Saturday, December 25, 2010

Colorful Christmas Menu

I thought I would share my Christmas menu and some preparation tips with you! Our spread was so colorful and the flavors balanced well.

One of my favorite cooking shows is Food Network's "Cooking for Real" with Sunny Anderson. I used two of her recipes this year: Turkey with Pan Gravy and Garlic Green Beans. I didn't have any sage for the turkey, so I just substituted thyme and more rosemary. It was the juiciest turkey meat I've ever had--well worth the time it took to brine it in the fridge. And the seasoned rub and olive oil basting gave the whole bird such a lovely golden finish. The Garlic Green Beans were tasty and fresh; I found them less heavy than the traditional goopy green bean casserole.

Not wanting the turkey neck and giblets to go to waste, my husband made Cornbread Dressing, a Southern Living recipe (see top photo, far left). I have to commend him for being resourceful, even when we didn't have all the ingredients on hand. He made do, and it turned out great.

For me, another go-to resource for recipes is Better Homes and Gardens. I tried their Sweet Potatoes with Toasted Pecans and Creamed Corn Casserole. I liked the creaminess of the sweet potatoes along with the crunch of toasted pecans on top. Also, both these recipes lent themselves well to pre-holiday prep. The corn casserole took up no oven space by cooking in the CrockPot throughout the morning, and I whipped up the sweet potatoes the day before and had them stashed in the fridge awaiting the oven.

Forget the canned sludge! I made fresh cranberry relish for the first time, using this recipe from the Closet Cooking blog. I might not include the orange peel next time (it was a little bitter for my liking), but I loved the texture of the relish and the brilliant color.

Lastly, for dessert, I opted for the classic pumpkin and pecan pies. I used Whole Food Market's Old Fashioned Pecan Pie and the simple recipe from the back of Libby's canned pumpkin. Admittedly, I made a shortcut by using Pillsbury pre-made crusts, but I needed all the timesavers I could get with a 4-month-old and 2-year-old underfoot and a long list of other to-dos! :) The pecan pie was good but different than one made from Karo syrup. It used honey and maple syrup instead, so it was healthier and not as sugary.

COOKING TIMELINE (to eat by 12:30 pm, Christmas Day)
Dec. 21:
Go grocery shopping

Dec. 22:
Brine the fresh (not frozen) turkey and leave in fridge for up to 3 days

Dec. 24:
- Bake pies
- Make cranberry relish
- Prepare sweet potatoes to refrigerate overnight
- Assemble spices for the turkey rub and leave on counter
- Set out all your other ingredients in stations, along with serving dishes
- Set the table in advance

Dec. 25:
- 7:00 am: Pull turkey out of the fridge and do prep for roasting, allow to rest at room temp
- 8:00 am: Assemble creamed corn casserole and turn on slow cooker, set to 4 hrs on high
- 8:30 am: Put turkey in the oven
- 10:45 am: Turkey comes out of oven
- 10:50 am: Toast pecans for sweet potato casserole (10 min)
- 11:00 am: Put cornbread dressing in oven, side by side with sweet potato casserole
- 11:30 am: Make green beans
- Noon: Make pan gravy from turkey drippings; cornbread dressing comes out of oven; add marshmallows to sweet potato casserole
- 12:15 pm: Take out s.p. casserole; carve the turkey
- 12:30 pm: Call everyone to the table, say a prayer of blessing and serve one tasty meal!

  • Whenever possible, use a food processor to do your prepwork for you. I despise chopping onions and never get them finely diced because tears are streaming down my face by that point. A food processor takes care of this job for me and takes a fraction of the time.
  • Make a habit of growing herbs in your flower garden, windowsill or the like. It's such a cost-saver and handy in a pinch when you have to make a substitution.
  • Don't throw away the turkey carcass/bones. Put them in a dutch oven, fill with water and simmer for one hour to make turkey broth to freeze for later use. No need to buy broth at the store!
Whew! I'm done, folks. Hope this helps you out for next year. Merry Christmas to all...and to all a good night!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

No-Sew Advent Calendar

Repeat after me: "Tacky glue is my best friend." Seriously, I got this entire project completed with just one bottle of that adhesive awesomeness. I own a sewing machine but (tsk, tsk) I haven't learned to use it, so I rely on glue and iron-on tape to get the job done on most of my crafts.

