Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Gearing up

For those of you that have your &%#$ together, it will come as no surprise that today is New Year's Eve. I do not have my &%#$ together and am in scramble mode—kind of. I did manage to go to the store last night, so that's something, and I did get some things in order. You know, important things like mixing up two batches of sangria and making cupcakes and cake balls

Despite the fact that the end of the year somehow snuck up on me, I'm looking forward to tonight. Dwight and I discovered that if we host a party every year, we don't have to leave the house for New Year's Eve. We're sly like that. 

I also like to play hostess and use my fun party gear. It's all about the accessories, I tell ya. Last year, I used some of my bonus money  to buy party gadgets, things like a buffet warming tray thingy and a bunch of fun things from Crate and Barrel. Golly, I love that place. Naturally it was all online shopping because, if it weren't for the internet, Dwight and I would be naked, living in a mostly unfurnished home, with no televisions, DVD players, iPods or cookware. It would be cold, uncomfortable and BORING.

ANYway. I get to drag out all of this fun hostess stuff and play Martha Stewart for the evening. Or at least a less foo-foo, less organized, less "Martha" Martha Stewart. 

I'm sure I'll take oodles of pics tonight, and I did take some last night of preliminary preparations, so I'll have lots to share tomorrow. You know, in 2009. 

Zoinks!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Eggnog


Dwight decided that he wanted to make eggnog this year—from scratch. He hates the store bought kind, so I was a little surprised at his interest. When I saw the recipe, however, it became a bit more clear. This stuff is lethal.

He found the recipe—and a pretty great video—on NPR. The story, "More Evidence That Eggnog Goes Better With Booze", discusses the issue of salmonella, seeing as eggnog is made with raw eggs. Turns out that there's no need to worry, at least with this recipe. The folks that dreamed it up are microbiologists and work in a lab. They tested the homemade stuff against the store bought, non-alcoholic variety and determined that, even when you add salmonella to the homemade version, the alcohol kills it. Nice.

Because of the ingredients and the way they are mixed, this stuff is almost like ice cream. Check out the gorgeous layer of cream that comes to the top of this mixture. It's insane. Insanely delicious, that is!

(Of course, you stir it up before consuming, but I just had to show how thick this stuff gets.)


So grab your cholesterol meds, schedule a month's worth of personal trainer sessions and give this recipe a whirl. I promise you'll love it, even if your heart won't.

Dr. Rebecca Lancefield's Eggnog Recipe
courtesy of NPR

1 dozen eggs
1 quart heavy cream
1 quart light cream
1 pint bourbon
1 quart rum
nutmeg
sugar to taste (1/2 - 3/4 lb)

Beat eggs, add bourbon and rum slowly with stirring to prevent precipitation of egg proteins. Beat heavy cream separately until it peaks and add to the egg/bourbon/rum mix.

Add the light cream with stirring. Add the sugar to taste with mixing, then add nutmeg to taste.

Leave standing at least overnight with lid slightly ajar in refrigerator. Serve after 2-3 weeks in the cold. (Or consume it immediately as we did!)

Post Christmas Musings

So I've gotten past Christmas and all that entails and am now setting my sights on New Year's. And if you're keeping track, that's like, 5 days away. Yowsa. Seriously, where did this year go?

I know that approximately half of my retirement savings went POOF! and I spent 2924.31 hours (as of 12/21) at work. Other than that, I'm stumped. I'm thinking the 2924.31 hours at work might have something to do with the feeling that this year came and went while I was distracted by something shiny. (Ha! I actually typed "shity" at first - Freudian slip or poor typing skills? I think it's a little of both.)

The other day I pulled some old ice cream out of the freezer because it had gotten gross. I'd clearly forgotten it was in there, otherwise it would have been long gone. Generally speaking, if there's ice cream in the house, it calls to me like a Siren.

I also discovered a mostly full carton of orange sherbet. I'd bought it for a non-alcoholic drink recipe I had on the menu for our New Year's Eve party. LAST New Year's Eve. I'd overlooked it, not realizing the significance that it resided in the freezer ALL year. Pulling that year-old sherbet out of the freezer was somewhat of a shock. And not just because it hadn't been consumed. It represented a year that slipped by while I wasn't paying attention.

