Saturday, December 20, 2014

A Cozy Night In

This time of year always seems so busy, so last evening my husband and I were thankful for a cozy night in. This coming week will be filled with Christmas festivities, and it was nice to have a quiet, relaxing evening. We had been given a fresh pineapple, and I had some bananas on hand - so I thought I would whip up a little snack for our evening. I melted some milk chocolate with a little bit of oil, cut up our fruit, and we enjoyed some yummy fondue while watching Jack Frost. Perfect night in!

By the way, I'm loving this little clay dish I recently purchased at TJ Maxx. It was perfect for the fondue. I was able to use it on the stove top to melt the chocolate, and it made a very cute dipping dish!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Homemade Gift

Last weekend I went to a Christmas party, and we were told to bring a handmade gift for an exchange. I had seen on Pinterest the idea to add hardware to a crate to dress it up a little. I asked my wonderful husband to make me a crate and to then attach these handles. I'm thankful he's so talented, and I was very happy with how it turned out! I filled it with a tartan scarf, and some homemade goodies (including one of our loofah scrubbers!) I've requested that he make me yet another crate (for myself). I think it would look lovely with some fresh greens and berries arranged inside of it - rustic Christmas!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Loofah Sponges

 In the Spring, I had read in a gardening magazine about home grown loofahs, and I was amazed as I had never realized a loofah was actually a plant. Of course, with this new realization, we had to give it a try! 

We had one loofah plant that did really well, and produced several of the squash. Unfortunately, we planted it a little late, and the typical process to harvest our loofahs could not be followed. It did not mature enough by the time cold weather started creeping in, so it could not dry on the vine. I picked the loofahs in the beginning of November, and expected them to just rot. I still thought I'd try and salvage them, as I had been so excited about having these.
 I first cut off the ends of the loofah squash, and then peeled the green skin off. I  filled the sink with hot and soapy water, and worked on getting the seeds and other "gunky" matter out. Once the loofahs were clean, I placed them on a dish towel to dry for several days. I am so excited that they actually turned out perfect! My husband added some handles to them, and they are going to make some great Christmas gifts this year! Pair them with some homemade soap, or a body scrub. We plan to grow a lot more next year!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Quick and Easy Italian Herb Bread

It's been a little while since I've had the chance to sit down and write a blog entry. Things have been busy around here, and the time just seems to slip away! Today I'm writing about a delicious herb bread I recently started making. One evening, I was making a Tuscan bean soup, and I was craving some bread to go with it. I wanted something quick and easy that would be ready in time to serve with our soup. I decided to just try and whip something up, hoping it would turn out okay. Thankfully, it did, and I've made it several times since!

This is a simple recipe, that really only takes about 45 minutes to put together. How's that for some quick homemade bread!?

I started by using about 2 to 2 1/2 cups of flour in a bowl. I added a packet of yeast, about 2 TBPS of olive oil, 1 tsp of salt, and 1 TBSP of sugar. I slowly added warm water (it was probably about 1 cup) and mixed it with my hands until it turned into a consistency that was not sticky , and easy to work with (add in more flour or water as needed). I then kneaded it for about 10 minutes.  Next I rolled it into a long loaf on a baking sheet, brushed olive oil over the top, and heavily sprinkled garlic powder, dried basil, and dried oregano over the top. I turned the oven onto warm, and let the bread rise in the oven for about 15 minutes. Then I turned the oven to 400 degrees and baked it for about 15 more minutes.

 It tasted wonderful, and went great with the soup. It is a little dense, but I prefer it this way for this particular kind of bread. If you want it lighter, the longer you let it rise, the less dense it will be. With this recipe, you can also mix the herbs into the dough, and maybe even some Italian cheeses for some extra flavor. Be creative with it!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Herringbone Throw

While I don't so much like cold weather, I do love that autumn brings a bit of coziness into my home. Who doesn't love snuggling up with a blanket on a crisp fall evening? I have somewhat of an obsession with throws - especially those in neutral colors. I also happen to adore all things herringbone. I came across a herringbone throw on a site called Linen and Boxwoods (side note: when I first heard the name of the shop, I knew I would be in love with all of their products.) Anyway! I saw this throw and wanted it badly, but the price (+ shipping costs) was more than I wanted to pay. I seem to run into this problem a lot! When this happens, I often go to to see if I can find a similar item for a lot less. pulled through for me - not only did they have a similar one, they had the EXACT same one available (Herringbone Throw). I chose the gray color because it went best with our living room colors, but I'm still lusting a little after the camel color. It arrived several days ago, and I'm so happy with it. It's beautiful and cozy. Great gift idea too!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Olive Topiary Tree

