Category Archives: Time Consuming, but Worth It

Meals and Crafts that take longer than average to create, but were worth the effort.

Strawberry Pineapple Summer Salad

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This dish will get you an invite to everyone’s summer cookout!

It might sound strange at first: Strawberry Pretzel Salad.  But it is so good.  My Grandma makes a version of this that doesn’t have a cream cheese layer like this version, from Rebecca Crump at Ezra Pound Cake.  The cream cheese layer takes this dish over the top.  Does the inclusion of strawberries and pineapple qualify this dish as a side of fruit, rather than a dessert?  Hmmm…

Rebecca’s recipe uses all of the good stuff: butter, sugar, pretzels, cream cheese, cool whip, strawberry gelatin, frozen strawberries, crushed pineapple, and whipped cream.   Holy goodness.  (And speaking of Rebecca, her website has an amazing recipe index, including everything from crab dip and hot chocolate to sweet tea and couscous.  She also has easy to follow recipes for several classic cocktails.)  I modified Rebecca’s recipe to use generic Splenda, which measures 1:1 with sugar in baking recipes.

Here’s what I did to make Strawberry Pineapple Pretzel Salad (recipe from Rebecca Crumb at Ezra Pound Cake):

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Lightly grease a 9×13 baking dish (I used real butter).

Make your crust.  Start by mixing 2 cups crushed pretzels (I added a cup at a time into a zip lock freezer bag, and pounded it with a cooking mallet to get the pieces nice and small without turning them into fine crumbs), 3/4 cups melted butter, and 3 tablespoons (generic) splenda in a bowl to coat all of the pieces evenly.  Then press the mixture into the bottom of the greased pan, and bake in preheated oven for 7 minutes.

Set your crust aside to cool.

While your crust is cooling, mix your cream cheese layer.  Combine 8 ounces of whipped cream cheese, and 3/4 cup of splenda, and whip until smooth.  Then fold in 8 ounces of Cool Whip (or, in my case, generic whipped topping).

Once the crust is cooled, spread the cream cheese mixture over your cooled crust. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours to evenly chill. 

Combine 2- 3 ounce packages of sugar free strawberry gelatin with 2 cups of boiling water.  Stir to dissolve the gelatin, and let sit for 5 minutes to cool.  Add 2- 10 ounce packages of frozen strawberries and 8 ounces of crushed pineapple, and gently combine.  Then pour the fruit and gelatin mixture over your chilled cream cheese layer.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes, or until serving time.

Look at this baby.  Nice and frosty and delicious.

I took Rebecca’s advice and serve it with whipped cream on top.

It was a hit with my taste tester, so I made it again for a cook out, where it was gone in a matter of minutes.  People loved this stuff.

It does take some advanced planning, since you have to chill it for a few hours, but it’s so easy that it’s worth planning ahead.

This would be a great recipe to keep on hand if you freeze fresh strawberries when you can’t eat them fast enough.  It’s fatty, and rich, and sweet and salty.  Perfect combination.

And there’s fruit.  It’s got to count as a serving of fruit…

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

What’s your favorite dish to share at a cook out or summer party?

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Gorgeous Garden Boxes

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While I was busy planning for my trip to Michigan over the past few weeks, and pinning ideas to help me decorate my little brother’s new home (the trip went great by the way, on time flights to and from, awesome people seated near me on the flight, and a half empty plane on the way home with lots o’ extra space to store stuff), my husband was busy making raised garden beds using inspiration from a set of Ana White’s amazing plans.  Ana White makes easy to follow plans for pretty much every piece of furniture you can think to make, and my husband has also used her plans to make floating wood shelves for Christopher’s school room (which I have yet to blog about because I haven’t found things to put on said floating shelves yet, but once I do, you’ll hear all about it).  He used these plans more for inspiration than for the actual construction of our boxes, but he said that her plans would be great to follow exactly if you want a simple box.

Simple would have been great, however, because we don’t have a fenced yard, and because we’ve also seen deer and rabbits in our unfenced yard, we wanted to build a fence into the box to hopefully gain some protection from the wildlife.  So, he had to modify the plans a bit.  He got creative.  Just wait until you see what he did with this pile of wood and fencing.  Don’t mind our messy garage, it’s on our never ending list of things to do. 

