantly busy, home-centered afternoon, which suited me to a "T."

I think we are settling into a habit with this weekly routine, and not only did I hit the grocery store just once last week, I managed to stretch out the time between visits to ten days.  Granted, we ran out of milk a few days before I went, but it's now an optional drink for us, not a necessity.  And our foodbill was well under $100 for the week, due in large part to the stockpile of meats and other more expensive items I already had on hand to incorporate into the week's menu.

It struck me recently that we have not eaten a dinner out in quite some time, which can be attributed to  a combination of eating in on Sundays and football season, which consumes our Friday and Saturday nights.  That might change when we are no longer chasing after high school and college football games on Friday and Saturday nights, but for now, our food budget is heaving a huge sigh of relief.

I don't know how many more Mondays I'll blog about our weekly day of rest, although with the upcoming holidays, I may find us wrestling with time constraints that test my resolve to avoid shopping on Sundays.  But for now, a few simple, deliberate choices have created a new, enjoyable weekly routine.  The next step will be to re-introduce some form of hospitality on Sundays, either hosting a midday or evening meal occasionally.  

I hope you're intrigued or inspired just a little and considering trying a Sunday of respite, away from the hustle and bustle of eateries and shopping.  It's nice to not feel pressured to go anywhere, or do anything in particular one day a week.  

Like the 1970s Life cereal commercials told Mikey, "try it - you'll like it!"

Happy Monday,

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