Monday, November 30, 2015

Glammed Up Pumpkins

The theme for my Thanksgiving tablescape this year was pumpkins, and it actually all began with some resin pumpkins I found back in September at the Dollar Tree. A little time and some paint, and Voila! Glammed up Dollar Tree pumpkins!

Here's the thing about Dollar Tree - it may still be summer when they put out their Fall decorations, but you have to be ready to snatch things up. If not - they're gone! So, I picked up a dozen of these a few months ago and just held on to them. (They do get more Christmas stuff than other seasons, so they still have a good bit, but don't dawdle! Go see what you can find!) 

I liked the texture, but the orange was a little too Halloween-y for me. And, as you can see below, they were lightly covered in glitter. I'm all for glitter, but it just didn't work for me on the orange. I wanted something a little more elegant, so I picked up some paint...

These acrylic paints sell for less than a $1 at places like Walmart and Hobby Lobby. I do think the gold was closer to $2, but that's OK. It took just a little so I have a lot left for another project one day.

I began by using a paint brush with just a little paint. The texture was almost like a net, and it caught the paint nicely without completely covering the orange and brown undercoat.

I gradually added more paint but tried to be careful not to make them solid white. These were the first two I did. I used a lighter hand on the rest, and I really liked the later ones best. I let them dry overnight so I could handle them easily, and then I used a small paintbrush to paint the stems and leaves gold.

The acrylic paint worked beautifully! I think they're very pretty and were just the right touch for each place setting. If it had been a more formal dinner, I would have probably made nametags and tied them with thin gold cording to the stem. 

So these were the little pumpkins that started it all! I've already packed them away, but I'm thinking of other ways to use them in the future. A dozen reusable pumpkins for about $15 all in! Not bad, huh?

I'm so glad you stopped by my neck of the woods!
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Sunday, November 29, 2015

Thanksgiving 2015 Tablescape

Yesterday I shared the pumpkin-themed invitation I sent to our guests for Thanksgiving this year. Today, I'm showing you my tablescapes. I think they turned out beautifully!

I hit the motherlode several years ago when I found my Friendly Village dinnerware by Johnson Brothers. If you haven't heard this story, you can get up to speed here. I use these for Thanksgiving each year, so I try to make the rest of the tablescape new and fresh. I swap out flatware and stemware and use various tablecloths, and try to buy as little as possible. This year, I spent very little - mostly just on a couple of crafts, and I'll share those over the next few days. I'm really pleased with the results!

I was able to get all the ladies at my dining room table. I borrowed a couple of chairs from my mother to make it work. It was a little tight, but we enjoyed being able to sit together. We lingered at the table for quite a while after lunch.

The gold chargers came from Big Lots years ago. Now you can get them at Dollar Tree. Good thing as I broke one as I was cleaning up Thursday night. The flatware (Abigail Gold by Hampton)  is a set I got at Target years ago. Not an expensive set at all, but the gold accents picked up the detail of the pumpkins as well as the chargers and the brass candlesticks. The stemware is part of my everyday set I got when we married. It's called Sweet Swirl by Noritake.

Here's a close up of my pumpkin craft as well as the centerpieces with tiny, dried baby pumpkins! Aren't they sweet?! I'll post more about these later.

I borrowed these pretty delicately detailed brass candlesticks from Mama to supplement my own collection.  You can also see the pretty table runner in the picture above. I found these at the Dillard's clearance center a couple of months ago. I think they were $3 each. I snagged two!

I used my white linen tablecloths, as usual, and then layered them with some new napkins I made. I have a set of unbleached cotton napkins that I have used with everything for years, but they've started to show their age and had a few lipstick stains I couldn't lift, so I decided it was time for new ones. I found this beautiful muslin at Walmart for $3 a yard. That's right! I said muslin! I cut generous 18" napkins and then hemmed them with natural thread. I got 4 napkins per yard, so .75 cents each! When I got them out of the dryer Friday after laundering them, I was so excited, because they washed and dried beautifully! No shrinkage! I made a dozen of these for less than $10.

Several of the men ended up in the living room in front of the TV, but my husband, my Daddy and my FIL, along with a few others, sat at the kitchen table. I can only get six at that table, so I adjusted my decorations a little.   

I didn't have enough gold chargers to go around, so the men got these pretty wooden looking ones by Better Homes and Gardens that I got on clearance at Walmart after Christmas last year. I also used my everyday flatware set (Austen by Yamazaki) for them.

