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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thanksgiving Decor and the Prep for the BIG DAY!

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday!

I love the fact that it's about being thankful for the good things in your life and a time to celebrate with family and friends with a wonderful, traditional meal.

Kevin and I have had a lot of different ways of celebrating Thanksgiving over the years. When the boys were young we spent many years driving to Seal Beach, CA to spend Thanksgiving at his parents house with Kevin's brothers and sister and their families. I still to this day use my mother-in-law's recipe for the best darn cole slaw on the planet! (We use only a vinaigrette dressing- no mayo for us!)

We spent Thanksgiving for about 8 years in Mammoth Lakes, skiing and pre-ordering a Turkey Dinner from Safeway that we could easily assemble after a long drive and full day of skiing! We ALWAYS watched the James Bond marathon (well, I fell asleep after about 15 minutes) after dinner and kept watch for the bears raiding the 'bear proof' trash cans. It was always a fun trip and usually involved some friends and extended family on occasion.

The past few years in Klamath Falls we have celebrated Thanksgiving at home with lots of company. We've had up to 20 people for dinner...with most of them camping out on the sleeper sofa couch, air mattresses and the extras queen beds/futons scattered all over the house. All bathrooms are shared, copious amounts of alcohol are involved, Christmas Vacation is always viewed at least once (and quoted numerous times),  and lots of questionable answers to numerous board games are supplied, resulting in constant laughter. Also, as my brother-in-law Jim said on one memorable Thanksgiving, "Your house always smells GOOD!". I pride myself on providing amazing meals and appetizers the entire time.

This year, since we've moved to Carson City, NV, we will have a pretty small crew, compared to past Turkey Day celebrations...there will only be 5 of us.

Of course, all of the above will apply- the fun, food and laughter...but I also decided to make the table decorations especially beautiful. I'm retired, after all, and I have lots of time on my hands...

One of the blogs I read on a regular basis is An Oregon Cottage
I love Jami's wonderful ideas on crafts, decor and recipes.

She had a fabulous idea for Thanksgiving for table decor, so naturally, I stole it.

I decided to break out the Noritake 'Viceroy' wedding china since I went with a gold/orange/brown/white decor.
I also spray painted a lovely muted copper color some beautiful pine cones I found during our trip to Zephyr Cove a couple of weeks ago as part of the decor.(You know, the ones I baked to kill the bugs and glaze the pitch that made the kitchen smell like pine pitch for a week...)
The metal turkey at the end of the table I purchased at a holiday sale in Klamath Falls a few years ago ( for a buck!) ...and the gold leaves are snipped from some cheesy plastic gold glitter sprays I used a couple of years ago for a Christmas project.
I also broke out the 1847 Rogers. Bros. silver/gold ware that we got as a wedding gift. It was pretty tarnished, even though I use it for a full 2 months of the year each year! I decided to polish it with some all natural Norwex paste and an Envirocloth and it came out looking brand new! Did I mention that I am a Norwex Consultant? OK, the commercial is done... LOL. But if you are interested in the all-natural products or in hosting a party, let me know!

The tablecloth is....a beautiful shower curtain. I didn't want to use the ginormous, gorgeous, handmade Portuguese lace white tablecloth and napkins we received as a wedding gift (it has to go to the dry cleaners) so I ...cheated. OK, the end that has places for the rings is at the far end...but no one will know unless they read my blog...

I also have set up the beautiful cream colored gravy boat and salad bowl that my sister brought me as a Turkey Day gift a few years well as my vintage Turkey platter that I found at a guessed it...garage sale!

We've already got the Spode "Christmas Tree" pattern dishes out to decorate the China Hutch...
And I have already set up the entry way antique dresser as an appetizer/thankful station...

I totally stole this idea from Jami!
This will be filled with a cheese tray, nuts, veggies and fruits.
We will read whatever anyone writes as part of our Thanksgiving Day prayer.
Hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving...and that we will all humbly thank GOD at dinner for the good things in our lives.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Pumpkin Beer Cheese Soup and Pretzels!