The biggest thing that he borrowed from Ana White’s plans was to use cedar fence planks as the foundation for his boxes.  They were less than $2 per plank.  He left the dog eared portion of the planks intact, since he knew he was going to be using pine boards to support the fencing he would add, so a gap wouldn’t exist, and no dirt would escape.  

Pine boards placed in the corners formed the frame for the fencing that we hope will give us some protection from animals (and stray footballs).  

The thin pieces of cedar that you see at the corners and placed vertically along the boxes are cedar planks that he cut into thirds, and then ripped down to the size that he needed to give the planks some extra support, not only when he moved the box to its home in the yard, but also for when many pounds of dirt would be pressing against them.

He used the wire fencing to wrap the pine 2×4 boards, securing it into place using a staple gun along three sides of the box, leaving one of the wide sides open.

Next he constructed doors for the box, again using pine boards, secured with screws and wood glue for extra support at the joints.

More fencing was applied to the doors using a staple gun and then hinges were applied.

He then decided to apply fencing to the bottom of the box, to help keep moles and voles out.  That idea came from our next door neighbor, who liked our boxes so much, that he asked my husband to make him a few, without the gate.  He didn’t take a picture of that part, but he again used a staple gun to secure it.

At this point, he applied latches the door and carried the boxes out to the yard. 

There are two gates on each box, opening out, to allow for planting, weeding, harvesting, etc.

And when we don’t need to have access to the soil, we can just keep them closed and latched.

Once the boxes were in place in the yard, he filled them with a compost soil blend.  He and our neighbor split the cost for the soil and delivery.  We try to do that whenever we rent equipment or have something delivered.  It saves money on delivery fees, plus, sharing is caring, or so Christopher used to remind me when he was little and wanted something of mine (like my ice cream, after he’d eaten all of his in 30 seconds, and I’d savored mine to enjoy every last bit. Of course, the same principle wasn’t always on his mind when I wanted something of his…).

The boxes he built for the neighbor look like this.

Same general principle, but no tall fencing or doors.  He placed his closer to his house, so maybe wildlife will be less likely to feast on his crops.  Time will tell, and then I’ll tell you.  The fencing was the most expensive part of the project, so if the neighbor’s stuff survives unscathed, we will feel better about constructing any future boxes without it, and you can take that knowledge into consideration as well, and maybe save yourself some money.

So there you have it.  While I was planning a solo trip out of town, my sweet and handy husband was hard at work in the garage and in the yard.  

He’s a good guy, that one.  Extra good, in fact.  Because when he was done placing the completed boxes, he cut the grass.  He’d been feeding me some line about how letting the grass grow longer would crowd out crabgrass, but a girl can only take so much, and I think he realized that I was on the edge.   The man takes cues and he takes initiative, plus he’s a hard worker, and he’s sweet and cute, and handy with power tools and kitchen appliances.  Plus, he reads stories, gives His Majesty baths, and changes diapers.
Did I score a real prize or what?  Who needs the Mega Millions, I’ve got the real jackpot right here 🙂
Do you have an awesome person in your life?  Or are you working on a beautiful garden?  Or have you scored a fantastic pair of shoes?  What’s good in your life lately? Feel free to brag about it!!

In ONE Day

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What did I do in ONE day, you ask?

I read The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins.  AND in that same day, I got everywhere I needed to be on time, and my husband and children were fed, and the house was cleaned and the laundry was done.   I think this is quite the feat.  It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book that quickly, but The Hunger Games was unlike anything I’ve ever read, and I was all in from the first page.

My first inkling that I needed to read it was that several of my friends had remarked that it was the best story they’d ever read.  Some claimed to enjoy it more than both the Twilight and the Harry Potter series– neither of which I have personally read–, and given the phenomenon that is those two series among women my age, I figured that was quite a statement.  Plus, when I found out it was being made into a movie, it made me want to get my hands on it sooner rather than later, since I prefer to read the book before I see the Hollywood version.

The final step in getting my hands on the book was when our friend got Christopher hyped up on the story, enough so that I even allowed him to read it as part of his lessons for the week.  He doesn’t often get too enthusiastic about books, and I wanted to take advantage of his positive energy.  It is my dream for my children to love the written word as much as I do, and while His Majesty seems to be well on his way,  Christopher often takes some coaxing.  Since it was part of his lessons, I gave him five days to read it.

