Monday, November 30, 2015

Making an Advent Wreath

This year we are starting a new Christmas tradition in our home: an Advent wreath. I've been looking at different ones on Pinterest. While I like the versions with all white candles, I wanted to go more traditional, using purple, pink and white. Each color and candle has a particular meaning. The circular shape of an Advent wreath is also symbolic, as is the use of greenery.

After searching online sources for an Advent wreath to purchase and visiting a few local stores but not finding just what I wanted, I opted to make my own. It's simple! First I purchased the traditional purple and pink taper candles, then I bought four inexpensive brass taper holders. From my candle stash, I dug out a white pillar candle from Ikea. Then I set each candle on top of a glass cake stand to elevate the display and protect the dining table from wax and sap. I asked my husband to gather some fresh evergreens as he was out hiking with the dogs. And voila, we now have a lovely, simple and inexpensive Advent wreath. We couldn't be happier with it.

Yesterday was the first Sunday of Advent and as we sat down to supper, we lit the first purple taper. Often called the Prophecy Candle, it recalls the prophets who foretold the birth of Christ and represents the anticipation of the coming Messiah. 

Next Sunday we'll light the second purple candle, which represents love. Sometimes called the Bethlehem Candle, it symbolizes Christ's manger.

On December 13, we'll light the pink taper, the Shepherd's Candle, which represents joy. On this Sunday, the priest's robe at Mass is also pink.

And on December 20 we will light the last purple candle, which stands for peace and is often called the Angel's Candle.

On Christmas eve, the white pillar candle in the center will be lit. This is the Christ Candle, which represents the life of Christ that has come into the world. With the lighting of each candle, we read a passage from the Bible and reflect on the true meaning of Christmas: the birth of Jesus.

What holiday traditions do you and your family follow? Please share by leaving a comment here. I'd love to hear from you!

Wishing you a peaceful holiday season.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Cranberry Sauce with Port and Cinnamon

Happy belated Thanksgiving! I don't know about you, but this holiday sure did sneak up on me this year, then it flew by! I took Wednesday off from work and used the day to run errands, grocery shop and cook. Pumpkin pie, check. Cranberry sauce, check. Applesauce, check.

On Thanksgiving morning, I went to the gym (it was open from 8 am until noon) and swam for 40 minutes -- my favorite way to start the day. Later, I watched the National Dog Show, a Thanksgiving tradition, while I dusted the living room and vacuumed during the commercials. Then I prepared the wild rice pilaf before going on a walk with my husband, our niece, Lindsay, and our dogs. It was an absolutely beautiful, warm day -- perfect for a walk!

This year, my husband's sister offered to cook the turkey, gravy, stuffing and corn casserole and bring them to our house, which was greatly appreciated. Our side dishes, in addition to the corn casserole and stuffing, were rice pilaf, French green beans (haricot verts), mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and applesauce. It was a delicious meal enjoyed by all present. My husband's mother was home with a cold and bad cough, and was sorely missed.

This year I tried a new cranberry sauce recipe I'd like to share. If you have the traditional turkey or ham for Christmas dinner, this cranberry sauce would be the perfect accompaniment. I found the recipe at, but added more sugar. If you like yours less sweet, try 1/2 cup or even the 1/4 cup of sugar called for in the recipe. Start with the smallest amount, taste and add more sugar if desired.

Cranberry Sauce with Port Wine and Cinnamon

1 cup ruby Port
2 cinnamon sticks
1 cup dried sweetened cranberries
1 bag (12 oz.) fresh cranberries, rinsed and sorted
3/4 cup water
3/4 cup sugar

1) In a medium saucepan, bring Port and cinnamon sticks to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer 5 minutes.

2) Add dried cranberries and simmer until slightly softened, about 3 minutes. Add fresh cranberries, water and sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves.

3) Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until sauce thickens and is darker in color and berries collapse, stirring often, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and let cool. Discard cinnamon sticks.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Easy Homemade Guacamole

It might seem a little odd to go from Christmas wreaths to a guacamole recipe in the month of November, but I had a hankering for guacamole recently and thought it would be a nice recipe to share here. I tend to associate guacamole with margaritas and summertime, but it can (and should) be enjoyed year-round. Try serving it at your next holiday cocktail party -- it is green and red after all. I found the little corn chip dippers at Trader Joe's. Scroll down for the guacamole recipe.


