Friday, December 30, 2011

Cheers!



 
One of my contributions to this year's family Christmas festivities was a yummy cranberry-citrus cocktail mixer. This recipe is so easy and the result so delicious! It was a hit with everyone.

The Mixer
1. Finely grate the zest of one large orange and one lime. In a small saucepan, combine the orange and lime zests with 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 1/2 cup water. Bring to a boil, stirring. Make sure sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool. 
2. In a large container, put 2-1/2 cups cranberry juice (don't use cranberry cocktail as that is too sweet; I used Northland 100% cranberry juice). Stir in sugar water/zest mixture. Refrigerate, covered, at least one hour (I let mine steep a few hours). Strain and pour mixer into an airtight bottle. Can be kept in the refrigerator up to one week.

Cranberry-Citrus Cocktail
For each cocktail, combine in a shaker filled with ice:
4 ounces cranberry-citrus mixer
2 ounces vodka 
Shake well and strain into a chilled martini glass.
For a smaller drink, use 2 ounces mixer with 1 ounce vodka.
Cheers!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Sweet and Spicy Almonds


Every year at the holidays I make sweet and spicy almonds. They are the perfect blend of sweetness and heat (thanks to cayenne pepper!) and are always well received by family and friends. The recipe, from Everyday Food, is frequently requested so I thought I'd share it here. Double or triple the recipe so you'll have enough to serve at your New Year's Eve party. Enjoy!

Sweet and Spicy Almonds

Directions:
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spread 2-1/2 cups unblanched almonds on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in oven about 10 minutes, until fragrant. 

2) In a large bowl, combine 1/4 cup sugar, 1-1/2 teaspoons coarse salt and 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper. 

3) In a large skillet over medium heat, cook 1 tablespoon honey, 1 tablespoon water and 1 teaspoon olive oil, stirring until combined, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and add almonds; toss to coat. 

4) Transfer almonds to sugar mixture in bowl (do not scrape extra glaze into bowl) and toss to coat. Cool completely in a single layer before storing in an airtight container. The almonds keep up to two weeks (my bet is they'll be gone before then!).

Tip: when measuring the honey, coat the measuring spoon lightly with oil first. The honey will slide off the spoon easily. 
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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Décor

The tree is trimmed, the stockings are hung, the table is set with a wintry theme. A cute little Santa given to me by a friend for Christmas one year has taken his place on a table in the living room. Even though it feels like spring outside (no snow this year), the cheer inside our home and around town clearly feels like Christmas.

Earlier this month marked the one-year anniversary of My Little Bungalow. I'd like to thank everyone, especially my regular visitors and commenters, for all the support and interest you've shown this past year. I wish you and your family a joyous, safe and peaceful holiday and happy, healthy New Year.






Monday, December 19, 2011

Fudge Sauce

Homemade fudge sauce makes a sweet Christmas gift, especially when it's packaged in a cute canning jar and tied with pretty ribbon. I use this easy recipe from Real Simple magazine, found here.

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Fudge Sauce

Ingredients:
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
12 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I use semisweet chocolate chips)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Directions:
In a saucepan, combine heavy cream and corn syrup over medium heat and bring to a boil.
Remove from heat and whisk in chocolate until melted. Stir in the vanilla.
Pour sauce into jars and cool completely before covering or refrigerating, otherwise the sauce will become granular. The sauce keeps up to 1 month in the refrigerator.
To reheat a small amount of sauce (for one or two servings), microwave in a small cup for 10 seconds; check and stir. If needed, microwave another 5 or 10 seconds. Do not overheat!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Felt Poinsettias


To be quite honest, I am not very "crafty." I love the idea of making things. I clip articles and save interesting papers, ribbons and such with the best intentions of making beautiful things with them. But they tend to sit on a shelf, waiting. I admire people who are good at making things by hand. I want to be like that!

The other day I was on the Better Homes and Gardens website when I came across instructions on how to make these cute felt poinsettias -- a craft that doesn't require any sewing. I thought, "I can do that!" So I did. 

To make these flowers, you need only a few items: paper, felt, scissors, glue. You can use these as ornaments on the tree with a little string attached to the back, or as decoration on wrapped presents.