He completed it in three.

But what’s more than even that, he was EXCITED about it as he read it.  At the end of the week, he had to do a 2 page summary of the selection, as is his usual assignment.  Typically he fights me over ever character, and writing assignments often leave us both frustrated.  However, this essay, THIS essay, was 3 and a half pages long, and in perfect cursive.  And then he asked to go to the library to pick up the sequel.  I was so stoked.

Except that right about the time that he was handing me his summary to review, I realized that I couldn’t review it.  I didn’t know what to compare it to, what the book was actually about, or if he was on the right track, or way off in left field.  Additionally, he’d borrowed the book from our friend, and it needed to be returned within a reasonable period of time.

So, I decided to seize the day and read it for myself.  I began reading it while sitting on a bench on the campus of a local university, while Christopher and a friend attended an art class, and His Majesty hung out at play school.  It was a beautiful spring day, perfect for being outside, and it was early, so the campus was still quite.  I made myself comfortable, and turned that first page.

From that point on, I think the campus could have caught on fire, and I wouldn’t have noticed until my hair started to singe.  I was hooked.  I read for my full hour of alone time, ignoring the world around me, and then in between driving home, making lunch, checking off my to do list, taking His Majesty for a wagon ride, nap time, checking lessons, and making dinner, I managed to brush off more than 250 pages.  COULD. NOT. STOP.

After His Majesty went down for bed, I polished off the rest of it.

The gist of it, without spoiling it for you? It’s fantasy, but the characters have real emotions that made me feel like their reality could be my reality, even with the weird sci-fi technology references. There’s heart ache and bloodshed and plot twists.  Kind of like real life, but set to a post apocalyptic theme, which pertains to the dark and twisty thread that occasionally creeps me out when my mind gets to wandering

The main character, Katniss is young in years, but definitely not in the bubbly, carefree kind of way.  She’s somewhat of an “old soul”, the provider for her family, too focused on tangible needs like basic survival to worry much about puppy love, but with a rebellious streak that makes it impossible for her to lie down and take the abuse that The evil Capital sends her way, at least, not without a fight.  She’s a scrapper, and a survivor, but despite having lived a tough and labored life, full of plenty of reasons to be bitter and heartless, she still has a soft spot for children, and a fierce need to make good on any and all debts.  She’s honest, and she has a strong moral character.  She is willing to put her life on the line for her little sister.  She’s a good female heroine.

There is a bit of a love story to the plot, but it was a very PG love, thank goodness, considering Christopher had already finished reading it.  And there’s a fierce battle theme, which I suspect specifically appealed to my Christopher. He liked the war/survival strategy, and to be honest, so did I.  I wouldn’t have thought that I’d enjoy that part of the book as much as I did.

My favorite part of the story was when Katniss gives the ultimate middle finger to the government and defies the rules of The Hunger Games, which of course, is the precursor to the follow up novel (which Christopher tells me is very good).  I was a rebellious teenager myself, and some of my anti-authority nature has managed to stick around, despite the whole business of being a law abiding citizen/grown up/whatever, so a rebellious, not to mention clever, plot twist was right up my alley.  Katniss outsmarts her enemies. She’s a thinker. What she lacks in brute force, she makes up for in calculated thought and planning.  Kind of a cool “Girl Power” message, I’d say.  She’s not weak, or a victim.  She’s a strong female lead.

It has political undertones, which I loved, because anyone who knows me knows that I love to harp about the ails of government control and coercion, and the twisted nature of politics, but at first glance, I thought I was going to have to suck it up and muddle through some very different political viewpoints. Initially, I thought that the residents of The Capital were representative of the 1%; You know, the “Evil Superrich” that the talking heads claiming to speak for the 99% like to say are so evil, greedy, and out of touch with the rest of our Free Market society.  But then I paused and thought about it, and I have come to the conclusion that nope, I was wrong to assume that.  The reality as I see it is that the nation of Panem is a Communist nation, a socialist society.  Everyone gets their very basic needs met, and their duties and roles are assigned by the ruling class.  Yep.  Not a Free Market economy at all.  Given that realization, I would like to think that it sends a message to anyone with a clue that a socialized society might not be free of the evils people like to point out after all.  In fact, for me, it seemed to point out that the real danger to be feared is the danger of our government holding too much power, which, in my book, is always a great danger to keep in the back of our minds, especially in an era where you can be prosecuted for not wearing a seat belt, or having a lemonade sale on your front lawn.  (Of course, that’s the message I got from the book.  It will be interesting to see if the very left wing Hollywood spin on the tale will give it more of an Anti Capitalism theme.  I’ll report back.)