Today we are expecting some real winter weather and Kevin requested 'soup' for dinner. It's snowing as I write...that is REAL winter weather, finally!!! We can't wait for ski season...
I recently found what sounded like a fantastic beer cheese soup recipe so I decided to try it tonight.
Since cheese soup goes really well with pretzels, I made a big batch of homemade soft pretzels!!
Alton Brown came through, once again, with a wonderful, easy, and incredibly delicious pretzels!
Thanks, Alton! (I've made these many times- some of you might remember the Lenten Family Retreat where we made these pretzels)

Before you get the pretzels going, do the following prep:

Peel and dice one onion
dice two stalks of celery
peel crush and mince 2 cloves of garlic
peel and dice 2 whole carrots
grate 3 cups of sharp cheddar cheese
grate 1 cup of Gruyere cheese

You have to start the pretzels before making the soup...
Here's the recipe...Alton Brown's Recipe for Amazing Homemade Pretzels
So ...first you take the yeast, kosher salt, warm water and sugar and let it proof...
then, add it to the flour in a Kitchen Aid Mixer with a dough hook and add the butter...

Mix on low until it comes together, then increase it to medium and let it go for at least 5 minutes until it's a silky ball of gluten developed goodness...

remove it from the bowl, clean the bowl thoroughly, and add a tablespoon of oil to the bowl and toss the ball of dough around in the oil. Put the bowl in the warmest place in the kitchen and cover with several towels. Let this sit at least 1 hour, until it doubles.
Dump it on an oiled surface (I just brushed my wooden cutting board with some oil) and proceed to divide! RIGHT after you heat the oven to 450 degrees...
I cut the dough in half, then in half again, then cut each half into 8 pieces. Roll each piece into a long thin rope (about 18" or so) and then loop into a pretzel shape.  Do the same with the other piece....and place each pretzel on a piece of parchment paper that has been sprayed with cooking spray. OK, PAM, or whatever version that Costco sells...You should have two trays of pretzels. 
Boil 5 cups of water with 1/2 cup of baking soda until it's at a hard and fast boil. Dip each pretzel into this boiling mixture for 30 seconds and put back on the greased parchment after boiling until all are boiled. They pouf up a bit from being boiled...make sure you use a slotted spoon to remove the pretzels- you do not want a lot of water on the parchment paper for the baking process.
Then, beat one egg yolk (you do have to separate the yolk from the white- the whites freeze very well in a ice cube tray that has been sprayed with cooking spray) and add 1 tablespoon of water as you beat the yolk in a little bowl. Brush the yolk mixture lightly on all the pretzels, and top each pretzel with a little kosher salt. Yes, you are supposed to use pretzel salt, but who has that in their pantry?
Put the trays in the oven for 14 minutes, rotating the trays after 7 minutes so they will brown evenly. 

When the pretzels are in the oven, start the soup.
Saute the veggies in 2 tablespoons of butter for about 6 minutes or so.  
Add 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes and 1/2 tsp of dried sage and 1 bay leaf to the saute. Let the spices go for at least 1 minute - or until you can smell their fragrance! 
Add 1/3 cup of flour to the mix and stir well. Cook and stir frequently for about 4 minutes. 
Add 2 cups of chicken broth (or veggie broth) 2 cups of half and half and 1 bottle of pumpkin ale. Stir well and cook for 5 minutes. Blend with a stick blender until everything is very smooth! 

Add one teaspoon of kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon of smoked paprika, and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper. 
Stir until well incorporated. 
Add one 16 ounce can of pureed pumpkin to the mixture and blend in well. 
Add 3 cups of shredded sharp cheddar cheese (trust me, you don't want to use mild cheese!!) and handful at a time, until incorporated. Add 1 cup of shredded Gruyere cheese to the mixture, one handful at a time, until well incorporated. Add a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (or more if you like) and serve! 

Serve with your delicious pretzels! 
Leftover pretzels freeze wonderfully well-I put mine in a freezer bag. When you need pretzels,  just pop them in a 450 oven on a sprayed pan for 5 minutes before serving. 
We like spicy, so if you don't like spicy, you might want to exclude the red pepper flakes and smoked paprika- but they are so yummy!!! 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Miley Cyrus and Wrecking Ball...and, me.