P.S. I skipped the whole freezer paper step (what is freezer paper, anyway?). Instead, I printed and cut out the flower and petal templates and traced them directly onto the felt using a ballpoint pen. Just be sure to cut out the shapes a tiny bit inside the outline so you don't see any of the pen marks. Couldn't be easier!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Bringing Home a Tree


Two weeks before Christmas is usually when we put up our Christmas tree. Today we went to our local tree lot and picked out a tree. At first we were contemplating a small tree, much smaller than usual. Then we saw another one, not as large as many trees we've had in the past, but it fits our space perfectly. Here it is on top of our Christmas-green Element.

We brought the girls with us; they enjoyed sniffing the garland.

Here is the tree before being decorated. The tree skirt I found at Home Goods last year after what seemed like an eternity of searching for one that didn't cost a fortune. I like the color, the quilting and the little beads all around the edge. The house is already starting to smell like pine -- such a beautiful scent!


Now it's time to decorate while enjoying some egg nog and listening to Christmas music on Pandora. It's a wonderful time of the year, isn't it?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

My Favorite Kitchen Tools

Recently, as I was busy cooking, I started thinking about the different tools and kitchen items I really love using and appreciate the most. So I thought I'd make a list of my top 10 favorite kitchen tools to share with you.
  1. KitchenAid mixer. By far, this is my favorite small appliance. I've had it for years and it's a dependable workhorse. I have a grinder attachment for it too which is handy for making fresh cranberry-orange relish at Thanksgiving.
  2. Wusthof Classic Ikon knives: a 17 cm chef's knife and an 8 cm paring knife. I especially love the chef's knife, which I asked my husband to buy for me as a birthday present one year. He gets a little nervous when I use it, but I'm very careful -- haven't cut myself yet (knock on wood).
  3. Braun immersion blender. Makes blending right in the pot a snap! And it cleans up easily. My mom gave it to me as a bridal shower gift many years ago. Love it!
  4. Regular, full-size blender. We use it frequently for making smoothies. It's starting to show signs of aging (in the form of an unpleasant smell), so we might be shopping for a new one before too long. Couldn't live without a blender!
  5. All-Clad odd-sized measuring cups: 2/3, 3/4 and 1-1/2 cup measures. These really do save time and are very convenient. I also have a set of odd-sized measuring spoons.
  6. Flat-sided chopsticks. Perfect for leveling off flour, sugar, baking powder and spices when measuring.
  7. Duralex glass bowls. The 11-piece set, made in France, ranges from very small to very large. They are so durable and practical!
  8. My mom's old wooden spoon and potato masher. I've had a special fondness for this particular wooden spoon since I was a little girl. Now I think of my mother whenever I use it. The potato masher is another old tool which makes the best mashed potatoes. I've tried other mashers, but they can't compare to this one. (A tip that I learned from my mom: use onion powder in your mashed potatoes for a special flavor - delicious!).
  9. Microplane fine grater. I use this mostly for zesting citrus fruits. It's also useful for grating fresh ginger.
  10. Pizza stone. I attended a Pampered Chef party several years ago and bought a stoneware baker, which I was never going to use (it was a purchase under pressure). A friend who had the pizza stone offered to switch with me. I use the stone all the time for making homemade pizzas.a
What are your favorite kitchen tools?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Home Fragrance


One of my favorite little luxuries for the home is Goldleaf fragrance mist by Thymes. Goldleaf is an incredibly rich, sensuous and romantic fragrance, described as predominantly floral with oriental and green notes: jasmine, rose, hyacinth and lily of the valley on a background of oak moss and musk. It is truly a lovely fragrance, and would make a great hostess gift at the holidays.

In addition to room spray, I have a Goldleaf candle and hand soaps in the bathroom. Other items in the collection include body wash, hand lotion, bubble bath, and eau de parfum.

What is your favorite home fragrance? Do you lean toward clean scents like citrus and florals, like rose or lavender? Or do you prefer spicy, earthy scents like musk, cinnamon or pine? What's your favorite way to scent your home?

Photo credit: Thymes This is not a sponsored post.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

My Favorite Banana-Walnut Pancakes


In my opinion, these banana-walnut pancakes are the best ever. I made the recipe my own, quite by accident really. The original recipe called for buttermilk, which on one Sunday morning, I did not have on hand. Instead of running to the store, I substituted equal parts of milk and yogurt. I also added cinnamon and vanilla to the recipe. If you don't like walnuts, pecans work nicely. If you're not a fan of nuts at all, you can leave them out. Chocolate chips, used sparingly, are a great addition!