In any regard, this book was a page turner, and a heart pounder.  It kept me on the edge of my seat wondering just how it was going to play out.  I imagine it would have been more suspenseful if I had the heart to shut down Christopher’s spoilers, but I just couldn’t do it, and I can tell you now, having read the book, that his summary was spot on.  But above all else, The Hunger Games provided me with a great bonding opportunity with my oldest son.

And, in a household where I am often the odd one out, the only one not entirely enthusiastic about some athletic venture or a camping trip or a video game, and the only one paying attention to things like flowers and decorating and making things pretty, I’ll take pretty much any opportunity that I can get.

The movie comes out Friday, by the way.  Which will give me the perfect opportunity to take Christopher out for a Mother-Son date, while also providing me with the luxury of taking down an extra large bucket of movie theater popcorn… extra butter.

Commiserating with a Bad Mother

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I love to read, but reading books has been a challenge for me this year. Staying focused, during the brief moments when I’m actually able to read uninterrupted, is the first challenge.  The second is remembering what I’ve read when I am finally return to a book hours, or days, or weeks later. So, when I picked up Ayelet Waldman’s Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace, I was delighted to discover that each chapter is really rather independent of the others, meaning that I didn’t need to have perfect recall in order to follow a plot.  Reading her book was like having a conversation while your kids are in the room, which is to say, I was often interrupted, but when I came back, we’d pick up right where we’d left off.  In this book, Ayelet discussed her views on everything from Mommy Wars, the fantasy of the Good Mother, feminism and how her actions sometimes were in conflict with her views on the subject, Attachment Parenting, breastfeeding, sex, how she met and chose her husband, and how she knew he was “the one”, the division of labor in the home, her relationship with her mother in law, abortion, mental illness, how being a mother changes as we age and gain some on the job experience, homosexuality, patriotism, Barack Obama, family size, having certain expectations for her children, and various other parenting issues, such why fighting with your spouse is not the worst thing you can do to your kids. But mostly, she talked about how all of these things relate to how she sees herself as a mother, and how others see her as a mother.  It is just over 200 pages long, and there is a book club version available.

Not only did I not know anything about this book when my husband brought it home from the bookshelf at work, but I also didn’t know anything about the author.  I went in a blank slate, and I that was probably for the best.  When you get to know people in real life, you often don’t know where they stand on hot button issues, which I think is why we are willing to take a chance and get to know people.  After reading it, I googled the author, and learned that Ayelet seems to be the type of person that people either love, or hate.  She is a gifted writer, and surely has many fans, but a quick internet search of her name, or any number of her popular essays, shows that she also has many detractors.  If you look up this book on Amazon, reviews are quite polar. She discusses her “haters” in the book, and seems to take them in stride.

The general pretense in this book is that mothers strive to match the perfect ideal of The Good Mother, but in reality, this goal is impossible to achieve, as the mother that we strive to be is based on a fictitious notion.  Since our idea of the good mother is beyond what we can achieve, we privately beat ourselves up about the many ways in which we perceive ourselves to be falling short.  What’s more, though, is that we beat each other up, although not so privately, and more so, seek out examples in the media and in our community, to showcase as further evidence that we, being better than them, ARE  not so bad after all.  While I agree that the goal of “Good Mother” is out of anyone’s reach, it won’t stop me from trying to a better mother (although I’m glad to think that I’m not the only one who finds themselves falling impossibly short of meeting the mark).

In discussing the fictitious notion of The Good Mother, the author goes on to discuss all of the ways in which she herself feels that she has fallen short.  I didn’t feel that this was a “poor me” confessional, but rather, an honest memoir that made me chuckle, cry, and reflect on myself as a woman, a wife, and a mother.