2 avocados, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup minced red onion
1 medium jalapeno chile, minced (remove seeds and ribs for less heat)
1 plum tomato, seeded and diced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 to 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

In a bowl, combine all ingredients. Season with coarse salt and mix to combine, mashing slightly. 

If making it an hour or two in advance, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the surface of the guacamole to remove as much air as possible, therefore preventing it from turning brown. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Christmas Wreaths

I am so looking forward to the holidays! It has been pretty warm where we live, until recently. Usually the cooler temps help put me in the mood for Christmas. Looking at all the pretty decorations online and browsing my Christmas board on Pinterest -- and pinning new ideas -- also gets me in the holiday spirit.

Cindy's recent post on Rough Luxe Lifestyle featured transitional holiday wreaths, and was my inspiration for posting the following wreaths that I particularly like. From traditional to contemporary, any of these wreaths would make a lovely addition to a front door or over a mantel. I'm not sure which is my favorite. Take a look and let me know your favorite.

LL Bean

LL Bean




If you're crafty, you can make a jingle bell wreath like this one from Martha Stewart to hang over a doorknob. This photo is one of my favorites. I love the French doors with their white ceramic doorknobs and ornate silver escutcheons!

You can't get more Southern than a magnolia leaf wreath! They're seasonless and look pretty at Christmastime, either plain or with bits of evergreen and a bow.


Pottery Barn


A felted wool "snowball" wreath -- handcrafted in Nepal -- is a fun, contemporary spin on a holiday wreath, and it's perfect for an all white interior or a black front door.

West Elm

Which wreath would you choose for your home?

Monday, November 9, 2015

Quinoa Vegetable Soup

I've had this recipe in my three-ring recipe binder since 2009, but just made it for the first time last week. I have so many recipes waiting in the queue; it's fun to pull out my book from time to time and try something new.

I'm sure you've heard of quinoa, but may not know much about it. It's pronounced "keen-wa" and is a good source of protein, containing all 9 essential amino acids. Did you know that quinoa is a seed, not a grain, though it is frequently referred to as a whole grain? It is actually in the same food family as spinach, Swiss chard and beets! It is gluten-free, cholesterol-free and very easy to prepare. Learn more about it here, here and here.

I altered this soup recipe from the original, omitting the zucchini (which my husband appreciated), increasing the amount of carrot and celery, reducing the amount of veggie stock and substituting water to make up the balance, and not using the cilantro (another change my hubby appreciated). This soup is heavy on cumin, a spice that has a very distinctive flavor and aroma. If you're not keen on cumin, lessen the amount or omit it. I happen to love it, but my husband thought it was overpowering in this soup.

If you wish to use the zucchini, dice two small zucchinis and add along with the corn, pepper and garlic. If you like cilantro, add 1/3 cup chopped cilantro at the end of step 4 when you season with salt and pepper.

Quinoa Vegetable Soup

1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained in a fine-mesh seive
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
4 carrots, peeled and finely diced
4 stalks celery, finely diced
1 cup frozen yellow corn kernels
1 red or green bell pepper, finely diced
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons coarse salt
8 cups vegetable stock
4 cups water
1 28-ounce can whole, peeled tomatoes, chopped, liquid reserved
1 tablespoon ground cumin (less, if you wish)
2 teaspoons ground coriander

1. Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add rinsed and drained quinoa and stir constantly for 10 minutes, until moisture evaporates and quinoa becomes golden. Set aside.

2. Heat oil in a large, heavy stockpot over medium-high heat. Add onion, carrot and celery. Saute for 12 minutes. Add corn, red or green bell pepper, garlic and salt. Saute 3 minutes longer, or until vegetables begin to release their juices.

3. Add stock and water, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Stir in the toasted quinoa, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes or until quinoa is almost tender.

4. Add tomatoes and their juice. Stir in cumin and coriander. Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or until quinoa is tender. Season to taste with freshly ground pepper and more salt, if desired.

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