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! 





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. 

(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.


  • 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)


  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.


  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

    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

    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.