Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for November, 2009

Sitting in front of the fireplace with my furry little dog at my feet, I warm my hands on a mug of hot cocoa and savor the rich chocolate flavor. Ah, the good life. You’d never guess that just a few short hours ago I packed up my kids and sent them on their merry way. Each got a hug and a goody bag of Thanksgiving leftovers. Since they left, I’ve washed six loads of laundry, stripped and remade all the beds, cleaned every sticky square inch of my kitchen, mopped dirty floors, and vacuumed leaf-strewn carpets. That was the easy part of my Thanksgiving holiday.

Despite the nonstop cooking and cleaning, the craziness of playing referee between my kids (yes, even at their ages they still have tiffs), and the constant scheduling of family time around their social schedules, I really love it when my kids come home! But four days goes by quickly, and soon I find myself standing in the driveway waving goodbye to them one by one. As they each drive off, I feel a little emptiness in my heart and sadly I turn around and head back to the house. Miraculously, though, every time they leave and I pass through the threshold of the front door and see the chaotic mess they’ve left behind, that sad feeling is gone! It’s replaced with the Do-You-Think-I’m-The-Maid feeling!

So whether you’re feeling blue because your kids are gone again or you’re just happy to be by yourself again, here’s a recipe for a nice, comforting spicy mocha beverage. A neighbor gave it to me many years ago and it’s a good mix to have around the house during the holidays to serve to guests. For a great gift idea, put the mix in a cellophane bag, tie it up with a pretty ribbon, attach the directions, and tuck in a small bottle of brandy or your favorite liqueur (such as Frangelico or Kahlua) to make your gift complete. Wrapping a bag of mix with a cute pair of coffee mugs is another way to give this mix as a gift. Marshmallows optional with this version!
.
Spiced Mocha Mix
Mix together:
1 cup nondairy powdered creamer
1 cup hot cocoa mix
2/3 cup instant coffee powder/granules (decaffeinated or regular)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Store in an airtight container.

Directions: Place 2-4 tablespoons in the bottom of a mug. Add 6 ounces of boiling water and stir until smooth and blended. Garnish with whipped cream and shaved chocolate. Add your favorite liqueur or brandy to taste – not optional during the holidays!

Don’t forget: When packaging this mix as a gift, make sure to include a printed copy of the directions!

Note: My “Falling Leaves Snowflake” cards were made from outdated calendars. Calendars with beautiful images and high quality paper can be reused for other projects!

Read Full Post »

Andy Williams is crooning, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere you go . . . .” Well, not quite everywhere, but at least at the store where I work. Hanging from a little pop-up Christmas tree in the middle of the store are three-dimensional metal and crystal-embellished ornaments. Rich jewel-toned silky tops, shimmering sweaters, and sequined jackets hang from racks waiting for the holiday spirit to snatch them up. No offense to Pilgrim fans out there, but other than placing a fall wreath on my front door, I did not decorate my home for Thanksgiving. Although I enjoy Thanksgiving because of the obvious three F’s: fall, food, and family, for this holiday crafter there is so much to do with so little time. Like the retail stores, I’ve moved on to Christmas!

With only 12 planned posts before Christmas, I’m offering you my Twelve Posts of Christmas. The contents of these posts won’t stray too far from my original intent, but there will be an emphasis on recipes for entertaining, crafty gifts to make and take, and many other holiday ideas.

Here’s my first holiday idea for you. How about refreshing your front door Christmas wreath? Even if your wreath has seen better days, there’s no need to toss it out. As long as it still has good “bones,” it is salvageable! One of my friends always gets vouchers from me for her birthday. Last year I promised to rework one of her broken necklaces and when I was finished she had a totally different necklace plus two pairs of matching earrings. This year she received a voucher from me to refresh her two front door Christmas wreaths.

It was easy. First I removed faded flower stems by either carefully pulling them off or by cutting them off as close to the glue source as possible. Next, using wire cutters, I removed the bows. Because I wanted to reuse as many original parts of the wreaths as possible, I left the cream-colored berries, pine cones, and leaves on, but took off an overabundance of disintegrating tiny plastic berries and replaced them with more realistic ones. I also removed anything else that was on the verge of falling off.

At my local craft store I selected new ribbon. In my friend’s case, I wanted to get away from the faded, wide, red ribbon that the wreaths were sporting before, because between the poinsettias and the berries there was too much red. I opted for a wide cream brocade ribbon. I thought the light color would look attractive against her black doors and would match the cream-colored berries. I paired up a thinner, gold-edged, transparent, red ribbon with the cream ribbon to tie in the gold of the existing leaves. While at the craft store I also picked up new poinsettias, keeping the same diameter as the old ones, along with the new more realistic berries.