I don't know where I'm going with this. I hadn't intended for the this post to go in this direction, it went there and dragged me with it.

What I'd planned to talk about is the seriously wacky weather we're having. Right now, it's almost 60 degrees. The snow is rapidly melting, creating fog that is quickly dispelled by the falling rain. There's talk of thunderstorms - in December! Just yesterday, some sort of emergency was declared and no one was to be on the roads because they were a sheet of ice. It was a skating rink out there. I know because Dwight and I were at work a 7am yesterday and came home around noon. It was shortly after we got home that we saw the "no driving unless it's an emergency" notice.

So now it's raining, the ice is melting (thank goodness) and my neighbor just checked her mail and wasn't wearing a coat - craziness. Of course, this is all temporary and the snow and freezing temps are just around the corner. I need to take advantage of the warm spell and get my arse to the garage and bag up the recyclables. They're out of control.

Hey, it's only Saturday, folks. I get another FULL day off work tomorrow. Can I get a "Woot! Woot!"?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Baking



In keeping with the homemade Christmas theme, I went a little crazy with baking and goodie boxes this year. I did some "easy" things, like Oreos dipped in almond bark and pretzels drizzled with candy melts.

But I also tackled some new cookies and and revisited old ones. Below is a pictorial list of most of the goodies I made this year:


In order to save time, I ended up not dipping the pretzels, just drizzled them with chocolate. I'd already made the tags and didn't feel like changing them!



As you can see, I also designed tags and packaged them all in cellophane bags. It was a lot of work, but I had fun doing it. (While opening and naming the photos, I noticed two typos on the tags - typical!)

Here's where you can find each of the recipes:
LinkBrown Butter Buttons at Food Gal from Baking for All Occassions by Flo Braker
Chocolate Candy Cane Cookies from The Pioneer Woman Cooks
Spicy Molasses Cookies from The Pioneer Woman Cooks
Snickerdoodles from Martha Stewart
Cake Truffles (cake balls) from Bakerella
Cinnamon Glazed Nuts from Barb Ruess at Quick Like a Bunny blog

I also made cinnamon rolls from The Pioneer Woman Cooks. They're fantastic and no kneading required for those of you adverse to such things. My family devoured them at Christmas brunch. FYI, I halved the recipe and it still made two 9x13 pans full.

Monday, December 22, 2008

'Twas the weekend before Christmas

And all through the house,
all the creatures were stirring, including my spouse.

The stockings he hung by the chimney with care,
in the hopes that the house wouldn't look quite so bare.

He assembled the tree and strung up some lights,
while I sewed up a quilt and baked some delights.


Now the house finally feels like it's holiday time,
trimmed with garland and ribbons and candles that shine.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Favorite Christmas Decoration


So far, this ceramic tree is the only Christmas decoration I've set out. My Aunt Kathy made it for me and gave it to me as a Christmas present in 1980. For each Christmas season thereafter, it sat on my dresser, acting as a nightlight. It came with me to college, spreading Christmas cheer during finals. It even graced my credenza at work because I spent more time there than home. I haven't brought it out every year, generally because I'm so busy, I don't do any decorating. But it is my favorite of all my Christmas things. I hope my niece feels the same way about the quilt I'm making for her.

I wanted to get a good picture of it but need to do some research on getting the exposure and settings just right. In the mean time, I had way too much fun messing around with long exposure times!




Sewing Rows and Random Images


I finally got a chance to get back to the quilt. I have to put away all of my sewing things as kitties think they look like a great place to nap and/or make great toys. So I pulled the squares out, set up three rows, and began piecing them together.


Rather than sewing one long row after another, I assembled the rows in blocks. Shorter sewing lengths = easier to keep neat, at least for me. I pretty much have very little method to my madness and fly by the seat of my pants.


I managed to sew and press three rows, at least as I have the quilt laid out now. It looks like I might want to add a few more "columns" now that I can see how wide it's going to be. A large border will help, too. I'm not looking to make this a true twin-size quilt for sleeping, more like a lap quilt for snuggling.

Now on to random images.


