Saturday, December 31, 2005

A New Cooking Blog!!!

Come on over and check out my sister and I's new cooking blog- Two Many Cooks In The Kitchen.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Currently Reading: The Art of Romantic Living

The new book I am reading this week is The Art of Romantic Living: Simple Touches to Enhance Everyday Life by Susan Wales. The author has also coauthored at least one book on entertaining as well.

While I have no immediate plans to install a chandelier over my bathtub or go on a hot-air balloon ride with my husband, I am very inspired by the many simple and inexpensive ways to add beauty to my life and home. She includes a lot of verses and inspirational quotes that remind me of Alexandra Stoddard's books, but this one is written from a Christian perspective.

I picked up this book for only several dollars at a Christian book outlet this week and have found it to be well worth the money spent. It's one of those books that you can pick up and read a couple of pages at a time. I highly recommend this book!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Christmas Recap

I hope everyone has had as wonderful of a Christmas as we had this year. We were down at my sister's house over Christmas. It was very nice having the whole family together. My parents and brother are here from Oregon and this is the first Christmas to have a baby in the family since me.:-) Needless to say, the Knoxster received special treatment for Christmas this year, but fortunately he is a very charming and sociable child who does quite well with all the extra attention.

My sister cooked a delicious Christmas dinner of Pork Tenderloin with Tarragon Mustard Sauce which was wonderful and had sides of Parmesan Potatoes, Spinach Artichoke Casserole, Asparagus, Wheat Bread, Fruit Salad and Green Salad. In the evening, we had snacks and desserts that we all helped prepare. My contributions to the day were a Mango Cheeseball, Green Salad, Christmas cookies, and a Chocolate Cake with a creamy peppermint icing. My mom made a delicious sugar-free pumpkin pie for my dad, who is diabetic, and we all enjoyed it.

It seemed as though we had a larger pile of presents than usual this year. Maybe the new baby is the reason for that? But this is the first Christmas we have all been together since Kathryn and I have been married, so there were 3 more people in the family. I know that presents are not the real reason for Christmas, but it is such a fun tradition to give and receive. I was feeling pretty good about all the bargains that I had gotten on Christmas gifts this year. But come to find out, everyone did that! My husband thinks it is hilarious how we(Mom, Kathryn and I) get such pleasure out of telling where we got our presents. We are all great clearance and yard sale shoppers, as well as the occasional re-gifters. Among my pile of gifts were a set of sheets,a sweatshirt,some books, cherry kitchen towels, cherry serving plates, cherry spreaders, a cherry spoonrest and trivet, some Christmas ornaments and decorations and a vintage apron embroidery kit. Maybe our families wish for me to decorate my kitchen with cherries?!?! I sort of got that idea!;-)

We did some shopping on our way home. My sweet husband agreed to let me stop at my favorite store- the April Cornell outlet store in Greenville. The cashier who was also the manager gave me a $20 dollar coupon for shopping that day so I spent very little on two items. I pretty much got one dress($19) for free. I returned the favor by letting him stop at his favorite music store in Gaffney.

Now we are home and I am still digging myself out from under a very generous Christmas. I am leaving my tree and decorations up until after New Years. My family is still around and for me the holidays will not truly be over until the last guest leaves. I always look so forward to this time of year and while I am anxious about life getting back to normal, something in me wants to prolong the Christmas season just a few more days!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Memorable Christmas Gifts

As one grows older, it is often rather interesting to note which childhood gifts are remembered. In my case, it is not so much the item itself or the price and popularity, as the events surrounding it. Here are some gifts that I remember quite clearly. They may not have been my most favorite over the years, but definitely the most memorable.

1. In third grade, I received a brand-new winter jacket. Not only was it the first brand-new coat this little girl had ever owned, it was reversible and had those popular zip-off sleeves. I wore that new jacket proudly to a restaurant for Christmas dinner.Oh, did I mention that I was also sick with the flu that day? I threw up all over the floor and my lovely coat on the way out of the restaurant. Although I was quite sick, I was not so sick not too worry about whether or not I had ruined my jacket. Mom washed it promptly upon returning home, because I would not rest until I was assured that there were no lasting stains.

2. I think I was nine when my brother and I both received Slinkys from our teacher. What fun we had! We also had unexpected company that weekend that included some teenagers who thought it great fun to torment a little girl by grabbing her slinky when she least expected it. The result? A Slinky with a hump-back. It's wires were so bent, I couldn't repair it. Believe me, I tried.:-)

3. I went through an anti-hairwashing phase during my adolescent years. During this time, I refused to wash my hair very often. Don't ask me why... I think I didn't care to get my head wet, although swimming under water never seemed to bother me. Anyways, the logical gift during this period was shampoo. Even though the Strawberry Shortcake shampoo didn't work(the bottle was so cute and it smelled so nice that I just couldn't bring myself to waste it), a well-meaning family member was sure that a shampoo with a name like European Mystique would do the trick! FYI, I religiously wash my hair very day now and can't imagine whatever got into me then.

4. My mom believed that her children were much more appreciative of items when they were wrapped up and received as gifts.This explained the many piles of underwear that were received over the years. We got other small things too. I was in seventh grade when my heart's desire was an ever-sharp pencil. I was thrilled to get one for Christmas that year. I used it carefully for quite a few years, too.