The flowers, berries, and loose items were all hot-glued into place. Pretty new bows were made and instead of placing them at the bottom where they used to be, I positioned the bows at about ten o’clock for the left wreath and two o’clock for the right one. I felt this made each wreath more unique, while still being part of a pair.

Overall, the project took me a couple of hours, but that’s because I was watching a Christmas movie at the same time!

Read Full Post »

Being able to buy almost every kind of fruit year-round in grocery stores is a marvelous thing, but buyer beware, there’s a fruit that’s only available in stores from September through December – and that’s the persimmon. Stock up now on this heavenly fruit!

Not only are persimmons delicious and beautiful, they are loaded with nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B-6, copper, and lutein. Plus, they contain 6 grams of fiber.

The squat-shaped Fuyu, one of the two most popular types of persimmons, is meant to be eaten while it is firm and crunchy like an apple. Fuyu are great in salsas and salads. Click here for a link to a recipe that includes Fuyu persimmon chunks, mixed in with apples and pomegranate seeds, and is finished off by tossing with mint leaves, lemon juice, and honey.

The other popular variety of persimmon is the acorn-shaped Hachiya. Unlike the Fuyu, these can only be eaten when they are as ripe and squishy as water balloons. Don’t even try to eat these before they’re ready or you’ll regret it! Unripened Hachiyas are loaded with bitter-tasting tannin. To eat the apricot-like flesh of these persimmons just scoop out the soft sweet pulp with a spoon. This pulp can be used in practically any recipe requiring packed pumpkin – pies, cookies, cakes, and quick breads. Sugar levels might have to be adjusted, though, because persimmons are sweeter. Also, persimmon pulp freezes well, so buy now and bake later.

To ripen Hachiya persimmons to perfection just let them sit on your kitchen counter until they’re soft. If you are in a hurry, you can put them in a sealed container with an apple or banana and keep them at room temperature until they are ready. If you are in a super hurry, you can pop them in your freezer overnight and they become soft as they defrost. I learned this last trick from Mr. Struble of Struble Ranch. He said that if there’s a frost while the persimmons are still on the trees, he has to pick them quickly thereafter because of the accelerated ripening. I tried this freezer trick and it worked perfectly.

I made a rich and fruity bread today which my husband thoroughly enjoyed. I’m sure it had something to do with all the whiskey that went into the batter!

Here’s an adaptation of James Beard’s Persimmon Bread:

3½ cups sifted flour
1½ teaspoons salt
2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 to 2½ cups sugar
1 cup melted unsalted butter and cooled to room temperature
4 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
2/3 cup Cognac, bourbon or whiskey
2 cups persimmon puree (from about 4 squishy-soft Hachiya persimmons)
2 cups walnuts or pecans, toasted and chopped
2 cups raisins, or diced dried fruits (such as apricots, cranberries, or dates)

1. Butter 2 loaf pans. Line the bottoms with a piece of parchment paper or dust with flour and tap out any excess.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

3. Sift the first 5 dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.

4. Make a well in the center, then stir in the butter, eggs, liquor, persimmon puree then the nuts and raisins.

5. Bake 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Makes two 9-inch loaves.

If you have favorite persimmon recipes you’d like to share, please send them to me at Linnell@WhatAboutThis.biz.

Read Full Post »

The crisp air and clear blue skies were enough to lure me outside to enjoy the fall weather. This past weekend my husband and I paid visits to two of our favorite local produce haunts. Struble Ranch has just opened for the season with a bumper crop of mandarins and is located on one of the prettiest pieces of property around. Otow’s Orchard grows a multitude of fruits, vegetables, and herbs, but right now is selling fresh persimmons, hoshigaki (their famous dried persimmons), and winter squash. Wherever you live, please support your local growers.

#1 – Mandarin Oranges
According to Peggy Trowbridge Fillippone of About.com:
“Mandarin oranges” is a term that applies to an entire group of citrus fruits. This group, botanically classified as Citrus reticulata, includes such varieties as Satsuma, Clementine, Dancy, Honey, Pixie, and tangerines in general. Most are sweeter than their other citrus cousins (yet there are some tart varieties), have a bright orange skin that is easy to peel, and inner segments that are easily separated. There are seeded and seedless varieties.

Depending on the variety, mandarin oranges are in season from November through June in the Northern hemisphere, with peak season being December and January.