Banana-Walnut Pancakes

1) Preheat oven to lowest possible temperature. In a large mixing bowl, combine 1/2 cup whole wheat flour, 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, 3 tablespoons light brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon.

2) In a liquid measuring cup, measure 1/2 cup of skim milk and add 1/2 cup of non-fat plain or vanilla yogurt and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract; stir well to combine. In a small bowl, lightly beat 1 large egg.

3) To the flour mixture, add the milk-yogurt combination, the egg and 1-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled. Stir with a whisk until combined and free of lumps, but do not over-mix.

4) Coat a large nonstick griddle lightly with vegetable oil and heat over medium heat until droplets of water sizzle. Working in batches, add batter in 1/4-cup portions. Top each pancake with 4 or 5 thin slices of banana and a few chopped walnuts (and chocolate chips, if desired). Cook until golden brown and tiny air bubbles form evenly on top. Flip and cook until other side is golden (reduce heat if browning too quickly). Transfer pancakes to a baking sheet in preheated oven and continue cooking the rest of the pancakes. Serve with warmed maple syrup and extra nuts, if desired.


The two baby pancakes below are for our dogs (with just banana slices). They're good girls and I like to give them a special Sunday morning treat every now and then.
Recipe adapted from Everyday Food.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thanksgiving Table


Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, with Christmas a close second. I love the simplicity of Thanksgiving: a time to reflect on all that we're grateful for. There's no pressure to give the perfect gifts. Thanksgiving is about spending time with family and friends, enjoying good company and a good meal. 

For the past several years, we've hosted Thanksgiving dinner at our home. These photos are from last year, but I'm setting the table very much the same way this year. To make the place cards, I used small cookie cutters to trace leaf and acorn shapes onto autumn-colored papers, cut them out, wrote our guests' names on them and tied them to the pear stems.

A few words about our silver place settings from Denmark. My parents received most of the pieces for their wedding in 1960. The pattern is very simple and modern -- just what I would choose today. Using it for special occasions brings to mind happy memories of my mom and dad. I am so thankful to have had them in my life.

Wishing you all a very happy Thanksgiving!
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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Pumpkin Spice Cake

Baking is one of my favorite pastimes, especially in the fall and winter. On a recent day off, after running errands and doing a few chores, I whipped up this pumpkin spice cake. I've made it before with the honey frosting called for in the recipe, which is excellent, but this time I didn't have cream cheese, so I topped it with a simple confectioner's sugar glaze instead. The next day I shared it with my coworkers. It was a hit! This is an easy recipe, so give it a try and wow your friends and family.
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Pumpkin Spice Cake

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9" square cake pan.

2) In a medium bowl, whisk 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 2 teaspoons baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon, 3/4 teaspoon ginger, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg and 1/8 teaspoon each of allspice and cloves (or use 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice instead of the spices listed above). 

3) In a large bowl, whisk 2 large eggs, 1-1/2 cups sugar, 1/2 cup unsalted butter (melted), and 1 can (15 oz.) solid-pack pumpkin puree. Mix until combined. Add dry ingredients to pumpkin and mix gently until smooth.  
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4) Spoon batter into prepared pan and smooth top. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean with a few moist crumbs attached, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool cake 10 minutes in pan, then turn out of pan and cool completely, right side up, on rack.

5) Spread top of cooled cake with honey frosting or drizzle with a simple confectioner's sugar glaze.

To make the honey frosting, combine in a medium bowl 1/2 cup of very soft unsalted butter, 1 bar (8 oz.) very soft cream cheese (regular or reduced fat) and 1/4 cup honey. Whisk until smooth. 

Recipe from Everyday Food

Friday, November 11, 2011

My Reading Corner


My cozy reading corner is in the guest bedroom (also known as the dogs' room because it's where we put their beds during the day so Phoebe can sleep in the sun). The whicker chair,  from Pier 1, is very comfy. The reading lamp is from Restoration Hardware, and the throw is something I knitted -- and yes, it took a long time to complete.

I am currently reading The Help and enjoying it very much. Have you read the book or seen the movie? On the floor beside the chair is a twig basket full of magazines -- my weakness. The one in front is House & Home, a Canadian magazine. I think it's one of the best out there now, with an eclectic mix of modern and traditional interiors. I was a huge fan of Country Home before it folded. I loved its "modern country" style. The day I received my last issue was a sad one. 

