Saturday, December 31, 2011

HAPPY NEW YEAR!
HOPE YOU ARE ALL RINGING IN 2012 IN STYLE.
We are flashing back to the 80's with great friends. 
Pictures to come but here is a cute video of Miss Cici walking.

 
These skirts are for walking!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The last things she needs is another project.....

hum. a project. I love projects. I love making change and starting something anew. The mere mention of that word sends my husband off to hide though. He's not a lover of things crafty, homemade, redone, or refurnished. He won't really admit he HATES my projects, but I can see the trepidation in his face when he asks on Friday, "so what are your plans for this weekend....????" I love the hard glance my dining room table gets when he sees the sewing machine is out. But the sewing machine is not out right now and the paint cans are safely stored away in the basement {in case you are reading this at work hun} so nothing is having a makeover at the moment.

I am thinking about starting up a project with my photography though. A personal one. Not one geared towards clients or gigs or growing in ways I want to grow professionally but rather one just for myself. I was thinking I'd start a 365 project on 1/1/2012 so I could have a whole year of photographs to look at by this time next year. But I'd have to have a slant, a focus, a thing to hang my hat on so to speak. I just read an article HERE about being fearless in your photography. It is a piece of advice that is universally needed by all photographers and perhaps all other artists. We find our safe zones and we stick with that and we love that we are successful with it and then it becomes formulaic and then before we know it we are in a rut. Thankfully, I am not in a rut. But I am feeling curious and creative at the moment and want to give myself a little push down a less traveled path. The advice in this article falls into two categories: don't look at the work of your peers, but keep looking at art. Seek out other genres and soak in the visual. Inspiration can be found everywhere. And the second suggestion she gives is to give yourself a personal project. And that was just what I was thinking about doing.

I don't have a direction yet but this article reminded me of my college days when I was asked to pick one very specific thing to photograph over the course of 10 weeks. I had a hard time coming up with my subject for this project. A really tough time. And then one day I came home to find my roomates watching MTV and a video was on of a popular song that year {and for the life of me - which includes a google search- I can't remember the name of the song. Although I can vaguely hum it.}. What I remember about that video was the richness of color and beautiful imagery of hands. Yup, hands. And I was so moved by the beauty in the music video that I decided to pick hands as my subject matter. My photography professor did not seem too jazzed about it when I told him but since it was my project and my grade, he just shrugged his shoulders.

The project was a little harder than I thought it would be but I managed. I produced enough work which I either liked or loved. And interestingly enough, about 3 weeks ago we found these four frames arranged on SweetPea's bed. I asked her where she found them and she said at the top of her closet. Then she said, "I just found them when I was looking for something else and I don't know where they came from but I like them".  They are of course, part of my hands project from college and it reminded me of a time when I forced myself to get seriously focused with my photography. There are a lot of technical errors in these pictures but I love that because it reminds me of how much I have learned and grown. Of course these were taken with film and developed in a lab so part of my growth has been to make the leap to digital which wasn't all that easy for me.  And how lucky we are to be able to see our shots so instantaneously now. There are lots of things I knew back then to correct but I couldn't see the image until the scene was gone.

So who knows what my next project will be. Maybe I should pick something like international spice markets and convince SJ that I will need to travel to exotic places to grow my craft. she says with a smirk.......

 

Friday, December 16, 2011

What is it about Christmas??

Okay. I am going to admit it. Christmas is my least favorite holiday of the year. Depending on your faith, there are maybe 5 biggie holidays of the year and from the outside, it would seem that Christmas holds the top spot for those of Christian descent. I was not raised with much religious structure so for me Christmas has never been anything but the big ass day of gift giving. I find this December holiday to be fraught with pressure, guilt, anticipation, and very often let-down. The latter can be in the form of a child's heavy heart when all the gifts have been opened and IT IS OVER. Or it can be the feeling that you didn't get what you hoped {or asked} for. Christmas day is like a sugar high, it feels good when you are in the thick of it but once it is over you are exhausted. And why all the exhaustion? I refer back to the first three reasons why I don't like this holiday, pressure, guilt, anticipation. I like holidays that are just about food. I know. Huge surprise.

If you have children you know you want their holiday to be magical. Many of us fall prey to the Pollyanna-ic ideals of making everything perfect, shiny and bright. You want to make sure that the stuff under the tree makes the children happy, that the party you throw to feel all warm and fuzzy with holiday cheer comes off perfectly, and that you have a smile on your face as you pretend to enjoy the radio station that only plays Christmas music. Your company is at year-end and you are either still slaving away to make plan, or you are required to spend every night entertaining clients or you are still traveling like a lunatic to pull in last-minute contracts. All the while, you still have to be saying "yay Christmas". It is kind of a lot don't you think? I do think there is pressure to pull off a great holiday for your loved ones. I do think there is guilt if you can't or you don't. And I do think the anticipation of it all can lead to some pretty major disappointment. I dare you to deny that this holiday comes with expectations. And at the end of it all, I wonder how many of us don't harbor some negative feeling. I wish I could have done more. I wish I got what I wanted. I wish I didn't feel taken for granted. I wish, I wish, I wish.