This book sent me go through a range of emotions.  I found myself nodding passionately in agreement when she described the astronomical differences between A Good Father, and A Good Mother, namely that A Good Father is a realistic goal that men can easily meet simply with the gift of their presence, whereas A Good Mother, by her definition, is an impossible standard that women will most certainly fail to reach.  I identified with her when she discussed how she feels that women can lose their sense of self in the throws of motherhood, defining themselves by how they feel they measure up  in comparison to this impossible ideal of the Good Mother , and  I agreed with her when she called the so called “Attachment Parents” out on being the largest offenders in the Mommy Wars, because that’s also been my experience.  I sympathized with her regarding leaving a much loved career to take on the world that encompasses being a stay at home mother, and the notion that feminist teachings didn’t exactly tell the whole truth when it said that women could “have it all”.  I found myself tearing up reading her chapter on her relationship with her oldest son, and her competition with her mother in law, thinking about how one day, my own sons’ future wives will indeed win the war for superiority in my boys’ lives. I sobbed when I read the chapter entitled Rocketship, which tells of her experience and the emotions surrounding her own elective abortion.

I loved reading the chapters that spoke of her parenting ventures.  There’s no advice in this book, at least I didn’t think that she was trying to dish out any, and that’s one of the reasons why I enjoyed it. Let’s be honest: there’s enough people giving out parenting advice, often unsolicited.  Rather, it felt more like the author’s journey towards catharsis.  It was like having a girl’s night, the kind where one person gets to hold the spotlight for an evening, and just lets it all hang out.  In the end, I really did feel like I had gotten to know her, and could be her friend.

Which is to say that I don’t always agree with everything that my friends do or say.  It was evident that some of her politics are polar opposite of my own, but, as is my tendency in real life, I don’t eliminate friends based on politics alone.  I wouldn’t parent my children in all of the same ways in which Ayelet professes to parent hers, but I will admit that some of her methods made me raise an eyebrow thinking that perhaps she was on to something.

Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace was a book that I enjoyed due to its format, content, and sentiments.  I felt that it was written from the vantage point of a mother that doesn’t fit neatly into a certain category, which I identified greatly with.  While Ayelet Waldman is clearly not a bad mother, I think many of us can identify with feeling that we’re still a parenting work in progress, and I’d recommend this book if you are looking for a nonfiction read that isn’t quite as mindless as a months worth of Facebook updates, but probably is more enjoyable.

Felt Rosette Wreath

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This might be my favorite Pinspiration yet!

I scored some cheesy Valentine’s Day window decorations last year on clearance, and by some collection of miracles, I not only remembered that I had them this year, but I also remembered where to find them.  I’m the queen of buying things on super clearance, only to remember that I have them after the opportunity to use them has passed and/or never being able to remember where I put them. And this is after I have specifically put said items “where I won’t forget about them”.  Seriously, that’s what I say *every time* I can’t find something that I’m looking for.  My husband teases me about that pretty often.  But, as I said, I DID remember about the Valentine’s Day decorations, and I DID remember where they were, AND I remembered that I’d pinned this perfect Valentine’s Day Felt Rosette wreath— IN TIME TO ACTUALLY MAKE IT!! The stars must have truly aligned, I tell you.

It came from a great blog, Our Best Bites, which has tutorials, crafts, recipes, give-a-ways, and dozens of kitchen and household tips.  The writers have had so much success with their blog that they’ve written a bookOur Best Bites: Mormon Moms in the Kitchen.  You should check out the reviews on this book: Five stars all around!  If their recipes are anywhere near as easy to follow as their tutorial on this Felt Rosette Wreath, well, then, I simply must add this book to my next trip to the bookstore!

I basically followed the tutorial, and as I mentioned, it was very simple and well laid out.  Even so, this project was time consuming.  Some of that was likely due to my inexperience, but I definitely think you should plan for at least 4 hours to complete this thing.  It took me about 6 hours, spread out an hour or so at a time over a few days worth of nap times and evenings after both kid were in bed. But, like I mentioned, I’m a novice, and, I also added an hour or so to the project by wrapping my 14 inch wreath form with white yarn (that I scored for 50 cents at a yard sale).  That part was unnecessary, and, in the tutorial, they just painted their wreath form, which, judging by their finished product turned out just fine.