Select fruits that are unblemished and heavy for their size. Avoid those with cuts, soft spots, or mold. Bright color is not necessarily an indication of quality as some are dyed and some naturally have green patches even when fully ripe.

They may be stored in a cool, dark spot for a few days, but ideally should be refrigerated to extend shelf life up to two weeks.

#2 – Identifying Drinking Glasses
My kids are coming home for the Thanksgiving holidays, so the rubber bands are coming out of the kitchen drawer. Years ago I figured out a system to prevent my kids from reaching for new glasses every time they were thirsty. I purchased wide, colorful rubber bands and wrote my children’s names on the rubber bands. As soon as he/she took a glass out of the cabinet, his/her rubber band was slipped onto the glass immediately. This little trick continues to save me a lot of needless dishwashing!

#3 – Wearing Red This Holiday?
Here’s a tip straight from stylists Stacy London and Clinton Kelly, “We love red with silver as opposed to red and gold. The latter combo can look a little too much like a Christmas ornament. An alternative to metallic accessories would be another bright color; accents of violet or light blue look spectacular with a red dress . . . !”

#4 – Consider This
If a man has a talent and cannot use it, he has failed. If he has a talent and uses only half of it, he has partly failed. If he has a talent and learns somehow to use the whole of it, he has gloriously succeeded, and won a satisfaction and a triumph few men ever know. Thomas Wolfe

#5 – Random Act of Kindness
Each of us must do our part to make the world a better place, so how about carrying out a little random act of kindness this weekend? It could be as simple as giving someone a complement. Here’s something I’ve done before: I’ve wrapped up cookies in cellophane, tied them with a ribbon, included a brief note of thanks and stuck them in my mailbox for my letter carrier to pick up.

Enjoy the beautiful fall weather and have a great weekend!

Read Full Post »

P1090588_1

Some things are too pretty to throw out. Cracked or chipped teacups fall into that category for me. Recycling or reusing them in different ways seems to be the best compromise and for years I have looked for ways to do this. After much thought and research, I have compiled this list of ways to reuse mismatched cups and slightly damaged teacups:

1. Teacups as Planters
Pack crocus corms tightly with point side up in water over a bed of tiny pebbles. Or drill a drainage hole into the bottom of a teacup and pop in an herb plant. Plant three or more of these and line them up along your sunny kitchen window.

2. Teacups as Storage Caddies
A teacup set in your guest bathroom makes a cute container for small guest soaps.

Teacups can also be used in a bathroom to store small items such as nail clippers and hairpins or used in your bedroom as jewelry sorters for earrings, bracelets, and necklaces.

What about using an old tea cup at your desk for storing paper clips, rubber bands, stamps, etc.?

3. Teacups as Pincushions
I’ve seen old teacups converted into pincushions with attached saucers used for holding buttons, bobbins, etc. Just make a compact ball of stuffing, cover it with fabric and hot glue it to the inside of the tea cup.

4. Teacups as Candy Dishes
Collect and group an assortment of teacups. Place different colored candy in each cup. This would be especially sweet for a springtime luncheon.

4. Teacups as Candle Holders
Put votive candles into an array of teacups for an instant candle-scape indoors or out. Varying the heights of each teacup and saucer set would add visual interest.

5. Teacups as Candles

I haven’t made these myself yet, but I plan to. Basically, a wick is attached to the bottom of the cup, wax is melted in the microwave and then poured into a tea cup. Complete instructions for this project can be found here: http://www.designspongeonline.com/2008/11/diy-project-kates-teacup-candles.html

6. Teacups as Bird Feeders

Check out this website for ways to convert teacups into bird feeders for your garden.

7. Teacups as Decorative Items

Broken pits of teacups can be used in mosaics and in jewelry designs.
Teacups have been converted into bangles, wind chimes, and chandeliers. Look at these clever ideas.

Now that you know what to do with those misfit teacups, don’t forget that tea leaves can be recycled, too. Throw loose tea leaves into your compost pile. Composting tea bags is a little trickier, depending on the type of tea bag fabric used. Used tea bags can also be placed in the bottom of plant containers, especially in hanging plants, to help retain moisture. And remember the old beauty tip of using them as eye compresses. Warm or cold, teabags can help to relax tired eyes. Lastly, donate dried, empty teabags to native artists who use them to create original artwork that they sell to raise money for themselves and their communities. Check out this company in Africa that makes art and useful items out of tea bags. Good for our planet and good for our souls.