And the reason I think for all this is that we feel the need to connect with the people around us more deliberately at this time of year more than any other. The neighborhood party that is full of cheer, the holiday cards you send, the special gift you buy or make for someone, and most importantly the holiday spirit you try to share with your children to add to the magic and joy of Christmas. Last night I stumbled upon a TED talk from the summer of 2010 by Brene Brown who talks about the primal need for human connection and the instinctive feelings we all have that can unravel it. From there she brings up some really interesting theories about who the people are who connect well with others and why. She theorizes that it is fear and shame that prevent people from forming authentic connections. And yes, I know how heavy handed that sounds but.....think about it for a minute. I mean doesn't everyone's life seem perfect on Facebook?
"Is there something about me that if other people know it or see it that I won't be worthy of connection?"
She then goes on to highlight that "shame is universal and that the only people who don't experience shame have no capacity for human empathy. That no one wants to talk about it and the less we talk about it the more we have it." It is funny because I would have defined shame as something pretty major that you feel guilt over but I guess it could be classified as any negative feelings of not having been good enough in any area of life.

She dissects it even further to explain that vulnerability and worthiness are the underpinnings of shame and that people who form the best connections in life are those who innately feel worthy and also embrace their vulnerability. It is a head scratcher of a 20-minute talk and I challenge anyone to listen to it and not walk away with some positive feeling of how they can make their life better.

Every year I wish I could enjoy this holiday with less snark as I wrote about herehere, and then here and more joy. I am going to work on that but after rereading those three posts, I have to say I got a good giggle out of it all.  So grab a cup of coffee and take 20 minutes at lunch today to watch this.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Wreath Making

There are two reasons why I tend to opt for the DIY option in nearly every scenario. The first, but not the most significant is that I am cheap. Or rather that I love a cheap thrill. I adore finding things for less than they normally sell for. The hunt is so much fun for me and when I find what I am looking for, whooooo weeee, I just about get a high from it. The other is that I am really picky about how I want things to look. I do not have an amazingly decorated house with perfect pillows and smartly adorned shelves but when I decide I need something for the house, I get in my mind what I want before I start looking and then nothing ever fits the bill. Both cases I think my husband would call a disease. Although he is pretty happy that I like cheap stuff.

When it comes to plants, I am a perennial person. Annuals, while pretty, are just a waste of money in my book. But then again I live in the NE and when it comes time to planting spring flowers I never really know when it is safe to put those pretty little pansies in the ground. It could just as easily snow in June and kill them all so you see my problem. Anyway, the same goes for seasonal decorating at holiday time. I hate spending tons of money on stuff that is just going to die. With one exception. I have to say, I don't mind dropping some cash on a Christmas tree. A good one. From a farm. That won't be dead by December 25th. This year we were not able to get to our farm before they sold out and had to resort to our local garden center and we have had unspeakable horrors with this tree. After some therapy I might dive into it here on PC.

As for a wreath, I like mine not so plain but not overly done and tacky. I don't want a gazillion silver balls on it or branches sticking out in every direction. I want something to look cute and Christmassy without being totally over tone. So last year I got together with a bunch of friends and we made our own wreaths. A friend ran down to a local floral wholesaler and bought tons of materials and then one evening with wine and desserts we gathered in her garage to make wreaths together. It was lovely and festive and you all should try it.

Last April January when it was time to undecorate, I tossed the wreath but saved all the elements I made. I am so happy I did that because this year I was able to make the wreath just how I wanted it in about 15 minutes. My poor husband saw me pulling out all the stuff about 25 minutes before we were supposed to leave the house and he was all are you really going to start that now!?! And of course I was totally NOT smug when I was done a full 10 minutes before we had to leave!

So what is in my arsenal for decorating a wreath? First off, a nice big red bow. a few red and ivory ornaments, a few small pieces of silver to catch the light, little red berries, and some seashells to represent our area. And this year, I grabbed some fresh eucalyptus at the garden center to add for some lighter green contrast.

Really you can use anything you want that you can either twist with wire or glue with a gun onto one of these green floral picks.These guys have wire attached so you can just wrap the wire around your item and then shove it into a tight spot in your wreath.


So start with a plain wreath. This one was $17 at my garden center and is 20" wide.

Tie a bow how you like.


Then wrap the wire on a pick around the back.


Attach by wire or glue all the little bobbles you want to include in your wreath. This year I grabbed some fresh Eucalyptus.

 
I put the bow on first and then the eucalyptus. I used all the bobbles on picks to hold down the eucalyptus. We live in a pretty windy area so I have to really pin it all down well so it doesn't fly off the wreath.


Have you made a nice wreath for any part of the year? I'd love to see so leave a link in the comments if you have one!

Friday, December 09, 2011

Seasonal Affective Disorder and the Elusive Holiday Gift

OMG can you tell that I am coming down with seasonal affective disorder? No not that SAD, the other one. The one that leaves you tangled in Christmas lights and up all night thinking about HOW and WHEN you are ever going to get those holiday cards in the mail! I have some fun projects planned for the weekend and should the weather cooperate, I'll share them next week. But for now I thought I'd share a recent purchase I made that rocks my world.

In an effort not to be that  mom who says there are no pictures of her third child because they are, well, the third child, I am trying to get some images of Cici framed and up on the walls. For the past few months I searched high and low for some frames I both like and can afford and frankly, most of them suck. I had some paintings I bought in China custom framed and after dropping a freaking WAD of cash on that I thought there must be a better way. There. Must. Be!

And then out of no where my friend Lisa posted on her blog that she had ordered a few canvases from Easy Canvas Prints and she loved them. I adore Lisa's photography and totally respect her style so with her endorsement I was ready to take the plunge into frameless framing!

I ordered two 12X12 pictures of my gorgeous daughter {and come on, look at that face! Cute beyond words} and was knocked off my feet when I got them in the mail this week. ECP has lots of sizes to choose from but will also do custom sizes. I chose a square because one of the pictures I wanted was a Hipstamatic shot and those are square by nature. And yes while I could have cropped it in Photoshop, I am kinda gettin down with the square foto. The composition is a bit different on a square image and I like the natural draw to the center because of the equal sides. Okay, I am getting ahead of myself and completely losing you aren't I?