This view of the kitchen table gives you a good look at the swags I made for the backs of my chairs. I loved the ones I made for my last Miss Manners party so much that I left them hanging on my chairs for over a month! I always hang our Christmas stockings from the chairs during the holidays, so I decided to come up with something special for Thanksgiving. I love the fabric I used - it's so earthy. I will be taking these down soon to hang our stockings, but I think they'll be back up again next fall. They were so simple. I'll show you how to make them later this week.

Finally, I took some time to decorate the mirror in my dining room. I like it a lot, and I think I'll leave it up through the holidays. It reads...

for the food
the friends and family
and the love

I hope you enjoyed a look at my Thanksgiving 2015 tablescape. Over the next few days, I'll share several of the projects you saw today. They could be easily adapted for Christmas or other holidays. I hope you'll be back to see them!

I'm so glad you stopped by my neck of the woods!
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Saturday, November 28, 2015

Thanksgiving 2015...The Invitation

Well, Thanksgiving weekend is drawing to a close. It's been a wonderful time to enjoy good food, but more importantly, good company. This was our tenth year to host Thanksgiving at our home. Gerald once told me that Thanksgiving was his favorite holiday. Since he works so hard to help me prepare for all the parties we host, I took his statement and ran with it!

We generally have a large group at Thanksgiving, and this year was no different, even though a few of our "regulars" weren't there. We are so blessed to have such a wonderful "extended" family. In addition to my parents and Gerald's parents, both my brothers and their families were here, as well as one of my sisters-in-law's parents, and her siblings and their families! Our families always enjoy being together, and this past Thanksgiving was no different.

I decided to send out a formal invitation this year. I have really enjoyed the Stampin' Up club I'm in, and I was inspired to create a handmade invitation for the occasion. Although - most of the things I used for this invitation came from my pre-Stampin' Up stock. 

I had found some resin pumpkins at Dollar Tree that were my inspiration for this year's decorations, so I went with pumpkins on the invitations as well. I'll show you how those dollar pumpkins turned out soon, but I figured the best place to start was with the invitations! 

I think they were simple, yet elegant, and I love the traditional Fall colors.

I found an artisan on Etsy that makes custom stamps, so I had one made not too long ago. I stamp the back of all my cards and invitations now. I really hope that those who receive the cards enjoy them as much as I enjoy making them. It's nice to hold something pretty in your hands that you know someone made just for you!

Consider this your invitation to stop back in over the next few days to see everything from the crafts I made to my tablesetting. I enjoyed doing it all, and I hope you'll enjoy taking a peek at our Thanksgiving!

I'm so glad you stopped by my neck of the woods!
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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Holiday Poundcake

Everybody loves Wednesday, right?
The week's half over.  The weekend is on the way.
What's not to love?
Each Wednesday, I want to share something with you
that I absolutely love and can't live without!

My book club got together last week. We had last met back in late February and discussed the book "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society" by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer. It was about a group of people who survive the hardships of World War II by developing a book club of sorts. They met regularly and each member reported back on the book they have been reading. It was a wonderful book, and we thought that having a "free book" meeting might be fun. So we decided at the next meeting, we'd each share a book that we have read that we really enjoyed and had an impact on us. Everyone shared their selections in simple two minute summaries. (No spoilers!)

My cohort, Nancy, provided her home. Everyone else brought a finger food, and I provided dessert. Today I'll share with you the recipe for the delicious cake I made. I'll give you the list of books that were recommended in another post soon.

I love poundcake. I have a basic sour cream poundcake recipe that is my go to dessert. It serves a million and is always delicious. However - last week, I saw a recipe on Facebook that looked great, but then I couldn't locate it again. I remembered it was called Christmas Poundcake, so I looked for it on Pinterest...and found a dozen different ones! So - I combined three recipes (all the things I liked about each one) and came up with what I'm calling Holiday Poundcake. It.Was.Divine!

Holiday Poundcake

For the cake
1 1/2 cups plus 3 tbsp cake flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 cup fresh cranberries
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1 stick of butter, at room temp
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 block light cream cheese
2 tbsp light sour cream
1 tbsp half and half
zest of one orange
juice from half an orange
2 tbsp browned butter

For the frosting
1/2 stick butter, softened
1/2 block light cream cheese
juice from half an orange
"enough" powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9"x5"x3" loaf pan. Set aside.

Combine cake flour, baking powder and salt. Sift three times. Set aside.

