Thursday, December 31, 2015

Decorating with Antlers

Antlers are popping up everywhere -- in decorating, that is. Never one to jump on the trends bandwagon too soon, I finally came to the conclusion that I'd love a pair of antlers in our home. Pine cones, turtle shells, stones, sea shells and other found objects from nature are some of my favorite elements in decorating.

One evening, while flipping through an Eddie Bauer catalog, I mentioned to my husband that I would love a pair of small antlers like the ones featured throughout the catalog. I actually found some for sale on Etsy, but my husband said he'd ask one of his coworkers, who is a hunter, if he might have some extras he wouldn't mind parting with. And, he did! I came home from work one evening and there were two beautiful, perfectly sized deer antlers. How lovely they are! They feel so nice to the touch, both smooth and bumpy. I love how they look in this bowl on the coffee table. Paul tucked in sprigs of greenery with red berries, perfect for the holidays!

What little things around your home make you happy?

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Week Between Christmas and New Year's

Hi there! How was your holiday? I hope it was peaceful and happy. Ours was lovely this year. We stayed close to home, spending Christmas eve day with family. Lunch consisted of two types of chili as well as vegetarian, gluten-free posole, various toppings, corn bread and a delightful lemon mousse that our niece made for dessert. I brought chocolate-peppermint thumbprint cookies.

We arrived home around 6:30 in the evening, took naps and went to church at 10:45 for midnight Mass, which started at 11:15 with carols and meditations. I love midnight Mass! The church looks even prettier than usual with its lit trees, wreaths and mounds of red and white poinsettias. There is incense and beautiful music rich with instruments such as guitar, violin, trombone and trumpet in addition to piano and organ. Our choir of talented singers included some who are classically trained and performed amazing solos. The church was packed, many of whom unfortunately come to church only at Christmas and Easter. It is always my hope that the service will touch their hearts and they'll feel moved to attend Mass more regularly. We have a wonderful priest who has a great sense of humor and delivers wonderful homilies.

Now here we are in the week between Christmas and New Year's. Our tree, which we lit with 300 colored lights, but left unadorned this year (a first) will stay up until after New Year's day. As seen in the photos above, a beautiful amaryllis bloomed prior to Christmas. The dining table decorations (real and faux pine cones) will remain through winter. The Nativity is displayed on an end table in the living room and will be put away when the tree goes – though I could keep it out year-round, I love it so much.

I have next week off from work, which I am really looking forward to. I plan to finish a book I'm reading called All the Light We Cannot See, do some baking and cooking, get back into knitting and create some new blog posts. I also have to take care of some necessities, such as renewing my driver's license, which expires on my birthday in January. We also have plans to attend a New Year's Eve party at our neighbor's house. It'll be an early evening gathering, which suits us just fine!

When I share my next baking post, I'll fill you in on some interesting news about my relationship with wheat. I'm pretty excited about it. Meanwhile, I wish you a safe and happy new year!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Kale and Pumpkin Smoothie

I love to make smoothies for breakfast. I experiment with all kinds of ingredients. My standard breakfast smoothie contains:
  • Low-fat or fat-free yogurt
  • Almond, cashew or soy milk
  • A scoop of whey protein powder
  • Banana (fresh or frozen)
  • Some local honey
To this base I add various ingredients from this list:
  • Frozen blueberries and/or strawberries
  • Walnuts
  • Ground flax seed
  • Dry, uncooked oats
  • Raw kale
  • Cinnamon
  • Cayenne pepper (just a touch goes nicely with chocolate protein powder)
  • Canned pumpkin puree
  • Almond butter or peanut butter
This morning, after a swim at the gym, I made a kale and pumpkin smoothie for breakfast. From the list above, I included everything except protein powder, the frozen berries, cayenne and the nut butters. I like smoothies on the thick, chunky side, so little bits of walnut or kale makes it substantial. 

I think this kind of breakfast is great brain food and boosts your immunity. My goal is to stay well and healthy throughout the holiday season and not get sick right around Christmas like I did last year! 


Monday, December 14, 2015

Making a Jingle Bell Wreath

One of my favorite images on my Pinterest Christmas board is that of a jingle bell wreath from the Martha Stewart website. This year I decided to make one, or should I say I decided to ask my handy husband to make one. He's such a good sport. When I say I'm not very good at crafts, I mean it. I get really frustrated when things don't turn out as I want them to (see bow above as example A).

Naturally, Martha uses fancy, expensive bells from a specialty store in New York City to make her wreath. Not having such a resource nearby, we visited a couple of local crafts stores, finding some decent ones at Hobby Lobby. They are shinier and less expensive than the ones we saw at Michael's. I bought two containers of 20mm bells (150 total) for only $6.98 (they were 50% off). At Michael's the same amount of slightly smaller bells (18mm) would have cost $21.

Paul bought 16 gauge galvanized wire at Home Depot. He paid $6 and some change for a 200-ft. roll. We ended up with enough bells for two wreaths and spent less than $14 on supplies.

How to make a jingle bell wreath:

Step 1: Cut a 19" length of 16 gauge wire (tip: measure a length of string, then run the string along the wire to get the same length without having to straighten the curved wire). Using jeweler's pliers or small needle nose pliers, make a small eye on one end of the wire. 

Step 2: Start threading the bells onto the wire, twisting them in needed to get them to nest snugly together.