I recently subscribed to Country Living, a magazine I stopped getting years ago because it was too country. But it has gotten more "fresh and modern," as noted recently in the blog An Urban Cottage. So I decided to give it a try. Last week I received the November issue. I like the content -- though I wish there were more of it -- and the Thanksgiving dinner article is quite nice with beautiful photos. 

Okay, back to the guest room ... below is an antique dresser and mirror that my parents bought for me when I was a teenager. And there's Phoebe, not looking very happy because I had to close the blind to avoid overexposing the shot. She really is a sun-loving dog! She'll move around the room to follow the sun, choosing the hard floor over her soft bed just so she can be in the sun. The rug is an indoor-outdoor sisal-look rug that can be hosed off when needed -- perfect for a room where dogs spend a lot of time. After Winnie had an upset tummy once, my husband took the rug outdoors, hosed it off, gave it a good scrubbing and hung it over the fence to dry. No stains! I love practicality.

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The art on the walls above the chair are "bowls" made from nails. The round one is made of small brass nails, and another elongated one is made of larger, flattened nails. For those of you interested in paint colors, the walls are Crewel Tan by Sherwin Williams.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Front Steps

As I mentioned in my last post about our French doors, we also had the front steps repaired and painted recently. All the risers were replaced because the bottom ones were starting to rot, and everything received two coats of fresh paint. I love the color on the treads: Thunderous by Sherwin Williams. It's perfect -- darker than the house color but in the same family.

When it comes to choosing colors, I trust my husband completely, but I wasn't always so compliant. Paul is a color matcher in the printing industry, and he knows color. When  choosing paint colors, he flips through a swatch book and quickly hones in on the right shade. I, on the other hand, feel compelled to keep looking. When faced with so many choices, I find it hard to make a decision after looking at only a few. I would say, "What about this beige?" or "How about that green?" and my husband would say, very gently, "Too much red" or "Too yellow." In the end, it was always his original choice that I'd realize was the best. So here's what I've finally learned over the 16 years we've been married: when it comes to color, my husband is always right.


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

French Doors

Well, we've finally gotten around to finishing the French doors in the dining room. Finally! The doors are original to the house and were in bad shape when we moved in. Our house had been a rental for many years during its life, and some residents were pretty rough on it. The French doors had seen better days.

Years ago, someone had the not-so-bright idea to replace all the broken panes of glass with acrylic -- about a dozen in all. Then they painted the doors without taping off the panes and used a razor to scrape off the paint, leaving awful scratches. One pane was missing entirely. We took the doors to a glass shop and had the acrylic replaced with glass. Then the doors sat in our shed for a long time waiting to be painted. 

It was one of those, "I'll do it," scenarios. I kept insisting I would paint the doors, the front steps, and the shed. But my husband -- who has painted the entire inside of our home and has vowed not to do any more painting -- knew better. Every time he'd go into the shed, those doors would be in the way and he'd grumble about it. Finally I admitted that I wasn't going to do these projects myself and it was time to call a professional. In addition to having the doors painted, we had the front steps and shed painted and the house washed -- it's great to get this done before winter! 

Here are some photos before the doors were painted. I don't have photos of the scratched panes -- that was long before my blogging days so I never thought to take photos!

BEFORE ...
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AFTER ...

The paint is Benjamin Moore Bleeker Beige, which is the trim color in all rooms but one. The dining room wall is Sherwin Williams Pennywise.
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Hardware is on order from Rejuvenation: brass bevel-edge plates, unlacquered so they will develop a nice patina like the brass on the antique glass doorknob. If you haven't read about our doorknobs in this post, here's the story: when we bought the house, the doorknobs were plain, round, dark metal. They were probably old, but they weren't very attractive or in good condition. One day, while at a local salvage/antiques shop, we came across a large box of gorgeous old glass doorknobs. We bought enough for the entire house. They had been salvaged from an old hotel in town before it was demolished.

I've also ordered new hardware for the dining room built-in (which you can see reflected in the door below), and new outlet covers to replace the ones that are on the floor and have paint splatters on them. How long have we lived with these? Too long. My motto: take everything in stride and work on projects over time. The anticipation of home improvements is half the fun anyway, don't you think?
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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Jack-o'-lantern


Happy Halloween!
Today, our pumpkin became a jack-o'-lantern. Paul is the designated pumpkin carver in our house. Here he is flexing his artistic talent (and muscle) while tackling a very thick pumpkin that was a bit tough to carve. I think he did a very fine job. And he didn't cut himself!


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