Whisk egg and vanilla by hand. Set aside.

Mix butter on medium speed until creamy. Add sugar and continue beating until mixed and creamy. Add cream cheese, sour cream and half and half. Combine well.

Turn mixer to low and alternately add flour and egg mixtures, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Do not over beat.

Rinse cranberries and discard any that are shriveled.

Toss white chocolate chips in flour to coat. This keeps the chips from sinking.

Gently fold in cranberries and chips. Again - do not over mix.

Note - I forgot to add my orange zest earlier, so I added it after the berries and chocolate. Really, it should be added while the batter is being mixed.

While making batter, melt butter over low heat until slightly browned.

Spoon batter into the greased pan and smooth. Hit it on the counter a couple of times to remove air bubbles. Finally, pour the brown butter on top and tilt pan to swirl butter to cover entire top of batter.

Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour and a half or until a toothpick comes out clean. The butter will cause the cake to brown more deeply, so I had to cover it about an hour in and then uncover at the end. Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes in the pan and then turn it out to cool completely.

Once the cake is cooled, mix up the icing, adding enough powdered sugar to get the right consistency. (Mix everything but the powdered sugar and then add sugar until it looks and feels right.)

Drizzle glaze on top.

I had extra glaze so I put it in a bowl to serve on the side. I also made a batch of cookies in case someone didn't like cranberries. I had picked up a pouch of Betty Crocker cookie mix. It is a "limited edition" flavor for the holidays called Salted Caramels. They tast like a caramel sugar cookie. Really yummy. Placed in a crystal biscuit barrel, they were elegant and delicious! 

This cake was delicious! It was so moist on the inside and crusty on the outside. The fresh cranberries were such a nice surprise against the rich chocolate chips. In fact - Brack told me to double the cranberries next time! He had begged for a piece before I left, but it wasn't cool yet, so I told him I'd save him a piece or two. I did, but it was hard!

This cake will definitely make it into the rotation again soon. In fact, if I end up getting everything done for tomorrow soon, I may make one tonight!

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm so glad you stopped by my neck of the woods!
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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Chocolate Chip Pecan Pie Bars

This week I've been sharing the recipes for the meal I made for my Stampin' Up monthly hostess meeting back in October. I've given you the recipes for Gerald's Favorite Chicken Salad and the delicious homemade French onion dip. Today I wrap things up by linking you back to my recipe for Mama's Best Pickles and by providing you the details for the yummy Chocolate Chip Pecan Bars I made for dessert. They're gooey, rich, and just perfect for this time of year.

Chocolate Chip Pecan Bars

1 stick of butter at room temp
2 tsp vanilla, divided
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 tsp salt
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup finely chopped pecans
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Add butter, sugar, one teaspoon vanilla and a pinch of salt to a bowl. 

Cream together until smooth.

Add flour to creamed butter mixture and stir by hand. Dump into greased 9"x13" casserole dish.

Press into a layer to cover the bottom of the dish with your hands.

Switch to a glass to smooth it out and to move it into the corners. Press up the edges about 1/4".

Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes or until edges are beginning to turn golden brown.

While crust is baking, mix brown sugar, corn syrup, one teaspoon vanilla, salt, and eggs with a spoon. When crust is done, remove from oven. Add pecans to egg/syrup mixture and stir well. Pour over hot crust.

Sprinkle with chocolate chips (I had dark chocolate chips on hand and they were delicious!) and bake for about 25 to 30 minutes or until set. Loosen sides from pan with a spatula while warm. Allow to cool completely before cutting.

Once they're cool, cut into rows of 9x4.

These were the perfect end to our meal. They had the flavor of pecan pies but the chewy texture of a bar cookie. The chocolate chips were insanely good!

I hope you've enjoyed these recipes! My intention was to make a dressed up box lunch for my friends to enjoy as we crafted. I think these recipes hit their mark!

I'm so glad you stopped by my neck of the woods!
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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Sausage Gravy and Biscuits

When I was pregnant with Jewell, I craved three things. Thai food, sausage and gravy biscuits, and a Dr. Pepper with Goldfish. (Crackers. Not the ones that swim in a tank.) I was working at Faulkner, and Lek's Taste of Thailand is next door, so I ate there several (and I mean SEVERAL) times a week. I was limiting my caffeine so I drank decaf coffee and treated myself with one soda a day. So what if I preferred to drink it and eat Goldfish at 2:00 am in the morning in front of an open fridge? It was summer. And I was pregnant. And finally - sausage and gravy biscuits from Krystal were my favorite. Luckily, that wasn't too far away from our house, and Gerald often made early morning runs for them.

