Monday, November 29, 2010

Quick, Easy, And SOOO Yummy for the Holidays

We have never hosted Thanksgiving at our house. Even though I love to cook, and would be overlystressed very happy to cook Thanksgiving dinner for any and all of my family, we usually spend one day at Dave's parents' house, and one day at my parents' house.

Not having to focus on a turkey gives me the opportunity to play with new side dish and appetizer recipes and to try new dessert recipes.

Here are a couple of my best recipes from this year. And while I love the challenge of a super-difficult, Martha Stewart caliber recipe, these are all magically easy and astonishingly delicious.

This first recipe truly is magic. 100% of the people I give this recipe to cannot believe the ingredients or the directions.

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Here are the ingredients for Caramel Pie:

sweetened condensed milk
pie crust
whipped cream

That's it. That's the whole list.

I know you don't believe me. Let me show you how it works...

Buy a can or two of sweetened condensed milk. Brand name or not. It really doesn't matter.

Peel off the label.

This is what the brand name can looks like naked:

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This is what the store brand can looks like naked:

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DON'T OPEN THE CANS

Put the cans unopened in the bottom of your slow cooker.

Don't open them.

Fill the crock pot with enough water to cover the unopened cans by a couple of inches. Turn the pot on high and cover with the lid. Leave on high for 8 hours.

When you open the slow cooker after the 8 hours, the water might be a little brownish. It's just from two cans sitting in water for 8 hours. Don't drink it, but otherwise it won't hurt you or ruin your pie.

Take the cans out (carefully, they will be hot), and finally you can open them. I actually wait for an hour so the cans will cool down. If you open them immediately, there is a chance that the contents of the cans will spurt out. No one wants hot caramel on the kitchen walls, so let em cool down a bit.

When you open the cans, you will see nothing that resembles sweetened condensed milk. You will see this:

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It will be dark and thick and really thick. Thick.

This, my friends is caramel. It tastes like those little caramel squares that are wrapped up in clear plastic. Creamy. Thick.

You can dump and spread it in a graham cracker crust and top with cool whip and be done. Or bake a pie shell and do the same.

The pie is pretty rich, so this year I made little caramel tarts, because it's always so disappointing to fill up your tummy halfway through a piece of pie. Leaving half a piece of pie on a plate is always an unfortunate occurance. And something I try to avoid at all costs.

To make the little tart shells, I rolled out refrigerated pie dough and cut it into circles with a biscuit cutter.



Then I tucked each little circle into a mini muffin pan.

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Poke with a fork and bake until done, following the directions on the package.

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The next recipe is the best one I have for kids. I was amazed at my Henry's concentration. And of all of the goodies at last year's Christmas party, these were by far the most popular.

Ingredients:
pretzels
rolos candies
pecans

This post is already super long, so I will let this be a photo essay-recipe.

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Bake at 350 until soft-ish. 5 minutes or so.

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I do this part. Melted chocolate loves to burn little fingertips.

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Keep in the fridge. Bring to room temp before serving or eat straight from the fridge until there are none left to serve to your guests. Whichever.

And please don't forget the pumpkin balls. My friend Molly baked this in a bundt pan and said it made a great cake. Yum.

We all want to take yummy things to parties, and give homemade treats to neighbors. But they don't have to break the bank, or stress you out, or tie you to the kitchen for the entire weekend.

Don't forget to share your favorite recipes or goodies with others during the holidays. We can all use new ideas, and I always remember who I got my recipes from. Every time I make that goody or treat, I think of that friend. And sometimes I let them know that I have just used their recipe, and I thank them. It's a great way to connect.

Happy Sugardays. Um....Holidays.

A Gift for A December Birthday

I love to gift this gift to little kids anytime of year, but realized it is an even better gift around the holidays.

Last year we were bombarded with birthday invitations from Anna Jane's kindergarten friends. Sometimes I made the gifts by hand, sometimes I tried the $10 limit (which is nearly impossible at Target). I didn't just want to give a variation of the same toy that everyone else was giving, if only because as a mom, I know there are only so many toys I can handle in the house.

My favorite party of Anna Jane's was the year when we asked guests to bring a plant for her garden, rather than a toy. During this time of year, there are more toys entering the house, more talk about "what the kids want," a focus on material objects.

Sometimes we skip the purchased gift and give a playdate.

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I think time spent with a special friend, doing special things is a meaningful replacement to a plastic toy. Here is an example that we gave to Anna Jane's friend, Elizabeth Jane.

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I printed out an explanation of the gift on a piece of cardstock and cut the edges with fancy scissors. This card says:

Happy Birthday Elizabeth Jane!
I am so glad that you are my friend!
I love spending time with you.
My gift to you is:
An Afternoon Playdate
Let's get our nails done and hit the ice cream parlor!
Let's leave it to our moms to set the date.
We can focus on planning our outfits and picking out our shoes!
Love, Anna Jane


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I cut some pretty paper and wrapped it around the card.

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I wrote Elizabeth Jane's initials on the card and attached it to a vase of fresh flowers. The "vase" is actually a glass fish bowl from the dollar store, and the flowers are cut straight from a garden.

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There are unlimited ideas for playdates. A trip to the park, the local children's museum, even the zoo.

You could buy some pet food and deliver it to the local humane society. Call your local branch and see if they will give the kids a tour.

Visit the library, return to the house and bake some cookies.

Give memories, give the kids quality time with each other and undivided attention from an adult.

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Now, don't get me wrong, Anna Jane will be thrilled if she receives a new Barbie from everyone at her birthday party this year, but this is a really great alternative.

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

My New Sewing Studio!

Ok, beyond the title I won't lie....I don't have a new sewing studio. But there is a potential sewing studio in the basement.

On his list of Christmas gifts to give to others, Dave wrote at the bottom:

"clean out and paint basement for Kat"

And now that it's written on paper, it must come true, right?

Well, I'm considering it an eventual studio, and I've already gone shopping! And by shopping, I mean window shopping. And by window shopping I mean browsing on the internet.

Take a look at my eventual studio:

wall color:



floor color:




I KNOW, I KNOW!! White walls? Blah. Aqua floors? Dirty in a heartbeat.

There will be enough fabric scraps cluttering the area that will make up for any lack of color on the walls. And I know the floors will get scuffed, but really that's okay with me. There is yucky basement floor down there, and we have no chance of getting new floors, so a couple of coats of floor paint and crossing my fingers for good luck should spruce up the place.

First we need some major pieces of furniture:

I have one worktable, but definitely need another. Larger. In this photo , try to see through all that's going on and focus on the blue worktable.

I love that table. I love that table.

I also need something to hold my fabric. I found this piece of furniture on craigslist last night:



Some white paint....or AQUA!! And it will be beautiful. Perfect to store my fabric.

So those two pieces of furniture will pretty much take up the entire space.

Maybe a little room for accessories...

I need a vintage rustic wooden wall file:



Believe it or not, I do have several orders coming in at a time, so it would be nice to have a place to keep those orders in order. A place with chippy blue paint.

I also need a vintage green wooden utensil tray:



My craigslist hutch will have lots of storage room for notions, scissors, pens, etc. But sometimes you need things right at your fingertips, and this would serve as a place to hold those important things. A place with chippy green paint.

I am trying to be a responsible taxpayer by keeping up with all of my expenses which far outweigh my income. This box just screams "feed me your receipts!!!"



An attractive, inconspicuous place for record keeping. A place with chippy yellow paint.

And this green storage tray....well, ok. I don't know what I would use it for, but it has chippy paint, so I want it.



And of course, I need fabric.

Hampton, VA sewing studio

Other than specially ordered fabric requested by a customer, I have been surviving on my small stash of fabric and leftover scraps from making Anna Jane's clothes.

So all of these things and an extra 10 hours in the day and I have a great little business going on here. Oh yeah, and I'd like a few more customers as well.

Emily and Todd contributed to the sewing studio last week:



So as soon as I get those extra 10 hours in the day, I will figure out how to use this monster and will monogram everything that will hold still. I CAN'T WAIT!!!

So here are my favorite sources, in case you want to design your own space. These sites provide great items, often one of a kind, and in most cases, affordable!

craigslist
etsy(search through the vintage listings)
goodwill online
hawthorne threads
fabric.com

And for inspiration, you can't beat flickr.

But hey, if we can get this space cleared out and painted, I will make due with what I've got and will be thankful that we've gotten that far!

Can't wait!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Halloween for Grown Ups

Well, I'll just say it:

I don't love Halloween.

  • I don't like to dress up.

  • It's hard taking three over-the-top-excited kids on a candy/stranger/traffic/scary walk around the neighborhood.

  • I don't love candy, but I will eat it if it's in front of me. I will eat a lot of it if a lot of it is in front of me.

It didn't help that it was on a Sunday night this year, which meant no time to recover before work/school. But we got through it and the kids had a blast. I had fun too, don't get me wrong. I love family events. Especially if they are free.


The night after Halloween, Dave and I had a pretty spooky night of our own. It was a perfect Halloween for Grown Ups.


After the kids went to bed we stuck in the last episode of our current favorite show.






A few colleagues were talking about it one day and I could not imagine what kind of appeal this show had. Who wants to watch a show about a serial killer? Well, as it turns out, Dexter only kills bad guys. So that's okay. Right?