After months-going-on-years of wanting, I finally purchased my coveted Nikon D80 DSLR camera. They're really coming down in price as they are being phased out for the newer D90. It seemed like a great time to buy, so I pounced. I bought a kit with the 18-135mm lens and I think it will be a good set up for general use and especially outdoors. But I borrowed my boss's 50mm f/1.4 lens to see if I wanted to pony up for it over the f/1.8 version. The extra stop costs about $175, so I want to play around with it and see if I think it will be worth it.


One thing I do know—I LOVE the way the image "falls off" and the depth of field control I just can't get on my Canon A620 point and shoot. However, I definitely need to learn how to judge DOF and what will and will NOT be in focus. That f/1.4 has a crazy small DOF at close range.


But it's a lot of fun!
Click on any photo to enlarge

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I won!


I actually won a drawing. The Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day blog had a drawing a few weeks ago in celebration of the first anniversary of their book. I posted a comment about making bread and I happened to be one of the two lucky winners. I was so excited!

And check this out - Jeff and Zoƫ signed it!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Establishing the layout


What a great Sunday. The sun came out for a little while, I didn't have to work at all, and I made a lot of progress on the quilt. I got all of the squares assembled and pressed, then it was on to the layout.

I cleared the dining room table and went to work.

I kind of liked the first attempt but didn't love it. I got Dwight's opinion and tried out a couple of other options. Instead of the linear setup, I tried a 12-block repeat. I liked it, but thought the half-white, half-pattern blocks looked better in a linear pattern, but decided it needed to be more of progression of color than the first attempt.


I bought these particular colors and patterns with the thought of them transitioning from one to the next and I think the revised attempt was much more successful.


But then I took a look at the pictures, and the row of brown squares really jumped out at me. I removed them and simply shifted the rest over and BAM! I had it. Not hugely different than the first, but enough that it's just what I'm looking for.

Top: First layout
Middle: Better progression, but the brown is just too dark
Bottom: I think we've got it!

Next step: sewing all of these bad boys together!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

I love these bowls


How can I not? They're functional, nest ever so perfectly and are COLORFUL. I just wish I could have them out on my counter all the time. I love how they look all together like this. Separated from the rest, they are lovely, but kind of plain. But together - Ah! A symphony of color – a feast for the eyes – a cheerful display of form meeting function.

Yes, I get a little carried away, but things like this make me happy, as silly as it sounds. I love color and I love dishes. Put them together, and I'm over the top!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Making Progress


I've made some progress on the quilt. After laundering and pressing the fabric, it was on to cutting and assembly.


I got the idea for the pattern from Sharilyn at her lovelydesign blog. She has beautiful taste and gorgeous work. I'm anxiously awaiting the journey book I ordered from her. I fell in love with them the first time I stumbled upon her site. Check out that stack of paper, waiting to be turned into various books – delicious.

OK, back to the quilt. In the lovelydesign post, Sharilyn posted a link to a tutorial on a shortcut for making the triangle blocks. The Purl Bee does a much better job than I would of explaining, so if you're interested in step-by-step directions, check out their post. They really are a cinch to make, even for the quilting novice.



More to come!

Monday, December 1, 2008

I love craft stores


But they overwhelm me sometimes. There are so many choices. I wander around, feeling anxious and intimidated, seeing all of the possible crafty things I could be doing but don't have time for. And then I feel guilty, because that's what I do – feel guilty about silly things. See what being raised Catholic will do to you?

I do love craft stores, despite all of that. I just have to go in with a plan, which is what I did tonight. I bought the raw materials–literally–for my "homemade-only" family Christmas gift exchange.


It'll be really nice to be sewing again. Guess I'd better go dust off the sewing machine...

Friday, November 28, 2008

89 Hours


Corner of my pay stub for the week of November 17 thru 23.

89 Hours. I'm pretty sure that's a personal record. The crazy part is that 76 of those hours happened from Monday to Friday. The remaining 13 hours were spread over the weekend.

By far the hardest day was Friday. I was already tired from the 57 hours I'd worked over the four previous days. I thought the worst was behind me (us, really - Dwight ended up with 95 hours for the week). But I was wrong. By 2:10 am, I couldn't look at my monitor without feeling overwhelmingly nauseous. So I punched out (yes, I punch a clock), leaned back in my chair, closed my eyes and dozed.