So enough of my blabber. Here are the canvases I received this week and you can see that I did not wrap the image but instead added a color edge that is a neutral. Lots of options over on ECP. And if you like them on Facebook you can get lots of discounts. I just ordered an 18x24 for $34. That would be my THIRD order in less than a month with them! My second order is a series of 5 prints, all from China in B/W. One 18x24, two 8x8s, and two 8x10s for a wall in my dining room. And I got word yesterday that those prints have shipped. YAHOO!!! I will post a picture of the wall when they arrive and I have a minute to hang them.



Do you have anyone left on your list you still need to buy for? Two lucky people on my list are getting a nice big canvas from ECP. YAY!

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Let it Snow: 10 Year Old Girls' Night In Birthday Party!


Thanks to Duncan Hines for sponsoring my writing. There's no limit to the baking possibilities, so grab your favorite Duncan Hines mix and Comstock or Wilderness fruit fillings and Bake On! www.duncanhines.com.



As I have said before, my careful family planning efforts never really worked out as I had hoped. What's that saying about hearing God laugh? I am sure I have him roaring on most days. I always intended on having three beautiful children and definitely one of each gender and all of them would have late spring or summer birthdays so we could have really fun birthday parties in the backyard. There would be balloons, and ice cream, and running around, squeals of delight and bare feet. But alas, my first two children {the ones who's timing I seemingly had control over} are cold weather babies. 

Over the years I have struggled to find the right mix of entertainment and creativity to plan parties both the kids and mom enjoy. Last week, SweetPea turned 10. It is beyond me how I have a TEN year old. We decided to have a Girls Night In sleepover complete with warm fuzzy socks, movies, popcorn and nail painting. With her birthday falling just as the true winter season kicks off, we decided to do a let it snow theme to the night some style and beauty. And then it was 60 degrees here in the should-be-frigid Northeast! 

At 4:00 pm on Saturday we welcomed 5 of her friends over had a fun filled night of activities. The big girls rented a movie, gave each other mani/pedi's, and hopped around to music in SweetPea's room. I also got each of them a pair of fleecy soft socks and we did a Yankee Sock Swap. None of them had done a Yankee Swap before and were so puzzled with the stealing of other people's item. In the end everyone got the color sock they wanted and they giggled their way upstairs.

Pizza and cake are requisite parts of a sleepover birthday party. SweetPea had a special request for a cake this year. She wanted an ice cream cake but wanted it in the flavors of Neapolitan ice cream. If you are not familiar with Neapolitan, it is vanilla, strawberry and chocolate layered in stripes in the container. A perfect choice for the indecisive child. But hum, how to translate that into a cake!?!
Then it hit me, vanilla flavored cake with chocolate and strawberry ice cream layers. 

And then as if Duncan Hines could read my mind, I was asked to use one of their products for a holiday themed Girls Night In party. 
Perfect timing people. Perfect timing!






The perfect part of all this is that I was really running out of time to prepare the whole party. I was offered a photog gig at the end of last week too so time was scarce. Cake mix and prepared frosting was definitely going to save me. I ran out and grabbed a box of Duncan Hines' butter yellow cake, some vanilla frosting and some glaze which I had never seen before. I wasn't quite sure how I was going to frost the ice cream cake and ideally wanted it to look frosty and snowy. In the end I was able to use the glaze to get a melting snow/ice look to the cake and SweetPea LOVED it.




Remember to check out Duncan Hines' website www.duncanhines.com to find some great recipes for your holiday get-together! I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective.

Monday, December 05, 2011

with bells on

This weekend was party party party {and party} for us. Four events to either attend, coordinate, photograph, or be guests of honor at and we are pooped! It was a fabulous festival weekend here in our little town as well. Thankfully mother nature gave us gorgeous days  full of bright sunshine and crisp enough air to feel the season that is upon us.

Today I am spending the day catching up but I have lots to show you from the weekend so stay tuned.....

Oh and in FAB news, the Coach Purse raised a good bit of money for Half the Sky so I am very grateful to all of you who participated in Lisa's giveaway! And there is still so much more to be given away over there and at the two other blogs in my sidebar! I'm gonna go take a peek now, come join me......................

Friday, December 02, 2011

Lunch with Cici: Squash two ways

This week I have been focused on pointing you all to a big fundraising event to support 3 charities that are near and dear to my heart. I hope you all have had a chance to stop by the blogs to see what kind of giveaways are happening and I am so grateful to those of you who have donated. If you still haven't had a chance to peek, the links are just to your right in my sidebar.

I thought I'd take a minute to show you a quick little dish I made for lunch with our Thanksgiving leftovers. And while you are probably sick of hearing about what to do with leftovers, you should know that this particular side dish is one I make often throughout the year and decided at the last minute to add it to my Thanksgiving menu. So really it is regular food and not holiday food. Does that make it better? I know, we are all getting sick of holiday food. I'm with ya.

So which side dish am I talking about? The Sweet and Spicy Squash one. This has been a staple to our fall and winter dishes for many many years now. It is roasted squash with the sweetness of caramelized brown sugar, the heat of crushed red pepper, and the brightness of thyme. It is as simple as that and we happen to LOVE it around here.

Then in a quiet moment when just Cici and I were home, I turned it into a delicious savory risotto for a mommy and baby lunch date.