  • 1 - 22x34-inch fabric of your choice (I chose one with polka dots which made for less guesswork and tedious measuring on the rows for the calendar and when folding over the edges to glue to the back! Just follow the row of polka dots. Could work the same way with a striped fabric.)
  • 1 - 9x12-inch light blue felt and scrap felt pieces cut for the manger scene (forest green for hills, brown for barn structure)
  • 25 - 3x3-inch felt squares for the pockets (5 rows of 5)
  • Stencil-cut numbers for Advent pockets (1 through 25)
  • 1 - dowel rod trimmed to 22 inches
  • Ribbon to tie on each end of dowel rod for hanging
  • Tacky glue
  • Fabulous Foam Self-Adhesive Nativity Shapes (500-pc from Oriental Trading; $7.99) There are two sizes of nativity shapes that come in this pack. I sorted them and, using the larger ones, I will have enough pieces now for eight years! Sheep, stars and palm trees all made double or triple appearances in the Advent calendar to have enough to fill up 25 pockets.

A foam sticker peeks out of one of the pockets. Tip: Use a stencil flipped over to trace the numbers in reverse on the felt. When you go to cut them out, any pen marks on the back will be hidden.

Tip: Using 9x12 sheets of pre-cut felt, you'll have enough 3x3 pieces cut out from 3 sheets to make 24 pieces. Use some excess felt of another color to make your pocket for Day 25...Christmas!

Here's what it looks like hanging from a door using a wreath hanger.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

It's All in the Crust

It happens every holiday season. With all the tempting recipes out there, I get on these baking sprees. I even relish the long process of making homemade crusts. Here are my "kitchen notes:"
Pear-Plum Pie from Better Homes and Gardens
This is the most fabulous pastry crust I've ever tasted. Definitely a winner to keep in your recipe files!

Spiced Pumpkin Cheesecake from Kraft Foods
Be careful not to bake this too long. Recipe says 1 hr 20 min, but I'd check it at 1 hr to make sure the crust isn't getting too dark. It was a little overdone, but still yummy.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Harvest Garland

This craft project couldn't be simpler. Not the most beautiful decor you could dream up, but it was a great activity for me and my toddler--not to mention, it's a great lesson in learning letters.

- 2 scrapbook sheets in autumnal colors (12x12in)
- marker or pen
- hole punch
- scissors
- yarn
- glue

  1. Take two sheets of scrapbook paper, fold into quarters and cut along folds. You should have eight (6x6in) squares.
  2. Using marker or pen, write one letter per square to spell out h-a-r-v-e-s-t.
  3. Punch hole in top center of each square.
  4. Trace letters with glue and have your "little helper" run yarn along the glue lines. Trim yarn with scissors to fit each letter.
  5. Cut a long piece of yarn and tie from one end to another to create the garland. (I used the two window latches/locks to tie the yarn to. You could do this on a wall using thumbtacks or the like.)
  6. Attach each letter using a small piece of yarn and tying to the garland.
  7. FYI, the pumpkin sitting above the garland is a craft from Paint - Cut - Paste.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

End-of-Summer Watermelon Lime Slush

Earlier in the summer, we froze some leftover seedless watermelon that I've been meaning to make slushes out of. It was only appropriate, since we're still having weather in the 90s around here (despite the fact that it's officially autumn), that I'd choose this afternoon to break out the watermelon and create a cool treat.

Here's my recipe:
- 4 cups frozen watermelon chunks
- 2 cups flat Sprite (or simple syrup to taste)
- Juice of 3-4 limes, depending on how tart you like it!

Just throw all the ingredients in a blender and blitz it until smooth. You can strain out the small bits of watermelon, or--if you're like me--you can be a little lazy and leave them in for texture. My daughter certainly didn't mind either way, especially when I gave her a straw (her fave)! And Mommy got to pretend she was enjoying a mixed drink--it's all in the presentation, right? :)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Utility Room Makeover

Needing additional storage for my utility/laundry room, I took measurements of the space and tried to recreate the look of a built-in, but without the cost. I wanted something that was functional as well as attractive (maybe could serve as motivation to spend more time in there and tackle that heap of dirty clothes!?). Sketching out my vision helped me and my husband get a better idea of what we wanted from the space and how everything would fit.

I'm really pleased with the end results. For the shelving unit, I bought two inexpensive white bookcases, some shelf brackets, a cafe rod and hooks, 1.25 yards of fabric. The fabric curtain conceals our vacuum cleaner and floor mop, along with the cleaning solution we use with it. The three hooks for purses/backpacks/umbrellas, are screwed into some scrap moulding left over from another project.