Note: I created the photo mosaic teacup card at the top of this post for my Auntie Ella who is a lover of hearts and of tea, but more importantly, is a very special person to me.

Read Full Post »

I always say that raising three children is a juggling act. In three ball juggling, there is never a moment when all three balls are in the air simultaneously and that’s pretty much how it is with my three kids. If I can get two of them in the air, or in my analogy, concern-free, then the third is at the bottom and needs a boost up. Not to say that any of my children have huge issues or troubles, but more just a matter of dealing with the curves that life throws at them. Periodically, each of them needs a little parental support and my husband and I are happy to give it. That was the deal when we signed on to be parents. We knew it was a lifelong commitment.

My husband and I always wanted three children. When our first two children were born, we were over the moon with happiness, but in our hearts we knew we had room for one more. When I was pregnant with our third child, a wise friend informed me, that having three kids was not just a simple equation of 2 + 1 = 3, it was more like the chaos theory. Her point was that with two children you achieve equilibrium because you have one hand for each child. With three, there’s always one on the loose and you’re always off balance. Without a doubt, having three is challenging just by virtue of being an odd number. Pairing up for amusement park rides is awkward, packaged toys are often packed in twos, and the two-against-one argument is commonplace.

The thing about having three children is that there has to be one in the middle. Being a middle child myself, I know about threes. I am sandwiched between an older sister and a younger brother, so I am well aware of birth order characteristics. My sister, the oldest child, definitely has the leadership characteristic stamped in her DNA and my brother, the baby of the family, is characteristically comical and entertaining. As for me, three, yes, three, middle child characteristics jumped off the list when I first read it. “Creative.” Yes, I am creative – that’s why I’m a blogger! “Doesn’t like to follow authority.” Hmm, I view it more like I have a lot of questions for authority. “They can usually read people well, they are peacemakers who see all sides of a situation.” I’ve certainly had on the job training as peacemaker in my family.

As a kid, I thought I would never have three children, because I didn’t want to create a middle child. Obviously my husband convinced me otherwise. But as I raised my children, I made a concerted effort to be especially fair to my middle child. The tough thing, though, is life is not fair and will never be fair, so maybe I should have taught my middle child that lesson instead from the get-go. From a middle child’s perspective, it’s all about expectation, therefore middle children are better off if they have no expectations and then they can be pleasantly surprised.

If I had to do it over again, I would still have three, because I cannot imagine my life without anyone one of my children. They are three wonderful individuals marching to their own drumbeats who every now and then need a boost from their parents to get back in the air. Who will be up and who will be down next? Your guess is as good as mine.

Read Full Post »

P1080839_1

#1 – Shop for Less
Shopping in Asian markets is an experience for me. It’s amazing how much cheaper fruits, vegetables, bulk spices, and even meats are in these stores, not to mention the variety of goods available. For example, the Asian market I frequent sells medium-sized frozen prawns by the scoopful for $3.99 a pound everyday! One aisle I am always drawn to houses the home goods. Pots, dish drainers, colanders, cleavers, and more can be had for very reasonable prices. I’ve stocked a few college apartment kitchens with items found here. Dishware can be purchased by the piece, so any size set can easily be put together. Colorful Chinese and Japanese bowls of all sizes and designs appeal to thrifty, yet stylish shoppers.

#2 – Keep It or Toss It
If you need to know how long to safely keep meat, vegetables, and fruit or what the shelf life of herbs and spices are, visit this website. Type in the item in question and search. It also has answers to food safety questions such as, “Are eggs still safe after the expiration date?” Go to www.stilltasty.com.

#3 – Pumpkin Pie Spice
If during this holiday baking season you realize you forgot to buy pumpkin pie spice at the store, don’t worry. Just mix together 1/4 cup ground cinnamon, 2 tablespoons ground ginger, 1 tablespoon ground cloves, and 1 tablespoon ground nutmeg and you’re ready to bake! Combine the ingredients until thoroughly blended. Store in an airtight container.

#4 – Style Tip for Men
Ladies, help your man out by helping him select the right accessories. Here’s a lesson in belt selection. Belts worn with his jeans should not be the same ones he wears with his suits and obviously belts worn with his suits should not be worn with his jeans. Jean belts should be made of a more casual looking leather or of fabric. Suit belts should be made from more refined and polished leather.

#5 – A Quote from Albert Schweitzer
Do something for somebody everyday for which you do not get paid.

My hope is that someone out there in the infinite internet universe is reading and enjoying my blog! Have a good weekend!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: