Decorating for Christmas?

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As Thanksgiving approaches, I am thinking about how to handle the weekend that follows. Usually it sounds like fun to start decorating for Christmas. I love Christmas decorations and lights, but this year I feel a little overwhelmed knowing that I will be the one loading and unloading the bins from storage, putting up most of it, dusting around all of it, and then repacking it all neatly and delivering it back to storage. Is it time to simplify?

The mantel is a no-brainer — a lit garland, stockings, and a banner — easy. And I am excited to put up the white MIZZOU tree I started last year. It goes in the front room window and gives me so much pleasure that I considered putting it up when football season started!

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Some years I have put up another THREE trees: a PINK one upstairs for the girls (fortunately the stand broke and it’s long gone), the 12-footer in the front hall, and our “family” tree in the family room. But as much as I wanted a 12-foot tree for the two-story front hall, it takes up so much space that I get tired of walking around it! I just can’t decide if I’m going to do it this year. Kristin says ‘yes.” I am leaning toward “no.” I love the jewel-toned ornaments, but I could just put a bowl of them on the front hall table. ūüėČ What do you think?

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I don’t think it will be Christmas without the family tree in the family room. Some years it’s real (Tim loves them), though last year it wasn’t. I can usually round up some help for that one. Still, they all disappear when it’s time to wrap those treasured ornaments back up. Sigh.

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I am pretty sure the Christmas spirit will find me in time for Christmas this year. I’ll let you know if it does.

Cooking in a Barn

Hmmm. . . not a headline I ever envisioned writing. And yet there I was, cooking in a barn.

Last week my younger daughter was invited to ride a horse she loves at the Pinto World Championship in Tulsa, Oklahoma. We only live about two hours from Tulsa, and after much deliberation, we decided to let her have this adventure.

As we drove down¬†the Oklahoma turnpike with hardly another car in sight, we wondered what the “Worlds” experience would be like. Truthfully, we couldn’t even picture the scene we would encounter. The event is held on the grounds of Tulsa’s Expo Square, their fairgrounds, and there are several huge barns, all named after Chevy trucks. ¬†In addition to the giant¬†pavilions filled with stalls for horses (and humans, but I’m getting to that), there are three performance arenas, which hold¬†competitions from 7:30 am to 5 pm every day for two weeks!

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Caroline and I pulled into the first “gate” we saw and somehow got past the security booths to wander from pavilion to pavilion looking for the familiar faces of her trainers or horse. It took a while, but we finally found them . . . happily ensconced in stalls with all the comforts of home.

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They showed us around “our stall area” — the food¬†stall — full size refrigerator, microwave, drinks, and snacks. The tack stall (it’s a double-wide), the dressing rooms, waiting area, and the horse stalls. I didn’t realize that we would be in this area from sun-up to midnight most days. No wonder they rent furniture and electronics! Caroline immediately scooted off to bathe a horse, and I settled in to one of the leather couches. Our riders, trainers, and horses came and went as they were called to compete in a variety of classes, both Western and English. Costume changes were de rigeur for horses and humans. I watched Analisa polish the silver trim on a $30,000 saddle for most of a day. Tack was used, wiped down, and hung in its proper spot. One night Caroline washed Zipper and his tail extension at 11:30 pm! No one had time to run out for food. As I know nothing about horse care, I realized that I could best help by stocking the fridge with cold drinks and providing food to the busy riders. ¬†Our new best friend and trainer from Louisiana, Stoney, got a crockpot from his horse trailer, and I ran to the market. That’s how I found myself cooking in a barn. We had barbequed chicken, Italian Beef sandwiches, soft chicken tacos, and pulled pork. The tricky part was cleaning up. Sweet Penny usually hosed out the crock at the end of the stalls at night. The kids were happy to have some hot food to go with the usual fare of cheese sticks, potato chips, veggie trays, and other snack foods. One day I cut up a watermelon and was delighted to see that the horses thought the leftover rinds were a tasty treat!

The downside: our stalls were right next to a practice arena which meant that everything was constantly coated in a thick layer of dust. And I’m pretty sure there was “fly spray” in most of what we ingested. But finding a way to be part of the horse team at Pinto Worlds was priceless, and I’d do it again, dust and all.

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Tortilla Soup!

Monday night suppers have to be easy because I volunteer from 4:15-6:45. Mexican chicken in the slow cooker has become a staple. Place a few boneless, skinless breasts in there with a jar of your favorite salsa and some (homemade, please!) taco seasoning, and it will shred beautifully in a few short hours. It can be used for quesadillas, tacos, enchiladas, nachos, or this easy and delicious tortilla soup! I was quite amazed that 30 min. after merely dumping all of the ingredients in a pot at the same time, the soup looked restaurant quality! Cook’s tip: Enlist someone to open all those cans while you chop the onion and cilantro, and you’ll be done in half the time!

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2 cups of shredded chicken

1 32 oz box of chicken broth

1 can corn or Mexicorn (drained)

2 handfuls chopped cilantro

1 squeezed lime

1 can diced tomatoes (I like petite diced.)

1 can diced tomatoes with chiles (Rotel original)

1/2 large yellow onion, chopped

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

2-3 tablespoons tomato paste

2 teaspoons cumin

2 teaspoons chile powder

2 teaspoons garlic powder

Dump everything in a pot and simmer for 30 minutes. Garnish with cheese and crispy tortilla strips if desired.

Recipe from Tasty Kitchen.

Easter Dessert: Hula Pie!

Hula Pie, Hula Pie, Hula Pie

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I even love saying the name of this amazing dessert. I am not even a dessert person!

Friends had recommended visiting Duke’s, a beachside restaurant in the historic Outrigger Hotel on Waikiki, for the famous “Hula Pie.” It isn’t a pie at all, but a macadamia nut ice cream bombe covered in frozen hot fudge and whipped cream. Um, YES! First of all, I prefer ice cream to cake or pie, anyway, and second, I totally relate macadamia nuts to my childhood experiences of Hawaii. Sold!

The dessert cost $8, and we split two between the 11 of us. Crazy. It was hard to hold the spork back, let me tell ya. So we are determined to recreate that baby for Easter dinner this Sunday. If you love ice cream, macadamia nuts, and chocolate, you might want to make one, too. Let us know how it goes!

Hula Pie

Ingredients:

1 9-inch chocolate cookie piecrust
1 half gallon macadamia nut ice cream (Seems like a lot of ice cream, but you’ll be piling it high.)
4 ounces chocolate fudge topping
1 shot of espresso or strong coffee
6 ounces macadamia nuts
Whipped cream

1. Bring fudge topping to room temperature.

2. Scoop ice cream into prepared pie shell, smoothing it into a rough dome, or bombe, as high as you’d like.

3. Warm espresso or coffee and mix into chocolate.  Use a warmed knife to spread topping even over ice cream bombe.

4. Freeze until ready to serve.

5. Cover top of pie with a layer of whipped cream and chopped macadamia nuts before serving.

Can‚Äôt find macadamia nut ice cream in your local store? Just substitute good vanilla ice cream‚ÄĒsoften it just a little and mix in chopped mac nuts. We actually prefer this option to store bought mac nut ice cream, as the flavor is more balanced and the texture of the nuts will remain firm, not soggy.

If you‚Äôd prefer to make your own pie crust, too, simply mix chocolate wafer crumbs (about a cup and a half) with a little sugar and about ¬ľ cup melted butter. Press the mixture into a pie pan.

I found this recipe on Hawaii Magazine’s website:¬†http://www.hawaiimagazine.com/blogs/hawaii_today/2009/9/25/Dukes_Hula_Pie_Hawaii_dessert_recipe

Next time you’re in Hawaii, go to Duke’s and order Hula Pie. But make a reservation or you’ll wait an hour+.¬†http://www.dukeswaikiki.com/

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Soft and Chewy Snickerdoodles

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Because if I wanted a crispy snickerdoodle to crumble into my coffee, I’d choose biscotti. But I want a soft and chewy cinnamon treat to bite into with my front teeth! I found this one a few years ago by Sara at Our Best Bites. It’s just perfection.

Soft and Chewy Snickerdoodles

Ingredients
1 3/4 cups sugar (12.25 oz), divided
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 1/2 cups (12.5 oz) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt*
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter* at room temp
8 tablespoons vegetable shortening
2 large eggs
*if using salted butter, just omit table salt

Instructions
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or use nonstick baking sheets.  Combine 1/4 cup sugar and cinnamon in shallow dish and set aside.  Whisk flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt together in medium bowl.

Beat butter, shortening, and remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar together on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3-6 minutes.  Beat in eggs, one at a time, until incorporated, about 30 seconds, scraping down bowl as needed.

Reduce speed of mixer to low and slowly add flour mixture until combined, about 30 seconds.  Give dough final stir to ensure that no flour pockets remain.

Working with 2 tablespoons of dough at a time, roll into balls.  Working in batches, roll dough balls in cinnamon sugar mixture to coat and set on prepared baking sheet spaced 2 inches apart.

Bake 1 sheet at a time until edges of cookies are set and just barely beginning to brown, but centers are still soft and puffy, about 10-12 minutes.  The cookies should look raw between the cracks and seem underdone.  Let cookies cool on baking sheet for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature.  Makes about 2 dozen 3-4 inch cookies.

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http://ourbestbites.com/2012/02/soft-and-chewy-snickerdoodles/

Deliciousness

Really, there is hardly anything better in the world than Eggplant Parmesan. If you’ve never cooked with eggplant, I urge you to try this very simple recipe. Even my kids ate it. Even the neighbor kid ate it! And it’s great for filling people up without meat. I think I found it on a recipe card several years ago, but a Google search showed me that it is a Food Network recipe. So credit to Juan-Carlos Cruz (http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/eggplant-parmesan.html).

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Eggplant Parmesan

Ingredients
1 cup Italian-seasoned bread crumbs
1/2 cup egg substitute
1 medium eggplant, sliced into 6 (1/2-inch) rounds
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, crushed and then minced
1 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
2 (15-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella
1/2 cup grated Parmesan

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Place bread crumbs on a shallow plate. Pour egg substitute onto another shallow plate. Place a wire rack on top of a cookie sheet. Take a round of eggplant, dip it into the egg substitute until fully covered, and then drag through the bread crumbs until completely coated; transfer to a wire rack. Repeat for each round of eggplant and then bake in oven for 15 minutes.

While eggplant is baking, heat olive oil in a 5-quart nonstick saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and saute until soft, about 1 1/2 minutes. Add the chili flakes and stir to incorporate. Add the crushed tomatoes and tomato paste and stir to blend completely. Bring to a simmer and simmer for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, stir in the basil, and remove from heat.

Remove eggplant from oven and leave oven at 350 degrees F. Line the bottom of a medium-sized casserole dish (about 13 by 11 inches) with the eggplant rounds. Pour the tomato sauce over the eggplant. Top with the cheeses. Bake for 30 minutes until cheese is soft and bubbly. Remove from oven and let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

February – The Worst Month of the Year

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I’m sorry. I try not to discriminate against any one month, but I can’t help it. February is the worst. I wanted to call this “The Bleakest Month,” but I am pretty sure “bleakest” is not a word. I looked it up and found that “bleak” means “lacking in warmth, life, or kindliness; not hopeful or encouraging.” Well. . . yes. That is the perfect definition for February. And the synonyms! These can lead you down a black hole of despair: gloomy, cheerless, chill, comfortless, darkening, desolate, dire, disconsolate, dismal, dreary, elegiac, forlorn, funereal, glum, godforsaken, lonesome, lugubrious, morose, sepulchral, sullen, sunless, wretched! Feel better? Me neither.

I try not to hate February because it is the month of my Dear One’s birth. He’s a lovely Pisces with a kind heart and he deserves to have a happy birthday. But it’s a struggle to make fun happen in February — unless we use it as an opportunity to get away to someplace warm!

Why is February worse than any other winter month? December is loaded with exciting distractions and beautiful celebrations, of course. January is bearable and filled with the possibility of snow days. By February? Please! We are “over winter” and any charms it may have held before we froze our fingers off, shrugged in and out of coats every day, and grew tired of being in the house with one another! March, which barely introduces spring, usually treats us to a few warm days, a week off school, and (here in the Midwest)¬†daffodils along the highway. We are so desperate for spring that we all rush to the zoo on the first day temps reach 50! Our banner picture for the spoon and the thimble was taken in March — on a hike — with NO COATS!

Some facts to read before this excruciating experience draws to a close. . .

February is the second month of the year in the Gregorian calendar and its predecessor, the Julian Calendar, and is the only month that has less than 30 days. It was named after the Latin word februum, which means purification because the month was a time for purification.

  • Middle English – Februarius
  • Latin name – Februarius mensis – Month of Februa
  • Latin – dies februatus – Day of Purification
  • Old English – Solmonath – mud month

History of February

The old Roman calendar considered winter a monthless period (sensible, truly), thus it only consisted of 10 months. The month of February was added, along with January around 700 BCE by Numa Pompilius so that the calendar would equal a standard lunar year of 355 days. February became the second month of the year around 450 BCE, although it was originally the last month of the year in the old Roman calendar.

February was shortened to either 23 or 24 days at certain intervals in the Roman calendar, in which a 27 day intercalary month was inserted after February to realign the year with the seasons. During the Julian calendar reform, the intercalary month was abolished and leap years were added every fourth year thus February gained a 29th day in leap years.

Second Month

February is the second month of the year in the Gregorian calendar and its predecessor, the Julian calendar, and consists of 28 days in common years and 29 days in leap years. It did not exist in the 10-month Roman calendar. It is considered the seasonal equivalent of August in the Northern Hemisphere. It is the only month that can pass without a single full moon.

February starts on the same day of the week as March and November in common years. During leap years, February starts on the same day of the week as August. Once every six years and twice every 11 years, the month of February will have only four full seven-day weeks, where the first day of the month starts on a Sunday and ends on a Saturday.

Let’s give ourselves a pat on the back for surviving another February.

Two more days, and we will be well on our way to spring! Yahoooooooo!

Four seasons in 40 seconds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lmIFXIXQQ_E