Ingredients
  • 4 C of 1" diced squash (I used Butternut and Delicata) 
  • 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 C brown sugar
  • ~1 T crushed red pepper (i use a red pepper grinder instead of the bigger flakes) You should adjust this to your liking.
  • 5 sprigs of thyme
For the Risotto
  • 1/2 C Arborio Rice
  • 2+ C chicken stock, warmed
  • 1/4 C minced pancetta
  • 1/4 C diced onion
  • splash of white wine
  • extra thyme
  • knob of butter (1-2 tsp)
  • 1/4 C total grated parmesan and gruyere cheeses
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 C leftover squash warmed or at room temp
Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees
  2. Toss squash with EVOO and some kosher salt
  3. Spread out on a silpat lined baking sheet and scatter sprigs of thyme throughout. You may need 2 baking sheets.
  4. Roast at 425 for about 10 minutes. I roast them until just the very top layer of the squash has some give to it when it is pricked with a fork. The interior should still be fairly raw.
  5. Take them out of the oven, turn the heat down to 350 degrees
  6. Sprinkle brown sugar and red pepper over squash and toss to coat. Shake pan so they are once again in a single layer.
  7. Put it back in the oven and roast until squash is soft but still has some bite and the sugar is gooey but not burned.
  8. Depending on your oven, you may need to reduce the heat so the sugar doesn't burn. You may have to watch this a little.
For the Risotto
  1. Saute pancetta in 1 tbs of olive oil over medium heat until crunchy like well done bacon. 
  2. Remove from pan with heatproof slotted spoon and turn off heat.
  3. Toss onions into pancetta drippings (yes, now we're talking!) and cook over medium-low heat until soft and translucent.
  4. Add rice and some thyme leaves (maybe 1/2 tsp) and cook (well toast actually) the rice for about 2 minutes.
  5. add a splash of wine - enough to make it all wet but not enough to cover.
  6. Cook until wine is absorbed and you hear the pan crackle once or twice.
  7. Now start adding your warm stock - ladle in enough to cover, and cook until it is all absorbed.
  8. Repeat until the rice is al dente - a bit of a bite to it. At this point taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to your liking.
  9. Cover with stock again, cook for 2 more minutes
  10. Add butter, cheese, cheese, and squash - turn off heat, cover, and go pour yourself a glass of wine.
  11. After 5 minutes, remove cover, stir to incorporate everything. Check for seasoning and adjust if needed.
Yay. Two dishes out of one! The sweet heat of the squash paired with the salty pancetta and earthy cheese is beyond delicious. You gotta try this.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wanna win a Coach Purse???

Hey everyone!

I have a favor to ask you on this lovely Wednesday morning.

I am helping three of my favorite bloggers raise money for three different charitable organizations. Each one focusing on helping China's orphaned children. My friend and inspiration, Lisa, over at Long Road to China is raising money for Half the Sky, an amazing outfit that is building orphanages, hiring and training nannies, and feeding children in China. Everyone who as adopted from China knows that if your child was in an orphanage supported by HTS, you would be thankful.

When I heard about this three pronged effort to raise money for all the little babies left in China's orphanages, {all of whom I'd adopt if I could} I knew I had to be involved. I have donated a new Coach purse to be given away on Lisa's blog today. A donation is not required to enter the drawing but I am asking with all my heart for you to head over there and click the link to HTS and make a simple $5 donation. It would mean the world to us.
 
 
 You know this purse is perfect for the upcoming holidays. 
And you know you want it! 
So please spread the love, make a small or large donation to Half the Sky and enter to win the contest. 


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Good Morning 10 Year Old

Our family gets to bookend the month of November with cake, goodies, frosting, balloons, and all around delicious smiles. My birthday starts off the month on the 3rd and SweetPea closes it out on the 29th! 

today

she

turns 

10
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Oh dear can it be true! Double digits already?

I am not going to write much because I will happily be baking a vanilla cake with chocolate frosting to enjoy after our celebratory dinner tonight. She has asked for a Curried Thai Fish Stew for dinner so we will be having that over Japanese rice first and then it will be on to CAKE!


So happy birthday my beautiful girl! Your smile makes me melt. I love you to pieces.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Holiday Charity

{The Fill Their Stockings charity event was paused over the weekend to work out some glitches and is relaunching today! Time to head on over to visit one of the three gals listed below to see what their blogs are offering today. One of you lucky donors will get a really good CyberMonday deal!}
Today marks the official start to the holiday shopping madness. I am sure plenty of you out there set your alarms to get up for Black Friday deals and hopefully you got'em. For me, today I am trying to focus on holiday magic and not madness. I can't for the life of me get up to do middle of the night shopping. Don't get me wrong. I love a good deal and I adore shopping but I like sleep better. So instead I am going to point you all in the direction of what could turn out to be the deal of the century and will also make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside at the same time.
 

The long and short of it is that 3 of my favorite bloggers have collected donations of AWESOME items to be given away in 12 days of giveaways. The only way to buy a raffle ticket is to make a donation to the charity associated with each of their blogs. Each of the charities supports children orphaned in China.

Starting November 25th (TODAY) and running through December 23rd, each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, Stefanie, Diana, and Lisa  will feature a special product on each of their blogs. That means 3 items each giveaway day, for a total of 9 items every week. The gifts will range from $50-$500 in value – and all of them are fantastic.

For a chance to win the item featured that day, all you need to do is leave a comment on that post and then click a button to donate $5 to the organization that we each represent: Stefanie for An Orphan's Wish, Diana for Pearl River Outreach and Lisa for Half the Sky. Your donation will go directly to the charity featured, and they will be notified of all donations made. For every $5 donation you make, you will be entered to win the item posted. If you’d like more entries, just make a larger donation! If you make a $25 donation, you will get 5 chances to win, and so on. And yes, if you’d like to enter on all three of our blogs on any given day to win one of the three items we have featured, feel free. The more the merrier!