Plus, the actor who plays Dexter is from Raleigh. We played his high school for my freshman year homecoming game. So really, we are pretty close to being best friends.

Season 1 and season 4 are to die for (hee hee). But by no means, should you skip seasons 2 and 3. Currently season 5 is showing on Showtime. And since we don't have Showtime, we have to wait until the season is over. And then we have to wait until that season comes out on dvd. So expect me to be grumpy until I can watch Dexter again.

Our celebratory Halloween/Dexter dinner was one of my current super-favs...Rice Noodles with Chiles, Pork, and Basil.

Rice Noodles with Chiles*, Pork**, and Basil

12oz rice noodles

2 Tbs peanut oil
1 Tbs minced garlic
5 small dried hot red chiles
ground pork
1 Tbs soy, 2 Tbs fish sauce (or any combination of the two, equaling 3Tbs)
1 Tbs sugar
2 Tbs rice vinegar
1 cup shredded basil
salt, crushed red pepper

Soak noodles in warm water until soft, 15-20 minutes. I usually change the water several times. If you want, you can boil like regular noodles instead of soaking. Drain, then toss with 1/2 of oil.

Heat remaining oil over medium high heat in deep skillet, until it smokes.Add garlic and chiles and cook, stirring, for a minute. Add meat and turn heat to medium. Cook, then add soy/fish sauces and sugar. Stir to mix. Add drained noodles and toss (I stir fry the noodles a bit until they are as soft as I want them). Add vinegar and basil. Add salt and red pepper to taste.

*I can never find dried red chiles that are hot. I haven't been to the asian market, but I'm sure they have them. Add quite a bit of red pepper if you like it hot.

**I use ground turkey, not pork.

Confession: I crave this several times a week, and wish I could eat it that much. Actually, I could eat it that much, but Dave...not so much.

Confession: This Grown Up Halloween dinner was the first time that I've eaten any kind of meat since our trip to Birmingham. A few slices of proscuitto that weekend was the only meat I had eated in about 4-6 weeks. I've really embraced this meatless living. I decided from the very beginning that if I wanted to eat a cheeseburger, no prob. No rules. As it turns out, I don't miss eating meat at all. It might not last forever, but I love knowing that there is no food or diet soda that I can't live without. Because I've wondered before.

So make this dinner and watch Dexter. And if you know what happens during Season 5, DON'T TELL ME!! I will be such a happy girl when I can settle in with Dave and Dexter again.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Halloween for Kids

Halloween costume decisions were pretty funny this year.

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Anna Jane made her decision early and stuck to it. She was a vampire-cheerleader. Yes. You read that right.

The cartoon world has jumped on the vampire bandwagon with "Monster High," a little webshow that has produced toys and tv movies and a 6-year-old who wants to dress like Draculaura.

The best part of the costume decision was that our only expense was the adult knee socks that we turned into super-cool leggings.

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Well, we *did* have to buy the black nail polish and blood red lipstick, but every household should have those things on hand for emergencies, right?

Wilson was totally pumped about being the red Power Ranger this year. We lucked out and became proud owners of a hand-me-down costume. He wore it to school and slept in it several times during the month before Halloween.

As of 3:30pm on Halloween afternoon, the Power Ranger costume was hanging on the back of the couch, waiting for a night on the town. At 5:20pm we left home without a Power Ranger.

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Everytime I held the camera up, he made this face. He is so funny.

And the most costume drama came from Henry. We kept his options open...Superman or Batman. 'Cause those costumes were already in the playroom.

He went back and forth, which was fine because neither one would take any planning or running around town for last minute costumes on my part.

Then, two days before Halloween, he decided he would be a zombie. I know, I know. Two year olds really shouldn't know what zombies are. But mine does.

So Dave turned Henry's sweet little face into a zombie. The next hour or so was filled with tantrums unrelated to Halloween and totally related to not napping. He refused every costume offer and ended up picking out a shirt from his dresser.

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It kind of worked out. Nobody had any idea that he started as a superman/zombie. He looked more like a football player whose eye black has smeared.

We visited the old neighborhood and collected a bit of candy.

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And yes, that is at 6am the next morning. And yes, I let them eat a piece of candy for breakfast that morning.

And yes, the next afternoon I let them eat every piece of candy they collected on Halloween night. It kept them quiet for 30 minutes and BOOM. Done with Halloween candy. No more asking for "just one more piece," no more candy wrappers ALL OVER the house.

AND YES, my two-year-old knows what a zombie is, I let them eat a bucket of candy in one sitting, and sometimes I let them do anything if it keeps them quiet for a little while.

Maybe next year I will dress for Halloween as a mom who does everything right...I wonder what she looks like?