Step 3: When you have strung as many bells on the wire as you can, form the other end of the wire into a small hook and insert the hook into the eye on the other end of the wire.

Next it was my turn to embellish the wreath with a bow (Paul draws the line at bow tying!). My mom was an excellent bow maker. Clearly I didn't inherit that gene. I have lots of nice ribbon, but I always end up making the simplest of bows. For this wreath, I wanted it to look special, but I knew it wouldn't turn out like Martha's. 

The first bow I made was the silvery one below. Paul thought it looked great, but I wasn't completely happy with it (oh, the joys of being a perfectionist). There's a crease in the tail on the right side which bothered me, and it didn't look as pretty as I had hoped (though I must say it does look rather nice in the photo). 

I returned to my ribbon box and found a satiny gold ribbon, which I thought coordinated well with the brass hardware around the door knob. Paul helped me attach it to the wreath with some fishing line, which worked perfectly. 

What kinds of crafts are you making this holiday?

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Pumpkin Pecan Bread


Halloween and Thanksgiving have passed, and we're in the throes of Christmas and Hanukkah preparations and celebrations. It feels like winter, but it is still autumn here in the northern hemisphere (the first full day of winter isn't until December 22) -- and autumn is the perfect time of year to cook with pumpkin. 

Last weekend I whipped up a loaf of pumpkin bread studded with pecans. Whether you use homemade pumpkin puree from fresh pumpkins (too much work for me!) or the canned variety (my choice is Libby's brand), this bread is a delicious treat any time of year. For extra pumpkin goodness, try a slice topped with Trader Joe's pumpkin butter. Delicious!

As you may know, I follow a gluten-free diet so I use a flour substitute when baking. Instead of my tried and true Cup 4 Cup brand (I was out and Whole Foods was also out of stock), I tried King Arthur Gluten-free Multi-purpose Flour. The end result was mixed: the taste was excellent, but the texture was gritty the day I made the bread. The next day, however, it was much better. The grittiness was gone, the texture was still crumbly, and the taste delicious. I'm still a fan of Cup 4 Cup, but it's good to know this less expensive brand is a decent substitute.

Some variations on this recipe include adding 1/2 cup raisins or dried cranberries to the flour mixture before adding the liquid ingredients. You can also top the cooled bread with a simple confectioner's sugar glaze, though I think it's sweet enough as is.

Pumpkin Pecan Bread

Nonstick cooking spray
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour or gluten-free flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
2 large eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1) Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9"x5" loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray.

2) In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, nutmeg and ginger until combined. Stir in nuts. Make a well in center and set aside. 

3) In a medium bowl, using a wire whisk, lightly beat the eggs. Add the granulated sugar and light brown sugar and whisk until smooth. Add the pumpkin puree and stir until well combined. Gradually whisk in oil until well blended. Stir in the vanilla.

4) Pour the liquid mixture into the well in the center of the flour mixture and stir until combined. Spoon batter evenly into the prepared pan.

5) Bake until golden brown and a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Remove pan from oven and let cool about 10 minutes. Turn the bread out onto a wire rack and let cool completely.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Chocolate-Peppermint Thumbprints

Bite-sized. Chocotately. Pepperminty. What could be better? These little cookies were a hit when I brought them to a staff meeting at work last week. They're a nice cookie for the holidays. Give them a try!

Chocolate-Peppermint Thumbprints

2 cups flour, spooned and leveled (for gluten-free cookies, use an equal amount of Cup 4 Cup flour substitute)
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
1-1/4 cups unsalted butter (2-1/2 sticks), room temp
1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
5 ounces semisweet chocolate chips (about 3/4 cup)<
1/2 teaspoon pure peppermint extract (See note below)

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. with racks in upper and lower thirds of oven. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder and salt. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat 1 cup each butter and sugar on medium-high until light and fluffy, 3 minutes. Add egg and vanilla; beat to combine. With mixer on low, gradually add the flour mixture and beat to combine.

2) Place 1/4 cup granulated sugar in a small bowl. Roll dough into 1-inch balls, then roll in sugar to coat. Place balls 1 inch apart on two cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake 5 minutes. Remove sheets from oven. Using the bottom of a small measuring spoon (I used 1/2 teaspoon measure), make an indentation in the center of each cookie.

3) Return sheets to oven and bake until cookies are just set, but still look moist, about 4 to 5 minutes (do not overbake). Let cool on sheets on wire racks.

4) In a microwave-safe bowl, microwave chocolate chips and 1/4 cup butter in 10-second increments, stirring each time, until melted. Stir in peppermint extract. Let cool until thick enough to pipe, about 5 minutes. Transfer mixture to a zip-top plastic bag and snip a 1/4-inch hole in one corner. Pipe chocolate into cookie indentations. Alternately, you can spoon chocolate mixture into indentations and skip the zip-top bag. Store cookies in an airtight container to up to 1 week.

NOTE: Instead of peppermint extract, you can use 3/4 teaspoon peppermint flavor. I used Simply Organic brand, which is a blend of sunflower oil and peppermint oil. I emailed the company to inquire about how much to use. They replied that their peppermint flavor is not as strong as peppermint extract. The general guideline is to begin by adding 1/3 more than what is suggested in any recipe that calls for extract.

This is not a sponsored post. Recipe from Everyday Food.
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