For the chalkboard on the back of the door, I repurposed a 22x28 poster frame by spray-painting it with a can of clearanced blue paint, then put two coats of chalkboard paint on a piece of thin beech plywood, cut to size. My husband assembled it and mounted it on the door with heavy duty contact strips. (Now, I just need to buy some chalk so we can use the thing!)
I "shopped" my house for accents that weren't otherwise in use (red mirror, flowers, artwork, red media boxes) and I consolidated some storage in my daughter's room to be able to use the white baskets in the utility.
Altogether, the project cost came to about $70! And, although I can't say I adore doing laundry or other housework now, I certainly like being able to find things quickly with labeled storage containers, and the cheery decor certainly helps my attitude.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Monogrammed Nursery Artwork

With two weeks until my due date, my son's nursery is now complete. I opted not to do a themed nursery, instead choosing three colors to repeat throughout the room. The color scheme is anchored with homemade artwork above the crib.

Here are the steps for this monogrammed art project:

- 12"x12" art canvas
- acrylic paints
- paintbrushes
- ruler
- stencil letter (or find a font that you can freehand)
- level
- painter's tape (optional)
- trim from hardware store
- spray paint
- wood glue
- wood filler
- picture frame wire and eyehooks
- mounting strips

  • Using a ruler and pencil, divide your 12"x12" canvas into three horizontal sections for the stripes (each would be 4 inches deep).
  • Trace the letter with a stencil or eyeball it using a font you like as a template.
  • Stipple (paint small dots) the three stripes with the acrylic colors you've chosen, making sure to continue stripes around the sides of the canvas. Let dry.
  • Paint the letter with a contrasting color with a thin paintbrush or paint marker.
  • Measure a 24"x24" square on your wall.
  • Using the same color as the letter on your canvas, paint the square. (You can use painter's tape as a guide for best accuracy, but the trim should cover up any imperfections later.)
  • Consider adding a second coat, especially if your wall is textured.
  • Select a 2-inch trim/moulding style from your local hardware store (usually sold in long pieces by the foot).
  • Cut into four 2-ft pieces with corners at 45-degree angles. Some stores have cutting stations that you could use without having to own a saw at home.
  • Assemble with wood glue and filler at the seams, making sure that the end result is square (90-degree corners with no warping).
  • Spraypaint the frame (two coats recommended) and let dry.
  • Attach mounting strips to the back of the frame and hang on wall. Screws or nails on the top corners could be added for extra reinforcement.
  • Screw in two eyehooks to the upper back corners of your canvas and thread picture wire through the loops.
  • Hang in the center of the painted mat with a nail.
  • Step back and admire the results!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Free Download: Baby Care Chart

Are you a bleary-eyed and sleep-deprived parent of a newborn (as I soon will be, come August)? Track your baby's feeding, diapering and sleeping patterns. These are handy to take to your pediatrician appointments in the early weeks when you can't even remember what you had for dinner, let alone the 10 times your baby ate that day!

I've made these charts available in three different colors; just print off several copies and fill in.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Old Window Shutters

If you find some old plantation shutters at a rummage sale or antique store (or, in my case, if your mom has a few extra taken off the windows from her 1930s home), consider this simple project.

1) Clean with a mild bleach solution and consider repainting depending on the shutters' condition.

2) Hinge the shutters together to span the desired length for your wall hanging. I wanted my shutters to afford our queen-size bed a more substantial-looking headboard, so I had my husband attach 4 medium width panels and 2 small width panels together.

3) Drill pilot holes in wall, and using anchors, screw in all four corners. You'll need to add more screws in the middle of the wall hanging if you want it flush. Otherwise, leaving it loose in the middle will achieve a more multi-dimensional look (almost like there is a window behind the slightly ajar shutters).

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Father's Day Photo Display

This photo display will be a surprise for Father's Day; it's a collection of endearing moments between daughter and daddy. It could also be adapted for a graduation display, baby shower, birthday or any other holiday. Here are the steps to this easy project:

1) Collect an assortment of clear jars (e.g., pickle, jam, olive, applesauce, etc.).
2) Thoroughly clean jars.
3) Remove the labels by soaking in vinegar and water .
4) Let jars air dry.
5) Measure the approximate height and width of each jar. Don't worry about being perfectly accurate, because you can always trim the photos to fit later.
6) Select your favorite digital photos and convert them to black and white for a gallery effect.
7) Re-size them to the custom sizes in Photoshop (or another photo editing program) to fit the jars.
8) Print out the photos on photo paper at home.
9) Slip the photos into the jars.
10) Arrange on table, shelf, window sill or mantle to display.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Citrus Infusion

What do you get when you combine a 99-cent bag of lemons and a homeowner who's ready for some summer color?