You basically need only the following:  Felt squares (mine were 12×12, and I purchased 36 of them, 9 in each of my 4 color choices), ribbon or tulle to hang your wreath (I used 5/8 inch ribbon, and I actually chose my colors based on the colors in the ribbon), and a wreath form (I used a 14 inch foam form, like they did in the tutorial, but if you decide you want to wrap yours in yarn, you can get a a straw wreath, leave it in the plastic, and yarn wrap right over it).   Then you’ll need a glue gun, and a big ol’ pile of glue sticks.  A lot of glue sticks.  I used a half a bag of the mini glue sticks. I spent just under $17 on this project, including a bag of mini glue sticks.  The felt was 4/$1, the ribbon was 50% off, and I used a 40% off coupon on the wreath form. Not too bad.  I did not use all of  the felt squares, either, (I ended up using 7-8 sheets of each color) so it would be a dollar or two cheaper if I were to do another one.

Because my felt sheets were perfect squares, I was able to just cut them into even quarters. That’s a no brainer. Fold it, cut on the line, fold it again, cut on the line, done.

Then, I started cutting the squares into round-ish spirals, like the tutorial showed.  I say round-ish, and you can see what I mean.  This felt stuff is pretty forgiving, which made me happy.  I like when things are easy, and don’t have to be exact.  After a career in health care, I like things that have some wiggle room (Side note: I used to always joke with the students and residents on their first days with me, telling them: “Relax. It’s pretty hard to kill a human.”  It did wonders to ease their tension, and I’m happy to report that none of them ever made any nutty mistakes, probably because Mama took the pressure off.  And yes, I did refer to myself in the third person as “Mama”, as in “Here, let Mama show you how it’s done.”  For reals.).  See how this felt spiral has a little corner on it?  It really made no difference after the rosette was rolled.  Looked find of like a rose petal.  Totally ok to not be perfectly round.

My husband helped me cut the spirals while we watched “The Tourist” starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie.  (It was an ok movie.  Maybe I would have liked it better if I had been paying full attention to it, instead of half listening while I cut up felt squares.)   Since I had my husband’s help, things moved a little quicker for me.  He probably saved me about an hour.  What an awesome husband.  Did I mention that he’s a wiz with the power tools, too?

This was the first time that I’ve used felt for anything, and I think I’m in love.  Have you guys seen any of the ideas for felt food?!  Or  how about this adorable felt Christmas tree?  Or the many different felt flowers you can make? There are some really great ideas, and it seems to be easy to work with.  Starting at the center of your spirals, roll inward, until you have a little jelly roll style rosette.  Rolling them up was the quickest part of this project.  I had this many done in about 30 minutes.

And then my helper stepped in and rolled a bunch for me.

The next day, during the little slice of heaven otherwise known as nap time, I wrapped the wreath form in yarn. 

Glue your first piece to the wreath,

And then begin wrapping around and around and around until you get the entire wreath covered, overlapping the yarn as needed to cover all of the foam.  I didn’t have to worry too much about this part, since I used the same color yarn as the wreath form, but if you were to use a dark color yarn, you’d have to be more diligent to be sure you covered all of the foam.

After that, I was able to start glueing the felt rosettes onto the wreath…One at a time…

Alternating the colors however you think they look best. The felt held its shape pretty well, but I did go ahead and apply glue at the tail piece, and then to the entire bottom of each flower.  That may be why I used so much glue, but I wanted to be sure that everything stayed where I wanted it. Pack them in there pretty tightly to make sure you cover the wreath (which isn’t such a big deal if your wreath is a coordinating color, but I did glue them as close together as I could get them).   See how each rose is a little different from the one next to it?  I think that makes it truly unique.

Before the rosettes completely covered the wreath, I glued the ribbon down, and then covered it in roses, leaving only the portion that the wreath would hang from visible, but you could also add the ribbon to your finished product, like in the tutorial.  Like I said, this project would be hard to mess up. Fast forward another nap time + and evening, and in the end, I had this.

Not bad, if I do say so myself.