I'm pretty excited about this little gem I found! I recently saw, in a Ballard Designs catalog, an olive topiary. I loved it, but I just have a slight issue purchasing fake plants. I'd much rather have the live plant in my home. I think it adds character, and there is a sense of satisfaction in keeping it alive and looking nice. I was browsing etsy, and found an awesome little etsy shop that had an olive tree topiary for sale! (TuscanyTopiary)

It was fairly cheap - $30 plus shipping, and it is absolutely perfect. The terracotta pot it arrived in gives it such a Mediterranean feel. If you have a green thumb, and love topiaries, I highly recommend this little shop.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Simple Fruit Smoothie

It seems like recently at our house we have been eating large meals and lots of tasty sweets. With the start of fall it is easy to go to warm, hearty, comfort foods. During this season, we often neglect our fruits as they're no longer fresh and at our fingertips. There are some days when I think back to my day, and I'm disgusted at the few servings of fruits and veggies I've incorporated into my meals. On days like these, I usually opt for a simple fruit smoothie for dinner in place of an actual meal. It is so easy to make, very flavorful, and has plenty of fruit. 

It really is so simple. You just blend together a banana, a container of yogurt, and frozen fruit (as much or as little as you would like!) I also add water little by little as I blend it to make it a bit thinner consistency. Absolutely delicous and refreshing alternative after filling the body with such heavy foods!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

I realize most of my posts have been food related of late, but fall is one of my favorite times to be baking. The chill in the air warrants a bake session, and who doesn't love winding down with a cup of warm tea and a tasty fall treat? 

Right now, all things pumpkin have been on my mind. I've been wanting to make pumpkin whoopie pies the last couple of weeks, but for my husband and I to consume a whole batch of these would be very unhealthy, and might make our bellies grow! Today seemed like the perfect afternoon for baking these as we have a get together at church this evening.

I have to admit though, after these were baked and assembled I couldn't resist taste testing!

I used a Martha Stewart recipe, so I knew they would be delicious! 

Try the recipe! She won't disappoint. Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Applesauce Day

Every October my sister, niece, and I make a 2 hour drive to visit my grandmother, and we make applesauce together. We don't get to see her all that often, so it is great to have this time with her. She taught me how to make applesauce, and at first did a lot of the work and instructing. As she has gotten older, it is more difficult for her to be involved, but we still go every year and make lots of great memories. 

We always use Red Cortland apples, and it makes such a pretty sauce!

We first cut up the apples, and cook them in a large pot until very soft with about 1 to 1.5 cups of water per pot (depending on the consistency you like.)

My grandmother has had this "contraption" forever! It still works great, and is so easy to use. You don't even have to peel the skins off of the apples (which is another reason the sauce is so pretty).

I also love that every year she uses her vintage pink Pyrex bowls to make applesauce. It just adds to the overall experience of making applesauce with our grandmother.

And after the apples go through, a pretty pink sauce is squeezed out. (I add a few tablespoons of sugar to sweeten it.) There is nothing quite like freshly made warm applesauce on a cool fall day. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

And I'm back with another great fall recipe! This one not only tastes amazing, but it brings to mind a lot of memories for me. For many years growing up at home, my mom would make this cake. When the fall season started, I knew I could look forward to enjoying this tasty treat after school at some point. It is one of my favorite cakes, and now I look forward to making it each fall. 

First you mix together the following ingredients in a mixer:
4 beaten eggs
1 cup of oil
2 cups of sugar
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp of cinnamon
1 cup of pumpkin 
(I used pumpkin from our garden, but canned works too)
2 cups of flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp of baking soda

Pour the batter into a greased cake pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes.

For the Frosting:

Beat 1 (3 oz) pack of cream cheese, 1 tsp of milk, 6 TBSP of butter, and 3/4 pound of 10x sugar. Frost the cake when it is cool.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Apple Cake

While fall is not my favorite season, there are certainly things I love about it. I do love bundling up in the chilly evenings. Soup starts to frequent our dinner menus, and coffee and tea are morning necessities. I love the pumpkin and apple candle scents, as well as the smell of leaves changing colors. (I know that doesn't seem to make sense, but fall really does have a  specific "scent" as you wander through the forest of beautifully colored trees.) I also love fall treats. Apples and pumpkins frequent nearly every dessert, and I get pretty excited about baking these seasonal goods. The other day, I made a really delicious Apple Cake from our local community cookbook.

The recipe was submitted by a neighbor, whom I lived by for many years. She always made tasty desserts, so I knew it would be a great recipe.

I decided to top my cake with a glaze by mixing a little milk into powdered sugar.

It was absolutely wonderful! Perfect start to fall. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Drying Lavender

I'm pretty sure I've mentioned several times before that I love lavender. This year I had planted several plants, and they are finally starting to bloom! It has been exciting watching the stems shoot up and bud. 