Dwight was still working on his project, the one that had to get done. By 3:15, he decided it was time to go and the rest of the job would have to wait. We went home, stumbled into bed and passed out, only to be awoken 40 minutes later by a call from work. Dwight had to drive back to work to let someone in then came right back home. We slept until 10:30 which is crazy late for us, but clearly not in context. We worked only about 5 or so hours and just had to go home to crash. We got a good night's sleep and felt much better on Sunday.

We've been going like crazy ever since - not the ridiculously long hours - but long enough. I'm looking forward to a break, I just don't know when that's going to come.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Sweet Taste of Victory


This is how I kept myself occupied on election night. I prepared the dough the night before but did the rolling, cooking and decorating on Tuesday. I found a recipe for the cookies on allrecipes.com and would definitely use it again. Check out the recipe and read the reviews here.



I did a lot of looking around to find the right frosting. I knew I could make royal icing, but wasn't keen on the idea of using egg whites. I found what looked like a good alternative on allrecipes while looking for the cookie recipe. I also searched for decorating techniques and found a similar frosting recipe from a youtube video on how to "paint" cookies. There are 4 parts to the youtube series and I found them really helpful. Check them out if you're interested in having some fun with sugar cookies.

I didn't end up using a paint brush for these. I used quart size ziplock bags and piped the frosting instead. I used the toothpicks to spread around the frosting to fill in the shapes. The frosting self-levels, so you don't have to be too precise (clearly I wasn't!). I'm excited to give these recipes another go and refine the techniques. Be warned—the frosting is incredibly sweet!


Frosting (pulled from comments on youtube video):

2 lb. bag of powdered sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons vanilla (use clear if possible to keep icing white)
2 Tablespoons milk
6-10 Tablespoons water (start with 6 and add as necessary to achieve the consistency that you want)
2 Tablespoons Light Corn Syrup

Mix together until smooth. Divide and add food coloring as desired.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Now the waiting begins


I've done my part. My vote has been cast, or was at least filled out on the ballot. The ballot reading machine wasn't working, so now I'm a bit paranoid that it's not going to be counted. 

It was encouraging to see so many people in line. Polls open at 6 am so Dwight and I were there around 5:50 am. We emerged from the building at 6:17, so no complaints about the wait. Less than 30 minutes is fantastic, considering what I've been hearing about early voting lines. I've heard that some places have more early votes than were cast on election day in the last general election – that's amazing and exciting. 

Now the waiting and nail biting begins. I'm hopeful but still worry that I'll be disappointed yet again. 

Monday, November 3, 2008

Doing a Double Take


Teachers at Hawthorne Elementary School were doing double takes all day. Folks at Kroger stared a bit when someone kind of familiar stopped in. Pictures were snapped. Fingers were pointed. And Lisa had a blast.

My sister dressed as Sarah Palin for Halloween and did a bang up job, if I do say so myself. Her husband bought a McCain mask and the two of them were the talk of the trick-or-treaters as they drove two of their three kids around the neighborhood on their four wheeler.


Did they have fun? You betcha. Wink.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Halloween is tomorrow. Did you know that?


I seemed to have spaced that fact. I've seen it on the calendar. I know that tomorrow is October 31st, but for some reason, when the anchor on the local morning news mentioned something about Halloween being tomorrow, I about fell over. It was a huge shock. Holy crap. Halloween is TOMORROW.

Fortunately, D-Town bought candy over the weekend, so we're set on that front, but my sister and her family always come over to trick-or-treat in our neighborhood and I'm not prepared for that. I like to have real food for everyone to eat, since the festivities start so early that most folks haven't had time for dinner, myself included.

One good thing about this whole Halloween thing sneaking up on me is that we haven't had candy in the house for three weeks prior to the event like we normally do. Because of that, something miraculous has occurred. I haven't had ONE piece of Halloween candy. That's unheard of. I seriously think the Pope and the Miracle Verification Squad (or whatever they're called) can declare this a bonafide miracle. For a typical Halloween, Dwight and I tend to buy candy in two rounds – the first one for us, the second for the trick-or-treaters. Hey, you gotta make sure the candy is safe for the kiddos, right?

Happy and Safe Trick-or-Treating!
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