I know that I am a little too old to have been under the "Hannah Montana" spell....even my kids are too old for that...and I have sons who would not have watched it, anyways if it was around when they were kids/tweens. We had hordes of kids (mostly boys)  at my house after school playing Super Mario on the big screen TV because their parents weren't home from work yet and ...I was home...lots of Mountain Dew, chips and salsa, fruit-by-the-foot or whatever that fake fruit leather was called- Tostino Pizza Rolls...sigh- yes, I was THAT mom who fed your kids sodium filled crap after school- that, and roller hockey on the hardwood floors of the downstairs- or Youth Ministry meetings for Team Leaders...yah, a whole 'nother topic...some of you were there :) ha ha!! BUT- we had a lot of good conversations!!

But- I do watch the news, and read Mashable, and keep up with current events...I'm not THAT old, after all!! I know that Miley has talent as a singer, and as a 'celebrity'; although, I don't always appreciate her artistic ventures.  Especially the naked twerking stuff. Sigh.

I sort of get her, at least, this week, after watching "Glee".

I have to admit, "Glee" has been my guilty pleasure for the past few years. I LOVE music- all kinds of music- and they have featured a lot of music that I really like (read: know all the words and sing along) and other music that I have had to check out.

"Wrecking Ball" was one of those songs.

It was featured on "Glee" this past week...and it hit me pretty hard (well, I do follow the story line). I do understand the life of a high school student, having worked with them for so many years- and I know how a seemingly innocuous event could be life-changing.

I get why Miley did a video of 'Wrecking Ball' pretty much naked.
She was suffering. In pain. Wondering who she she lovable...she has been hurt.
I get it, now.
Poor girl.

I hope that all of the young people who hear her song know that they ARE loved- someone cares- and that life is not over or full of despair when you feel lonely, or unloved, or outcast.

Life will get better.

All of us go through times when we do stupid or bad things and we feel self-contempt...but the wonderful thing about life is that we can get better! We are not the sum of our weakness.
I want you all to think about a time when you did something you were ashamed of or something bad, or evil. That is not who you are!
You  CAN move beyond your worst moment.
The 'Wrecking Ball" can be a force for good and for hope.

I am filled with hope--but I know who I am.
I am lovable- I am good- I am worthy- I am a mature person who is still discovering all the amazing things I can accomplish!

Who are you?
I think you are awesome!

Here are the lyrics...

Friday, November 15, 2013

It Must Be Cold Outside...My Twinkle Star Orchids Are Blooming!!

A short post, but I hope you love the photo!

I bought two Twinkle Star Orchid plants at Trader Joe's in Rancho Santa Margarita in 2005 as a cute little 'decor' for our bathrooms while our home was up for sale. Orchids love a steamy bathroom and they were just so tiny and cute I couldn't go wrong!

Kevin brought them to me in March 2006 when I was longing for something green in Klamath Falls (it was still practically winter, then) He was still living in Rancho, getting ready to retire from the Sheriff's Department, and came to visit me for St. Patrick's Day weekend. The orchids made me so happy!

One of the interesting things about these orchids is that they bloom twice a year- in the late fall and in the late winter. I've kept them in a sunny window for the past 7 years...but I don't really have a shelf that is close enough to a sunny window in this little rental they are perched as close to the kitchen slider and full sunshine as possible!
They began to bloom this week....

The orchid is to the right of our White Ginger plant that is growing like crazy! Remember, we bought a 'stick' of a White Ginger when we were in Hawai'i in March earlier this year...isn't it beautiful?

Oh, and yes, I do use the molcajete on a regular basis to make salsa...thanks, Debbie Bloomgren for making me use one with fire roasted veggies! I still use the technique that you taught me so many years ago :)

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Retirement and the Lazy Girl's Way To Dinner

I know, since I retired I've been finding more and more ways to tantalize you with my cooking creations!
Once in a great while I just want something that is fast and easy for dinner. Like, last night. Well, I did make a fabulous souffle for breakfast...anyhow, I read quite a few blogs on cooking, crafting, 'how-to' and faith. A recipe that appeared in Martha Stewart Living Magazine has been making the rounds in the blogosphere, so I decided to test it out on Kevin. Yes, I am talking about...One Pan Pasta

It really is that simple!
I made some adjustments, of course...but basically you add the following to a large pan:

(I used my Jamie Oliver 12.5" professional series stainless steel fry pan)

12 ounces of linguine (I used spaghetti since we prefer it over linguine)
12 ounces of cherry tomatoes, halved
1 thinly sliced onion (I used a red one)
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (we like it spicy)
4 cloves of garlic thinly sliced
2 sprigs of fresh basil
This is my 2 month old Trader Joe's basil plant, still going strong!