You could do a lot with this project, and believe me, I intend to.  My friend Emily said that she would have stopped when about half of the wreath was covered and hung it up just like that, and I agree, it would have looked really cute that way.  I’ve already bought extra felt and another wreath form to do another yarn wrapped wreath in a different color scheme, with a few larger felt roses, or maybe a few flowers that I’ve pinned from elsewhere on the web.  Big plans for my front door, baby.  Big plans.

Are you doing anything to decorate your door for Valentine’s Day?  If you don’t have the time to do this felt rosette wreath, maybe you can knock out this argyle wreath with felt hearts?  Or a tissue paper wreath, like this hot pink one? How will you decide which one to make?

Tuscan Chicken Stew: The Perfect Autumn Dish

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Right now, if you’re like me, you’re buried in Thanksgiving leftovers.  There will be days of turkey casserole and turkey sandwiches ahead in our house, with sides of sweet potato souffle and whatever veggies can stand to be rewarmed–again.  And when we’ve finally eaten all of the leftovers, a dish like Tuscan Chicken Stew will be perfect reintroduce our palate to non-Thanksgiving food.

As an Italian, I am not quite sure what is “Tuscan” about this stew.  Tuscany is known for Chianti, which isn’t an ingredient in this dish, and there are no olives in it either, which, in my experience, tends to be the deciding factor when a chain restaurant throws the Tuscan label on a dish.  Regardless of my feelings of uncertainty regarding the naming of this dish, I feel comfortable recommending this stew.  The first time that I made it, a few weeks ago, I followed the pin and used this recipe from food.com.  We enjoyed it, but I felt it needed “something”.  So, I made it again, and added a few things.  What a difference a few ingredients made!  Here’s how you make it with my twists.

Start off sautéing some boneless skinless chicken thighs in hot olive oil.  When they are browned, remove them from the pan and reserve them for later.

Then add your onions, peppers, and a some cut spinach (I wish I’d had more leftover, because I just love to throw spinach in anything that I can) to the pan and cook for 3-5 minutes, until the onions and peppers are softened.

Add your garlic. I used 4 cloves, double what the original recipe called for, because garlic rocks.  I buy it pre minced, because it’s easier than cutting it up every time, and we use it so quickly that it doesn’t seem to lose quality.

Then return the chicken to the pot and add 3 cans of stewed tomatoes (juice and all), white wine, oregano, and red pepper flakes to the pepper mixture, simmering everything together on low heat.

I stirred it every few minutes, and breathed in all of its yumminess. The stirring also helped to break up the pieces of chicken, so that they are more bite sized.  They literally just fall apart, no cutting required.

After about 30 minutes, add your rinsed and drained kidney and cannellini beans, one can of each, and continue simmering for about 5 minutes, allowing the beans to heat through.

Check this stuff out.  Hons, my mouth is watering looking at these pictures.

Spoon it out into bowls and top it with shredded parmesan.  The powdery stuff won’t have the same ooey, gooey effect.

I also served it with big chunks of crusty Italian bread.  My guys love this stuff.  It’s got just enough spice to make it flavorful.

So, here’s the full recipe:

Ingredients

1.  8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

2. 1 1/2 teaspoon olive oil

3. 1 thinly sliced yellow onion

4. 2 thinly sliced bell peppers (green will do, but yellow and red add a sweeter flavor)

5. 1 1/2 cup diced spinach leaves

5.  4 cloves of garlic, minced

6. 3 (14.5 ounce) cans of stewed or diced tomatoes UNDRAINED

7.  2/3 cup dry white wine

8.  1 teaspoon dried oregano or 1 large fresh oregano sprig, chopped.