Citrus-inspired redecorating, my friend, and all on the cheap! Here are all my "supplies," purchased from a dollar store and fabric clearance store that totaled $30. I knew that I could incorporate these tangerine, lemon and turquoise accents into my neutral living and dining rooms to usher in a fresh, summery look--and I wanted to share the results.

1) Cover accent pillows with new fabric. I used no-sew ironing hem tape to temporarily cover these pillows (admittedly, I'm not handy with a sewing machine...yet!)

2) Change out candles and fill glass containers with fresh fruit. My mantel got the easiest treatment, but with big impact. The fruit and candles add nice color and wonderful fragrance, too. These lemons will make great lemonade in a week or so, and I can always swap them out for some oranges or another inexpensive, seasonal fruit.

3) Add accents in the center of the room and at the corners of adjoining rooms. On the coffee table (left), I positioned this orange and white kitchen towel under the glass of a serving tray and topped it off with a tea light candle and yellow daisies in a decorative pot with river rocks as mulch. A sea-blue accent filled with potpourri sits on our record player (right), dividing the living and dining rooms.

4) Use potted annuals for pops of color that last longer than cut flowers. Reserving the brighter colors for the living room, I still wanted to freshen up the adjoining dining room, but with a more subtle palette. I brought in the outdoors with this centerpiece. A small, natural weave rug anchors the planter I found in my garage, which holds three potted flowers nestled in a row. The foliage and blossoms serve to fill in the gaps on the edges of the container without having to add extra soil.

5) Enlist the help of an adorable toddler. Here, my 2-year-old daughter reveals a shot of the whole room for you all. She loved counting the lemons to put in the glass vase and bowl, and in spite of Mommy's instructions not to touch the flowers, she's still bringing me daisy blossoms she has plucked from the arrangements...sigh. I don't really mind. :)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Double Duty

Admittedly, at two years old, my baby girl is no longer a baby, so we recently transitioned her out of her crib into a full-size bed. We used her old crib to make a headboard for the new bed, even though it wasn't a convertible crib, per se.

This repurposing project worked out great because even though we have a baby on the way who will need a crib, our old crib was a drop-side, used crib that we were no longer comfortable with due to all the crib recalls and safety issues. I feel perfectly justified buying a new crib for the new baby, especially since we were able to repurpose the old one instead of tossing it.
Here's the finished headboard. Basically, my husband took the two ends of the crib and used metal brackets to attach them at the back. Then, he used furniture wall straps to tether the headboard to the wall--nice and secure. This headboard could fit up to a queen-size bed, and I love that my daughter still has a piece of her babyhood with her as she sleeps.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Potato Stamped Towels

  • 2 potatoes, cut in half and carved for stamps
  • assorted fabric paint colors
  • 4-pack white flour sack towels ($9.99 at World Market)
Crafting is simply more fun with a toddler involved. (Plus, it gives you an excuse if the results aren't magazine-page perfect!) For Mother's Day, my 2-year-old and I used potato stamps for creating gifts. She loved following my instructions to dip the potato in the paint and repeat the same pattern all along the hemline. We ended up with some whimsical, one-of-a-kind dish towels.

P.S. I apologize for the long hiatus in posting this spring! From moving into a new house to approaching my third trimester with Baby #2, I've been pretty busy (and tired). Hopefully, I'll be able to return to monthly posts from here on out. Happy Mother's Day to all! :)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Handprint Keepsake

This was my daughter's Christmas gift to her grandmothers--a handprint keepsake. First, I gathered these supplies:
  • 5x5 photo frame (preferably with a complementary mat)
  • sturdy fabric on which to stitch handprint
  • fabric marker one shade deeper than the fabric you've chosen
  • contrasting thread (I used cross-stitching floss)
Then, I traced my daughter's hand with the fabric marker to give myself a template to stitch around. I didn't worry too much about getting every stitch perfect, and I was pleased by the casual and homemade results.

After finishing the border, I filled in the inside with the same fabric marker for a little more contrast. Then I mounted it in the photo frame (you could do a custom size if you wanted to), and the gift was complete! I also made sure to date the back of the frame with "Christmas 2009."

Because I used scrap fabric and thread, the only cost came from purchasing the photo frame, which was on sale for $5 at a local craft store. It was a simple project that took very little time and cash, but brought joyful tears to Nana's eyes and will be a keepsake for years to come. :)