Tonight, I was finally able to "harvest" the first of my crop. It was a small amount, but I was still pretty excited. My plan is to dry most of it, and use it for decoration, wreaths, homemade soaps - and maybe use some for culinary purposes!

I found this website How to Dry Lavender that listed several methods of drying lavender. I was pretty surprised to see it was possible to dry it in the microwave. Since I had a small amount, I decided to try the microwave method. I'm amazed at how quick and easy it was! This obviously wouldn't be ideal for large quantities, but it worked perfectly.

Simply lay out the lavender on a paper towel and microwave for 1 minute. If it is still not dry, continue to add 30 seconds on, checking after each interval. It literally took less than 2 minutes for mine. It also smells absolutely amazing in my kitchen right now. 

Within minutes I was able to cut, dry, and use my lavender. We have several floating shelves throughout the house, so I thought it would be a nice touch to add some dried lavender. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Fall is Approaching

This summer has flown by. It has been such a mild summer this year, and it almost seems as though we didn't actually have one. Usually by September I'm tired of the heat, and I'm ready to welcome the cool breezes fall brings with it. This year I've been sulking around at the idea of fall approaching. Don't get me wrong, I love fall. I love the campfires, colorful leaves, sweaters, and of course everything pumpkin. But, I know winter comes after fall, and I hate cold winters. I know fall will be gone in a blink too, and a long winter will follow. Depressing to listen to, I know! So this weekend I tried to embrace a little "fall" in preparation for it's official start in a few days. I think this "idea" started with seeing an absolutely beautifully colored mum the other day. I've been holding off on buying my mums, because I feel that way I can hold onto summer a little longer. But I couldn't resist, and they were almost out of this color. So I bought the mums and planted them this weekend.

I also made some soft pretzels... which for some reason I associate them as a fall snack.

And, I indulged in a little caramel and fresh apples from the local orchard.

As much as I hate to say "goodbye" to summer, I will try to fully enjoy the fall season, and all that comes with it! Hopefully winter flies by!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Baked Oatmeal

I've got a sweet tooth, and every morning for breakfast I have to start my day out with something sweet. This morning I was up pretty early, so I made some baked oatmeal. I've had this recipe for quite a few years, and I'm pretty sure I got it from a friend in college. I absolutely love this, and it has been quite a while since I've made it. It was a delicious treat this labor day morning!

Baked Oatmeal

1 egg
1/4 cup butter
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup sugar
1 3/4 cup of oats
1/8 cup of oil
1/2 cup of milk
1 tsp of vanilla
1/4 cup of chocolate chips

First, beat your egg and combine with the butter. Next, add your baking powder, oats, and sugar. Mix in the oil, milk, and vanilla. Lastly add in your chocolate chips. The batter will be thin as you can kind of see in the picture below.

Pour the batter into a greased 8x8 pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes. It should be golden brown on top when you remove it from the oven. 

My husband loves to pour milk over his portion, while I usually eat it as is. If you happen to have fresh berries on hand, omit the chocolate chips, and add 1 tsp of cinnamon before baking it. It is absolutely wonderful with berries!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Peach Pie

I was at a client's house the other day, and his wife was making a peach pie. It smelled so delicious, so I of course had to make one for Evan and I to enjoy! I love peaches, and they're probably my favorite fruit. I especially love all the delicious things you can make with them. I'm so thankful the peach season lasts a while! I spent my Friday night making a peach pie and homemade vanilla ice cream. All that work was totally worth that warm piece of pie right out of the oven. 

To make the pie, you first peel and cut up 6 large peaches. In a bowl, mix the cut peaches with 2 TBSP of corn starch (to thicken the filling), 1 tsp of cinnamon, and 1/2 cup of sugar. Let this mixture sit for about 15 minutes.

While you are waiting for your peaches to be ready, make your pie crust. I use a pretty simple recipe.

Pie Crust:
Mix 1 1/2 cups of flour, 1/2 cup of crisco, 1 tsp of salt, and 1/2 cup of cold water. Roll it out on a floured surface, and then transfer it to your pie plate. Form the edges of your crust however you would like. 

After your peaches have sat at room temperature for 15 minutes, pour them into your pie crust. I often have a little extra dough with my pie crust recipe, so I roll it out so I can make a lattice crust. If you use a different crust recipe, you may have to make two batches so you can do the lattice top. Lastly, bake your pie at 375 degrees for 45-50 minutes. 