So, you get a chance to win an exciting gift for yourself or someone special on your Christmas list and, at the same time, you are helping to make a difference in the lives of orphans in China, halfway around the world.

Sounds fun, doesn’t it?

I was happy to donate a Coach Purse which would be perfect for the holidays. You can see it in the teaser on Lisa's blog. And on that teaser it also looks like there is an iPad to be given away! Yikes! That is awesome!
So please head on over to these three blogs often over the next few weeks. I believe it is a grand total of 36 crazy awesome things will be given away. 
DON'T MISS OUT!


(and you can always find your way back to the three blogs from here. I have included a link to each of their blogs on my sidebar with the 3 stockings graphics.)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Giving Thanks

It should be no surprise what we are thankful for this year. In addition to having a beautiful new daughter in the house I am so thankful for the friends I have made along this long journey. Watching so many of you become parents for the first time or add to a growing brood of children has been a gift. I cherish all of you who stood by us during our wait and cheered us on or provided a shoulder to cry on.
I hope each of you has a wonderful day celebrating all that you are thankful for.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thanksgiving prep

 Suit up. It's time!

Are you ready? 

I am! 

This week I am doing some pretty serious pre-holiday calisthenics so I can enjoy my family and not injure myself on game day. After all, we have two family members celebrating their first Thanksgivings so I want it to be as relaxed and enjoyable as possible. Soooo today and tomorrow I am planning on doing most of the heavy prep so I can just saunter around my kitchen casually stirring things and basting birds while trying to teach my cute-as-a-button daughter to walk.

I love this holiday. I started hosting Thanksgiving the year we bought our first house and with the exception of last year, I've been doing it for 11 years straight. I love that this day is just about making a meal to share with family or friends. No presents or fictional people are involved. There is no stress or major preparation beyond how to perfect your game from last year.

First up was to figure out the menu. Here it is. These will be printed and on the table for our guests. We don't really have guests, I just like saying that. Well no, that's not entirely accurate since my parents come but it is hardly like having guests- you know the kind you get a little nervous about hosting. No, just Nana and Papa will be here to relax and enjoy the day with the kids. No pressure.



Then it is on to the shopping part. I did this yesterday thinking it would be less crowded than it might be today or tomorrow and dang it was wall-to-wall people in there. The state of the parking lot as I pulled in, had me catch my breath a bit. You know that feeling when you think to yourself, under any other circumstances I would turn around and come back later. But no, this was the time I had carved out to do these errands based on available help with the baby and big kids in school. So it was a take a deep breath and grin and bear it sort of situation. Thankfully I survived in large part due to my thorough list separated by store section. phew!





Last up in the pre-game drills is to figure out what can be done in advance. I have spent far too many holidays chained to the stove while my family is having a nice casual day on the couch laughing and enjoying each others company. Not this year. My master plan is to knock out much of what needs to be done today and tomorrow so I can also hang with the fam and watch the parade. I wonder what Cici will think of those giant balloons in the air? Hopefully there will be an Elmo one. She calls him mo mo and thinks he's the cat's meow. So here's my prep list for the next 48 hours.






And lastly, just a few internet odds and ends. Here are some links to resources I have found useful. I will be using the Pioneer Woman's brine recipe this year. If you want some basic dos and don't s, take a peek at Michael Chiarello's video on brining.

You will also notice on my menu that in addition to the Cheesecake which you can find out more about here, there is also Kentucky Bourbon Pecan Pie and Brown Butter Apple Pie from Pickwick Baking Co. My lovely friend Ali Ryan is currently working her little tail off at culinary school getting a professional degree in pastry. AND on the side she is catering. Um. Yeah. How lucky for me is that? AND I am getting to photograph all her food. (and you should know that while I photograph I nibble on the scraps. It is a great gig.) Ali and Pickwick can be found on Facebook and on the web where she keeps a blog. Take a peek, cuz in addition to making yummy things she is funny as all get out.

Okay peeps. Game on.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving and a Book Review

About 5 years ago we were heading into our first Thanksgiving after filing our adoption paperwork with China.  The big kids were still small at the ripe old ages of 3 and nearly 5. Our days were a mix of pre-school drop offs, arts and crafts at home, and fun events at our town library. It was that year that I went to check out a few Thanksgiving related books and came home with a really nice surprise.


I hadn't flipped through this book before I checked it out of the library so I was caught by surprise as I read the pages aloud to the kids.




That year I had wanted the kids to start recognizing what they were thankful for and I thought this book might be a good introduction to going around the table voicing our tokens of appreciation. We had already made construction paper hand turkeys and wrote things we were thankful for on the tail feathers. But I wanted the kids to be able to say something at the table on this Thanksgiving Day in 2006.



So one pre-holiday afternoon, the three of us snuggled up on the couch and started to read this book. And just a few pages in, I am hit with this.



I immediately lost my composure and frantically tried to wipe the tears off my face while the kids are chanting in their little voices, mommy mommy what's the matter?

At that time I was still so hopeful and excited about our impending adoption but was starting to become fearful that the process might take longer than expected. I knew I was crying out of the love I had in my heart for the daughter I hadn't yet met but was also crying because the wait was continuing to lengthen and I didn't think I could bear the thought of a possible two year wait.

And now after having waited half a decade, I finally get to read this book to my new daughter on Thanksgiving Day. Even if you don't have someone special from China at your Thanksgiving table, this is a really cute book for little kids. And if you are so lucky to have flown through the night for your child like we did, you must rush out to your nearest bookseller to add this to your book collection.