9.  1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

10.  1 (14.5 ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

11.  1 (14.5 ounce) can red or pink kidney beans, drained and rinsed

12. Shredded parmesan to top

Directions: 

Directions

  1. Heat the oil in a large, non-stick, pot. Be sure it’s a big pot, you’ve got a lot of ingredients to fit into it. Saute chicken thighs until brown. Remove chicken from the pan and reserve.
  2. Add the onions, peppers, and spinach to the pan and cook 3 to 5 minutes until soft but not browned. Add minced garlic.
  3. Return chicken to the pot. Add canned tomatoes with their juice, wine, oregano, and red pepper flakes to the onions and peppers. Simmer 30 minutes, until chicken is cooked through, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add rinsed and drained beans to the pan, and simmer another 5 minutes until heated through.
  5. Top individual servings with parmesan cheese.
I hope you give Tuscan Chicken Stew a try.  And if you do, come back and let me know how it went over in your house.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Baked Buffalo Wings

Standard

Did the thought of baked buffalo wings just freak you out? Don’t be scared, trust me.  They actually turned out really well, except for the fact that the frozen wings I used were more in line with the size of the wings on a house finch.  Next time I’m either sticking to using drumsticks, or I’m going to our local meat market and picking up some of their generously sized fresh wings.  Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.  My point is, don’t be scared off by the fact that these are not fried, even though I admit, the thought of baked wings made me gag a little bit at first.  Thankfully, the 2 hours of work that it took to make these was not a waste, and we all cleared our plates without complaint.

You can see the original recipe here, from A Chef’s Daughter.  The ingredients are simple.  Aside from the obvious chicken pieces, you’ll need the following.  Nothing fancy.

Minced garlic, hot sauce, butter, and salt

You boil some water, and then pop your chicken wings or drummies in a steamer basket and steam them for about 10 minutes.

I did mine in two batches, since I made 3 lbs of chicken and they would have been way too crowded if I tried to save a few minutes and do them all in one round.

The recipe tells you to dry the wings off and cool them in the fridge on a cooling rack placed over a paper towel lined baking sheet.  I had a lot of wings, and only one tiny cooling rack, so that was a no go.  Instead, I sat them in a colander for a few minutes to drain off most of the water and juices, pat them dry with paper towel, and then lay them on baking sheets lined with more paper towel,before I popped them in the fridge.

Steamed wings, ready for cooling.

They’ll be in the fridge for an hour.  That’s the time killer there, the hour of cooling time.  It ended up not being a big deal on this particular day, though. I just went ahead and baked some fries and made a few salads during the time I was waiting.  I wouldn’t want to commit to such a lengthy prep on a day when we had a full schedule, though.

In the last 10 minutes of your cooling hour, preheat the oven to 425. When your wings have been cooling for an hour, take them out of the fridge and remove them from the cooling rack/paper towel/whatever, and place them back on your baking sheet, this time on some freshly placed parchment paper.

Teeny, tiny chicken wings.

Then bake them for 40 minutes in your preheated oven.  A commenter on the original recipe mentioned that they adjusted their oven temp to 435, to be sure that their meaty cuts of chicken would be fully cooked. There’s a 40 minute cook time in the original recipe, which for my shrimpy chicken pieces, was definitely adequate.  However, when I make these again with normal sized chicken wings, instead of wings more appropriate for  serving in the Barbie Dream Kitchen, I’ll probably cut into one  and assess it before I remove them all from the oven. I struggle to use a meat thermometer appropriately with such bony pieces, but if you’re more graceful in the kitchen than I am, aim for 165 degrees F.

Then you want to melt your butter, salt, and garlic in the microwave.

Melt your butter/salt/garlic combo a few seconds at a time, and stir it up well.

Add your 1/2 cup of hot sauce and mix it all together.

Use a good sized bowl, so that you can easily mix your chicken in the sauce.

When your chicken is done baking, they’ll look something like this.  Only, hopefully, they’ll be a bit more generously sized.

Take a few pieces, and toss them into the buffalo sauce.

Mix the chicken pieces in the sauce until they are evenly coated.

This made more than enough sauce to coat all of our teeny tiny chicken pieces, and the sauce was good.  Really good.  Like, eat the extra with a spoon (or just eat it with your fingers, ’cause they’re messy when you eat wings anyway) good. Or just dip your wings in even more sauce as you go.  It’s too good to waste.

Eat up!

The wings were crispy, just like if they had been fried, but they were also less greasy, and I would say on right on par with taste.  It could be the 3 tablespoons of butter, or the fact that we dip ours in the miracle dip, ranch dressing.  But in any case, they were good, and we’ll make them again.  My compliments to A Chef’s Daughter!

But next time, we’ll find bigger pieces of chicken!

Have you made a recipe that you originally doubted, only to be pleasantly surprised?  Do tell…