Ta Da! A delicious peach pie. Don't forget to eat it with vanilla ice cream!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Farm To Table Dinner Party

This has been a very busy, but fun weekend! We hosted our Farm to Table dinner party with 10 of our friends. Each dish on the menu incorporated local produce - most of it from our own garden. I spent Friday and Saturday cooking and cleaning, and today I'm happy to be able to relax some! I was hoping to be able to get more pictures during our evening, but I was so busy keeping up with the food. I sadly didn't get any photos after the guests arrived. Things turned out great, and it was a wonderful evening. I hope to share some of the recipes I used for the meal in the next few weeks. For now, here are a few photos of the tablescape and other decor.

I realized quickly that our tiny kitchen did not have space for all the dishes I was going to be using. My handy husband happened to just build this shelf for the garage, and let me use it to keep my dishes on for the evening. I loved the way it looked with the linen table runner across it - a little rustic!

And this was the appetizer station. I love artichokes, and they make lovely decorations!

Beverage Station: Beverage tags are from Ballard Designs, Drink Dispensers are from Pottery Barn.

I managed to get one "food" photo of our soup for the evening. This Tuscan Vegetable Soup was absolutely so flavorful!

After months of planning and days of preparation, it was a great success! I had a lot of fun with the theme, and all the food turned out great. I tried many new recipes that I'm sure I will make again. Now I need to start thinking about a theme for the next one we host!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Dinner Menu

This Saturday we're hosting a Farm to Table dinner party at our house. Earlier this year we starting getting together with a few other couples and having themed dinner parties. We go all out with the theme and plan a huge meal. My husband and I decided to do the Farm to Table theme as right now our garden is giving us lots of great produce! I finshed our menus, and I'm happy with how they turned out! I was going for a simple look, and I love the radishes at the top. I'll be spending the next few days cooking, cleaning, and decorating. I hope to do a blog entry on the dinner party next week sometime!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Chocolate Zucchini Bread

Right now my kitchen smells so amazing. I just pulled out two loaves of freshly baked chocolate zucchini bread. I've been freezing lots of shredded zucchini just so I can make this throughout the year. Earlier in the summer we were at a picnic and had this bread. It was delicious - the best zucchini bread I've ever tasted! The recipe comes from Taste of Home, and it is very simple. It makes a great hostess gift for all of those summer get togethers, and it is yet another great recipe for all that zucchini growing in your garden. I know in the fall and winter when I'm craving some comfort foods, this will absolutely satisfy!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Pickled Veggies

Yesterday was a canning and freezing day for us. We've been doing everything in small batches, as we have to go with the flow of our garden. We picked a bunch of chili peppers, jalapenos, and a few cucumbers this week to pickle. We also were able to freeze some bell peppers and shredded zucchini. Thankfully our pickling recipe is versatile, and we can use it for both cucumbers and peppers with a few easy adjustments. For the basic pickling "juice" we boiled 4 cups of water, 4 cups of vinegar and 4 TBSP of pickling salt (pretty simple to remember, and really easy to cut in half or double)! This receipe makes about 8-10 pints.

For our Dill Pickles:

Fill pint jars with sliced cucumbers, a garlic clove, and a sprig of fresh dill. Pour the boiling vinegar/water combination over the cucumbers, and leave a half inch head space from the top of each jar. Process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes.

For our Pickled Peppers:

Fill pint jars with hot peppers (we did some with chili peppers, and some with jalapeno peppers), a few onion slicies, and chopped chives. Pour the boiling vinegar/water combination over the peppers, and leave a half inch head space from the top of each jar. Process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes.

Hope you enjoy these recipes!!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Sunday Baking - New Bowls!

For months I regularly looked at these mixing bowls on Pottery Barn's website wishing they were in my kitchen. I kept hoping they'd run a sale or go on clearance - I loved these bowls. I tried to forget about them and tell myself I really didn't need them -but they're just so pretty! And it is of those purchases that I don't regret at all! After talking with my husband about how wonderful it would be to have them, he said " buy them." I was a bit surprised at his response, because he doesn't often encourage me to buy stuff (he usually talks me out of it!) After thinking about it though, I bake A LOT. At least 2-3 times a week! I'd get plenty of use out of these bowls, and my other plastic mixing bowl set was cracked. I felt I could justify this purchase, even if it was a bit more than I'd normally spend for mixing bowls. I finally caved in the beginning of July and ordered these mixing bowls (with a free shipping coupon to save a little bit of money). Then I waited, and waited. They went on back order for like three weeks. As soon as I got the "shipped" email, I checked the tracking information like 10 times a day. Finally, the day they were at my front door, I was so excited - only to open a package filled with broken and chipped bowls; what a let down! Pottery Barn was quick to replace my order though, and a week (a very loong week) later they arrived in tact. This time perfect! 

This Sunday evening was a perfect night to get some use out of them. I was craving some chocolate, so I used my favorite Brownie Recipe. Mmm, great way to end the weekend!