**and tomorrow I will be sharing our menu and my game plan for Thursday!!**

Friday, November 18, 2011

The very best cookie recipe: 10 year scientific study proves it

Okay I don't know if it was exactly 10 years but I am guessing we are in the right ball park with that. I've been making an Oatmeal Cherry Toffee Chocolate Chip cookie for about a decade now and it is the absolute, very best cookie on earth. I meticulously conducted  a very scientific study starting in about 2000 when I first saw this recipe prepared on the old Martha Stewart show. You know, the pre-taped half hour show on CBS that was quite popular in the late 90's? A little old lady from Maine came on the show one day to share her cookie recipe with Martha.

I am pretty sure I made them that night in the kitchen of our first home, and holy hot damn these were keepers.  We plowed through the entire lot just the two of us and realized this was cookie meth and we were going to need help. So the next day week when I made more, we kept a dozen at the house and sent 2 dozen into work with my husband. This is where the scientific study comes in. As expected, they were a huge hit with his group. Pretty soon, I was being begged to send in my cookies. At that time I worked as an event planner from my house and had no children. Spur of the moment cookies were a common occurrence. Every person I have made these for takes a bite like they are expecting your run of the mill oatmeal raisin or chocolate chip cookie. And the face they make when they realize it is cookie heaven is fun to watch. So if you are involved with a cookie swap this holiday season or just want to leave Santa something extra special, you've got to try these! You'll thank me.


Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup light-brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups oatmeal
  • 1 cup dried cherries
  • 1 cup bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup toffee pieces, (5 1/2 ounces)

Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Sift together flour and baking soda, and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl once or twice during mixing. Add egg, and mix on high speed to combine. Add vanilla extract; mix to combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  2. Add the sifted flour a bit at a time on a low speed until well combined. Add oatmeal, cherries, chocolate, and toffee pieces; mix to combine.
  3. Divide dough into three equal portions, and roll into logs using plastic wrap, approximately 1 1/2 inches in diameter. To bake, cut logs into 3/4-inch pieces. Bake on parchment-lined baking sheets, until golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from oven, and transfer to a baking rack to cool.

Suggestions

  1. chop your chocolate into chunks. The varying size of chocolate bits is fun.
  2. when you buy dried cherries make sure you don't accidentally buy sweetened ones. I did that once. YUCK.
  3. divide the dough into 3 equal portions and roll into 2" logs. I get about 36 cookies from this recipe.
  4. wrapped well, the logs store in the freezer for a good long while.
  5. make sure your oats are steel cut and not quick cook ones.
  6. in the summer ,sandwich some vanilla bean ice cream between two of these bad boys for an out of this world ice cream sandwich.


     Recipe: Martha Stewart - well actually, a little old lady from Maine

    Wednesday, November 16, 2011

    Feeling blue and flying planes

    Do you ever feel like you are in a funk but can't quite put your finger on it? Family is good. Career going well. Kids succeeding at being kids. And even your dog is content. But you have that weird uncomfortable feeling that things are not all completely right. When I get that feeling I usually chalk it up to needing a different hobby which is why it can sometimes feel like mayhem around here at PickleChatter. One day I'm cooking, another day I'm refinishing furniture and then you pop on here to find I've cheated on you and created another blog.

    Okay I digress. 

    No, this is not about all that. 

    This is about what just hit me as I was driving to pick-up SweetPea from school. As I pulled into the carpool lane I began to notice how lovely the bright leaves looked against our very grey, pre-rain, sky. And as I was looking up at the storm clouds I noticed a big jet flying across dark sky. Its colors too were vibrantly visible against the stormy grey and I am pretty sure it looked like a Korean Air jet. When I see planes I stare at them. I always have. Even as a kid I was mesmerized by the way they gracefully slid across the open sky. On the kinds of days when jet planes would leave contrails behind them, I would try to watch the white lines dissipate into the blue sky for as long as I could see them. And I would always try to guess how many people were on the plane and where they were coming from or going to. I know I am not alone in saying that my days of getting completely lost in watching an airplane in the sky were forever changed on 9/11/2001. But today I noticed that I have been watching and wondering again with less fear about fire in the sky. Today I longingly wondered where they were coming from. Our town is often in a circling pattern for Logan Airport so just checking directionality doesn't really tell you much. In the summer I like to sit on the beach and watch the planes take off from Logan, fly north and then start to bend East. I know those people will be enjoying scones, croissants, vino or some other European treat in less than 12 hours. And without a doubt, I am always jealous. There is nothing more I love to do in this world than travel. The anticipation of travel gets me through my non-traveling periods and the act itself feeds my soul like nothing else.

    Yesterday, I read a great line on a blog I frequent,

    Monday, November 14, 2011

    Shannon's Thanksgiving Salad

    I got an email from a friend yesterday asking what I was cooking for Thankgsiving next week. The next week part nearly gave me a heart attack. I quickly flipped to my calendar and sure enough, we are 10 days out from my favorite holiday. The holiday I love to cook for and for which I reluctantly give up hosting duties. I love that it is just about food and family and not presents and me me me. The latter is Christmas' job.

    But OMG November has slipped through my fingertips and here I am 10 days out and I haven't even ordered my turkey!! I am going to race to my community store today to see if I can order my usual bird and seriously if I am too late you are going to find me face down in the parking lot crying. I've been ordering my fresh thanksgiving turkey from the same people for nearly 10 years and I just can't do a T-day dinner with out it!