I still love Lek's. It will be my last meal should I ever end up on death row. Imagine my joy when Brack decided he liked it, too! (Jewell doesn't. I think she got enough in utero. Gerald tolerates it. He loves me!)

I still enjoy a cold DP and Goldfish every now and then. But living in Tallassee means no early morning runs to Krystal. That's OK. I make my own sausage and gravy biscuits, and truth be told, they're much, much better!

Not long ago, Gerald and the kids were getting ready to head south a couple of counties to hunt and spend the night on the land where my mama was born and raised. My uncle has built a gi-normous pond and put a little trailer on it, so it's a cross between camping and the Holiday Inn. (Kitchens and bathrooms make all the difference, people.)

They were packing up and planning to leave about 10:30 that morning, so I thought brunch was the best way to go. That meant Gerald just had to handle one meal during the late afternoon. (Can you say "Welcome to Cracker Barrel"?) I threw this all together in a little more than 30 minutes. Breakfast is the one meal that gets EVERYONE in my family to the table with a smile on their faces! 

Sausage Gravy

1/2 pound ground sausage
2 tbsp flour
2 cups milk
salt and pepper to taste

I love Jimmy Dean regular sausage. Don't care for the breakfast blend or any other for that matter. It just takes a half pound for the gravy. I usually cut a package in half and place one half in the freezer for later use. Be sure and use fresh sausage that you brown yourself. You need the grease that comes off it, since you don't add any extra oil.

Break up sausage with a wooden spoon and brown over medium high heat. I like to flatten it out and let one side get pretty brown before scrambling it around to finish cooking it. Leave any fat that is rendered off in the pan.

Reduce heat to medium low and add two tablespoons of flour to the cooked sausage and stir to coat evenly. Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly to cook off raw taste of flour. 

This is what it looks like after a couple of minutes.

Slowly add in two cups of milk. I use 1% because that's what we drink. Not too bad for you! Whisk gently to break up any lumps. Mix well.

Once it is completely mixed, turn heat up to medium and cook until thickened, stirring frequently. Reduce to low and cover.

Now's as good a time as ever to tell you about my scrambled eggs. My family absolutely loves them and Gerald says they're the best he's ever had! I know they're just eggs, but eggs are kinda a big deal in the culinary world. I've heard that chefs interviewing for new positions are asked to cook eggs. It sounds simple, but it's not really. Anyway - here are my tips...

For the four of us, I usually use six eggs. I add a splash of half and half and salt and pepper. I also add about a half teaspoon of cream of tartar. Just like how cream of tartar supports egg whites, I think it supports my scrambled eggs and helps to keep them light and fluffy. Here's why. I honestly believe the secret to my scrambled eggs is that I BEAT THEM TO DEATH! I whisk and whisk and whisk until my arm is tired. Then, right before I pour them in the pan, I whisk them again. It would probably be easier to do this with the hand mixer, but I have always done it by hand. Just easier than having to get out the mixer, I guess. 

I heat my non-stick skillet over medium heat and melt a tablespoon of butter in the pan. I pour in my eggs and then begin to scrap the sides and stir the eggs with a plastic spatula. When they are about set (see above), I take a couple of slices of American cheese (sandwich slices) and tear them up and toss in the eggs. Continue to stir the eggs so the cheese will melt. You could use Velveeta, but not just regular cheddar. I don't think it melts as well or is as creamy.

Continue to scrap down the pan and gently stir the eggs. I usually turn down the heat after I add the cheese.

Another trick - don't overcook them. I don't like wet, runny eggs, but if you cook them until they look dry, they get rubbery. Stop cooking a little short of what you think is done. They'll continue to cook a little in the pan before serving.

As far as biscuits go, I usually have Pillsbury frozen biscuits in my freezer. Seriously, y'all, they're good, and like Pillsbury refrigerated pie crusts, why go to the trouble?

I love jelly on my eggs. I know, crazy, right? (I also eat syrup on my cheese toast. Try it. You'll thank me!) I pulled out a jar of strawberry jam that I made this past summer, and Voila! This turned out to be a quick, satisfying meal, and we got to sit down and enjoy a meal together before they alone...for two days...Woo Hoo! 

I'm so glad you stopped by my neck of the woods!
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