I added:

8 small homemade frozen meatballs
1/2 green pepper, diced
2 tablespoons of capers

The recipe calls for 4.5 cups of water, but I used 1 cup of white wine (Pinot Gris) and 3.5 cups of vegetable stock. Talk about a punch of flavor!

Pour the liquids into the pan along with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and bring to a boil. Tossing the pasta frequently, boil until the pasta is al dente and the liquid is almost gone....about 9 minutes or so.

Serve with another tablespoon of olive oil and a little Parmesan if you like....and you probably will need some salt if you just used water.

This was delicious, easy and I only had to wash one pot, one knife, one cutting board, 2 forks, two plates and two wine glasses. Oh, did I forget to tell you to serve wine with dinner? We had this again for Sunday lunch...and probably for Monday and Tuesday lunch, too :) It makes a lot of food! Supposedly it feeds 4...but I am positive we will get 8 servings out of it! No salad or bread with this one!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Love my latest cookbook...

My friend, Jaena, sent me this 'coffee table' cookbook- she knew that she wouldn't make the recipes in it, but she thought I might! Oh Yay! LOVE this stuff!

I'm going to try and cook my way through this tonight, I tried the Chicken Garlic Lettuce Wraps and Blue Cheese Stuffed Poached Pear Salad!

For the Garlic Chicken Wraps:
Sauce dip:
2 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons of low sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons of Vietnamese (or Thai) fish sauce
1 tablespoon of sambal olek (chili garlic paste)
mix together and place in a small bowl for dipping and set aside

1 head of Bibb Lettuce, washed and separated into leaves

marinate the following together:
2 thin cut defrosted chicken breast pieces chopped into minced pieces
1 tsp. of red pepper flakes
2 chopped green onions
1" of peeled and chopped fresh ginger
3 large cloves of garlic, peeled, chopped
8 springs of cilantro, cleaned, stemmed and chopped finely
1 tsp. canola oil
1 tsp. sesame oil

For the chicken-
heat a small saucepan over medium and add the chicken/spice mix. Stir fry until the chicken is cooked and the spices are fragrant...about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

To assemble:

place a tablespoon of cooked chicken mix on a lettuce leaf; top with sauce, wrap and eat!

Blue Cheese Stuffed Pear Salad
1 whole ripe pear, peeled and cut in half- seeded

poaching liquid
2 cups of apple cider
(or 2 cups of red/white wine if you really want to go there)
1/2 split and scraped vanilla bean
1 stick of cinnamon
1 chopped star anise (if you have it optional)
boil and add the peeled and halved pear- boil at a low boil for 20 minutes. Turn the heat off and cool for an hour. Drain the pear halves.

stuff the pears with 1 tablespoon of blue cheese crumbles and top with homemade croutons. Serve over chopped greens...or serve with a drizzle of honey as a dessert. YUM!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Hot Soup on a Cold Night

I told you about the Reno-Gazette Journal's Food section...well, today I made an amazing soup that they posted in the paper on Wednesday that sounded like something we would love...Cream of Celery Soup with Carmelized Apples and Blue Cheese. Oh, Yah. That's what I'm talking about...this recipe was actually lifted from the Sunset Magazine Book, "Cook Taste Savor".
I have listed the original link to the recipe for you here...Cream of Celery Soup from Sunset Magazine
I didn't make too many changes since it turned out so fantastic!
First, I  cleaned and chopped 1 whole head of celery. I put this in my enamel lined RED Dutch Oven - well, it's the largest pot I have out of a box at this point! Next, I peeled and chopped 1 red onion. I like red onion better in a soup recipe than a yellow onion because it adds a little more, um, I don't know, something sweet and some pretty color to the dish, usually.
I also added a little butter and put the heat on medium.
Then, I chopped one Granny Smith green apple and tossed it with 1 tsp of softened butter in a fry pan over medium. I left that to caramelize...I did add some Blue Agave, since it's lower on the glycemic index and I just like a pour-able sweet, don't you?