    In an effort to light a fire under my ass, I will share with you some of my favorite dishes from the past that I am likely to do again. First up is a salad I served one year in an effort to cover my ass timing-wise when some other stuff in kitchen wasn't cooperating. And it was so freaking good that it became a staple at our holiday table. It involves pancetta, a hail mary ingredient when you are trying to save your ass at a dining table.


    It became known as Shannon's Thanksgiving Salad. I know, a creative and original name. Don't get too jealous of my recipe-naming-ingenuity. If you feel the need to rename it for me, leave a comment. Coolest name wins. (con't for recipe)


    Wednesday, November 09, 2011

    back in 5 minutes

    I know. 

    I was absent today.

    If you don't find me here in the future, check here.

    A new thang for me.

    Tuesday, November 08, 2011

    Meal Planner. Recipe Organizer. Life Saver.

    Finally, some help in the kitchen!!

     PepperPlate is by far my favorite meal planning software ever! As you all know I adore messing about in the kitchen and putting a yummy meal on the table. But with three kids, a dog, a husband, the PTO, and oh yeah, me and all my crazy other interests, getting a plan together while also having the right food on hand is a challenge. I am always a sucker for that new meal planning device or app and frankly none of them have ever worked out.

    Until now!

    This is an app that I have on my iPhone but it wirelessly syncs to the website to update new recipes, menus, and calendars. It has enabled me to....
    my recipe list 


    Monday, November 07, 2011

    New look for and old hutch

    A few months ago I decided I wanted a very bright conversation piece in my dining room and had the desire to paint my mahogany china hutch bright turquoise. Since the hutch was a hand-me-down from my mom, I had to understand when she nearly fainted at the thought. So out with the old and in with the new. I started my hunt for just the right piece last spring and it wasn't until a few weeks ago that I stumbled upon it. For me, the thrill of the hunt is as much fun as getting a new pretty thing to look at in my home! I found a hutch that had all the right proportions, lots of great details like beveled edges and carvings, and had the option for open chicken wire doors or glass! Now we're talkin'!! And I tried not to burst into a toothy grin when the shop owner told me she'd give it to me for $200 if I would just get it out of there!



    A week later, we arranged for the piece to be delivered and we tucked into a corner in the dining room next to the old china cabinet that needs to be delivered back to my mom. Seeing them side by side was interesting because I hadn't noticed in the store that the waist line of my new hutch was much lower than the one I currently had in my house. To me a larger top on a cabinet just feels a bit more European while the other one feels very Colonial. I couldn't be more pleased with my purchase. Now, I just needed to get it refinished without screwing it up!!

    Friday, November 04, 2011

    Christmas Gift Idea

    Don't get me wrong here. I hate that Christmas seeps into the rest of the fall holiday season and threatens to kill off all those b-list holidays. It's as if it thinks it's better than all the other holidays and that they are just the preamble to it as the main attraction. Oh I know it isn't Christmas' fault. It is all those greedy retailers out there who even before Halloween clear out prime floor display real estate to make room for Christmas trees! {yes Target, I'm talking about YOU!}

    But I can't help but show you a really cool gift for any little people on your Christmas list.


    Thursday, November 03, 2011

    Photographs and your family memories

    When you think back to your childhood, are some of your memories visualized by the photographs your parents took? Does the picture of you standing next to a bright yellow bike with a banana seat and a big red bow pop into your head when you think about your childhood birthdays? I grew up in a shutter happy family {actual darkroom in basement} and although we had wallpapered walls (really good 70's wallpaper I might add) we might as well have had bare walls because they were so covered with family photographs that you could barely notice the large format blue gingham print behind the frames. When I think back to 8th grade graduation or my neighborhood friends or that ski trip, I immediately think of a picture my mom took that is likely hanging somewhere in our house.

    I love that pictures do that for us. I love that we are able to freeze time through a lens and preserve it for the future. And I love that the photographs I take today will hopefully color my children's memories of their childhood. I carry a DSLR with me pretty much wherever I go but thanks to some pretty cool technology, it doesn't require a keen eye or a fancy lens to get a special picture these days.

    Wednesday, November 02, 2011

    Money and Little People: The Conversation



    This post was underwritten by BMO Harris Bank, which offers a matching $25 on a new savings account opened for your child through their Helpful Steps for Parents program. Learn more at bmoharris.com/parents.


    A few years ago I found myself completely bewildered when my then eldest child was having trouble with the concept of money in her first grade currency unit. And when I say she had trouble with money, I don’t mean she had trouble with addition or was feeling the weight of mountains of credit card debt, she had trouble identifying the actually pieces of currency. We spent endless nights doing homework with her saying things like, no no the BIG one is the quarter and the LITTLE one is the dime.  Once she was able to identify all the coins, it was yet another task to learn what each of them was actually worth.

    Dear God! By her age I knew exactly what a quarter looked like and what it was worth because it could get me a WHOLE candy bar.

    But these days, treats, whether they are candy bars or Pokemon cards, are scooped up at the store with the swipe of a magic plastic card. And it dawned on me during those first grade years that my kids needed to see me using more CASH to really understand money and spending. Please tell me I am not the only mom out there who just never carries actual dollar bills.

    Money is a slippery slope these days with our dodgy economy and job market so who knows what it is going to look like when my babes are released into the free world in about 12 years. As a result, we talk about money as often as we can at our house. I want my kids to understand how it is earned and how it is used. It took them a little while to understand that money doesn’t just come from an ATM machine and that we can take out only what we put into that bank of ours.