Next, I added a sprinkle of celery salt to the celery/onion mix and all of the chicken stock...

and I let her rip for 25 minutes.
The recipe does not call for croutons, but I LOVE crunchy croutons in my soup, so I had an extra hamburger bun in the oven...and voila! Croutons!
A little olive oil, some smoked paprika, some garlic powder all tossed with some chopped up bits of hamburger bun- thrown in the oven on a cookie sheet for 5 minutes and we have crunchy tasty heaven!
While all that was going on, I checked the apple to make sure it was getting crispy...
then I added the half and half to the soup and broke out the stick blender...

and voila! We had a delicious soup!
I added some croutons, some blue cheese crumbles and the caramelized apples....
and deliciousness....for dinner.

Try it, you' ll like it!!!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Beautiful Tahoe...

Today we decided to make a road trip to check out several places in the Lake Tahoe area, as well as routes for winter skiing.
It was warm and sunny- around 54 degrees. We decided to take Bridget the Yorkie and a picnic lunch and make a day of it! Remember those cheddar biscuits? Well, they were fantastic with ham and Havarti cheese! We also took some home made dill pickles, celery with home made ranch dip and a couple of protein bars to go with out water bottles.
We drove up Highway 50 from Highway 395, which is very close to the house. We like Highway 50 going up the mountain because it's 2 lanes, 50 MPH and there is a cement divider between the eastbound and westbound lanes. It wasn't a worry today with dry roads, but in the winter when it's snowy and icy...that's another story.
It took us about 25 minutes to get to our first stop at Zephyr Cove. We found out that there is a dog friendly beach there, with nice picnic tables and stunning views of Lake Tahoe.
Kevin drove up Highway 50 so I could keep Bridget the Yorkie occupied. She just loved the short hike to the beach! We walked around these beautiful rock formations- it was low tide-and she snuffled and chased imaginary lizards and had a grand time while we admired the serene beauty of Lake Tahoe.

 That ugly monstrosity in the picture is the Tahoe of the tour boats on the lake.

I have to say, as we drove up Highway 50 I gasped at the beauty of the huge and incredibly blue Lake Tahoe. It is a stunning view from the road, nestled between the mountains.

I just love the fact that a wild pine tree is growing at the water's edge of the lake!

We met a couple of other folks who were walking their dogs on the 'dog-friendly' beach area. Bridget was not ready to play with them just yet :) We did perch her on a giant rock to try and get a cute picture but she DID NOT LIKE IT!
We drove to Stateline near the big casinos- Montblu, Harvey's, Harrah's and Lakeside. No view of the Lake from the road, so we kept going.
We decided to check out Ski Run Drive and the entrance to Heavenly Ski Resort on the California side. Kevin and I have skiied the Gunbarrel run many times in the is a super steep mogul filled tight alley surrounded by rocks...just my kind of black diamond adventure! Not sure that Kevin's knees  can do the 'bumps' anymore, but it sure looked beautiful! We are willing to try as soon as we have some snow!
We ended up brown baggin' it in the parking lot on the Nevada side...near the Stagecoach Lift.
It was just beautiful!
Everyone here is very hopeful for a nice snowy winter- after two dry winters, there are lots of empty stores and lots of properties up for sale.
A little snow is predicted for this coming weekend, with Opening Day scheduled for Nov. 22!!!
I'm just asking everyone to PRAY FOR SNOW!!
I drove home while Kevin kept Bridget occupies. I took the Kingsbury grade down to Jack's Valley Road...a lot quicker, even though it's 2 lanes, very twisty, no cement barriers and 45 MPH but it only took about 20 minutes to get home. Very pretty, scenic drive with great views of the entire Carson Valley all the way home! Sorry no pictures- Kevin had his hands full with a squirmy Yorkie!