    We do not have a general weekly allowance here at our house. I want our kids to grasp that the amount of money they get as an allowance is directly related to the amount of work they do. And some jobs pay better than others. We have what we call the pearl system. I have a large jar of pearls and each pearl is worth 25 cents. For each chore they do, they get a certain amount of pearls in their individual jars. The first day of the Pearl Program I told the kids, I needed someone to empty the dishwasher and someone to pooper-scoop the back yard. I’ve never seen two kids actually fight to unload a dishwasher. Before they were officially assigned their chores, I asked if they wanted to know the pearl value for each job. Pooper-scoopering would garner more pearls than the dishwasher. Hum. Now there was something to think about.

    I am always on the look out for ways to engage my kids in a healthy discussion about money. I was excited to be chosen by BMO Harris Bank to do a post about kids and money because it is a topic I hadn’t thought of bringing here. I think it is a great conversation for parents to bat around so we can all learn from each other. How do you guys talk to your kids about money? I’d love to hear your ideas!

    I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective. To learn more about BMO Harris Bank, visit their website http://bmoharris.com/parents.

    Tuesday, November 01, 2011

    babies, sharing, and dogs

    Let me just put it this way. When my one year old is sitting in her highchair and she reaches for a piece of food, my also one year old labradoodle very diligently sits with rapt attention.  Yes, if you've put those pieces together you have realized that my baby is feeding the dog, the other baby in this house, from her highchair.

    We have been trying very hard over the past year to teach our puppy to sit, wait, leave it, and drop it. The first two we have down pat. The third is hit or miss. The fourth however seems to be a lost cause. Once he has something he'll run for his life with it.

    And because we like to up the ante, we also now have a baby in the house again who speed crawls EVERYWHERE looking to get into everything.  We are working teaching her where she can go and what she can play with versus what she can't. i.e. please don't tip over the dog's water bowl because here is a giant bin of toys to play with right here. When we say no, no, no both the dog and the baby look at us. Fun times.

    Then there is that quandary about the fact that my baby has no friends.

    Monday, October 31, 2011

    Halloween firsts and lasts

    I am far too sentimental of a person not to have a hard time saying good bye or letting go. As I mentioned in this post here, this is Buddy's final year in our sweet elementary school. I have been very involved over these years with our PTO as I try to lend a hand where ever and whenever I can. That has become much more difficult these days with a little napper, squealer, and otherwise get under your feet person. I was so happy to be able to celebrate Hallween over the weekend at Buddy's very last school Halloween Monster Carnival since Halloween itself will be on a school night this year. This carnival is the talk of our little town and is always a huge hit. The parents who organize this event each year, knock it out of the park and I am always in awe of their effort and creativity. While I am heavily involved with parent organized events over there, this is the one event I have not been involved with so I can shout from the roof tops about what a wonderful job these parents do without feeling like I am giving myself a boost at the same time. Seriously. It rocks and those parents are freaking awesome.

    Once the sun went down it got cold. I mean really cold and our little Tigress, who was dressed as a tigress, was shivering up a storm. I decided she would escape with SweetPea and me to the warm car for the next event of the evening. As I buckled her in, she gave me a look like, where are we and why do I feel like this?. Yes, this little Southern China beauty has never felt close to freezing temps so this was a big shock to a little body. 

    In addition to our last Monster Carnival, SweetPea had her very first school dance the same night. Cici and I drove her over, walked her in, and after discussing pick-up procedures she disappeared into a sea of brightly colored characters goofing around sporting big ass smiles. As I drove away, I thought to myself, did I really just drop my daughter off at a dance??

    By the time we got home, all the in's and out's of the car while trying to buckle her in over a puffy tiger costume had driven Cici over the edge. I don't blame her. She had had it. But a warm cup of milk along with a little dinner helped smooth things out for her and she spent the rest of the evening cracking us up. She even stayed up past 9:00 pm so she could hear about her sister's first dance.

    The night was a huge success for everyone and I was thankful that the next day was Saturday and I didn't care who's costume was lying in the middle of the living room floor.

    So happy Halloween everyone. Hope you get lots of treats and fewer tricks tonight. If you live in the Northeast, Mother Nature has given us the biggest trick of all with the snow. Hope your snow boots go with your costume!



    Friday, October 28, 2011

    Favorite Photo Friday: Beach Time on a Fall Day

    Thought I would join in Lisa's fun over on The Long Road to China this morning by posting a few of my favorite photographs. As you know, Cici and I recently had a little beach photo session and it yielded so many cute photographs that I kinda need lots of excuses to share them! I love pointing my camera at this little girl with her big brown eyes and gorgeous face.









     

    Thursday, October 27, 2011

    Quick treat to make with the kids

    Tis the season for sweets. With Halloween coming up fast I have candy on the brain. It seems my three kids are all set for costumes with a WHOLE five days to spare between now and trick-or-treating. If you and your goblins are all set to spook the hood and are looking for something fun to do over the weekend, here is an easy treat to make. It takes virtually no time, little prep and is something you can hand out to your neighbors and friends as they come round on Monday night.


    Making lollipops, especially when a friend is over, is always a huge hit. Here is a foolproof way to make something pretty and wow your kids in less than 30 minutes.






    Ingredients:
    Original Jolly Rancher Candies
    Lollypop Sticks
    Small Clear Candy bags

    Preheat oven to 200°
    Line cookie sheet with foil as flat and wrinkle free as possible.
    Lay candies out in a pattern you like.
    Place in oven gently and melt.
    Keep watching until the candy is fully melted and connects.
    Remove from oven and immediately roll a stick into the soft candy.
    Watch your kids smile!


    Pin It

    For Christmas I am thinking about doing just red and green lollipops! I mean really, who doesn't love a Jolly Rancher?