5. My brother gave me a white teddy bear that sang Christmas carols when I was about thirteen or so. I was quite concerned that the battery would go dead because it was not one to be replaced. I shouldn't have worrried. That bear sang for years,in the middle of the night, and there was no way to turn it off.

I'm sure there were many other gifts through out my childhood, but I just can't think of all of them now. So as you give and receive gifts this Christmas, keep in mind that although the gifts themselves may not be that flashy, there will still be plenty of memories to last a lifetime!

Saturday, December 17, 2005

It's A Girl!

You may remember a little over a month ago when I posted about my cousin who was critically injured in a tragic accident that killed his five children. His wife was pregnant with their sixth child at the time.

The baby, a sweet little girl, was born Wednesday. They are all doing well. What a special little one!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Christmas Baking

In an attempt to start a new Christmas tradition, my husband and I decided to make Christmas goodies together this year. Actually, we decided on the tradition two years ago, but this is the first year that I scheduled the event so that it actually took place.

We decided on 5 different varieties of cookies/candy to prepare in small batches. Since there are only two of us and we weren't planning to give a lot of cookies away as gifts, we didn't see any reason to get carried away and bake enough treats to last until spring or beyond.

We made Oatmeal Sandwich Cookies, Russian Tea Cakes, Frosted Cut-Out Cookies, Peanut Butter Ritz Cracker Sandwiches dipped in chocolate, and Chocolate Peanut Squares. They are all delicious, now that we can stand to look at sweets again! (I knew it was bad when two hours into the baking, my sugar-loving husband declared that he may not want sweets again.)

It was a different experience for us. I love to cook and bake so I tend to view the kitchen as my personal domain. That day I had to share.:-) But with two people, it went more quickly and was so much more fun than doing it all by myself. We worked together and found out which tasks were better for who.

I wasn't sure if this would become a tradition after all. It was rather hectic, you know. But this week we have had two opportunities to share small cookie platters with friends in our small group and at my husband's worship team practice. And guess whose idea it was to take treats to share? Not mine, but my husband, who is very proud of his/our accomplishments in the kitchen. He loved the fact that I actually let him be actively involved.

Note to self- cookie baking will be a Christmas tradition for us, after all.

This is a new recipe that we tried this year. It is from the Dec/Jan "05 issue of Taste of Home. This is a no-bake recipe and very easy to make. It is our new favorite Christmas recipe.

Chocolate Peanut Squares
2 cups powdered sugar
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
2/3 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup butter, melted

2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
4 1/2 teaspoons creamy peanut butter
1/2 teaspoon butter

Lina a 9-inch square pan with foil and butter the foil; set aside. In a large bowl,combine powdered sugar, peanut butter, graham cracker crumbs and butter. Spread into prepared pan.

Combine topping ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl; heat until melted. Spread over peanut butter layer. Refrigerate until cool. Using foil, lift out of pan. Cut into 1-inch squares. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Yield: about 1 1/2 pounds.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Israeli Spice Chicken & Two-Tomato Salad

These recipes are from Rachael Ray's 30 Minute Meals 2 cookbook. We love this chicken. You can make extra of the spice rub and keep it on hand to season any kind of meat.

Israeli Spice Chicken
Serves 4
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts(1 1/2 to 2 pounds) split to make 8 pieces
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
4 Tablespoons Israeli Spice Rub

Israeli Spice Rub
1& 1 1/2 Tablespoons paprika
1& 1 1/2 Tablespoons ground cumin
1 Teaspoon oregano
1 Teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 to 1 Teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1& 1/2 Teaspoons coarse Kosher salt

Warm pita or flat bread, for passing
Place chicken in a shallow dish. Drizzle with olive oil to barely coat the meat. Rub chicken liberally with spice blend. Let stand 10 minutes.
Preheat grill pan or large nonstick skillet to medium-high. Grill chicken 6 or 7 minutes on each side or until juices run clear. Serve with tomato salad and green vegetable. Piling the salad and the chicken in a warm pita is a fun way to combine the flavors and textures of the two recipes.

Two-Tomato Salad
Serves 4
3 vine-ripe or Israeli red tomatoes
2 tomatoes, either yellow or orange
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped

3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 ripe lemon
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Kosher salt, to taste

Seed and chop the tomatoes and combine with onion and parsley in a shallow bowl. Combine oil, lemon juice and spices in a small plastic container with a lid. Shake dressing to combine and pour over salad. Season with salt and toss to combine well. Let stand 10 minutes and serve.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Christmas...From The Mouth of a Two Year Old

We have most of our few Christmas decorations up now- just in time for our 2 year old friend to come visit. First he was totally mesmerized by the tree and requested for several "trips around the tree" where I told him what every ornament was. Until this, I hadn't realized how many toy ornaments we have on our tree-guess we do have a theme.:-) I also have quite a few red and white candy canes hanging on the tree as fillers. I love the old-fashioned charm they bring as well as being inexpensive and practical.(We can eat them after they serve their time on the tree.) Our little friend, who I must tell you, loves to eat, liked the candy canes too. "These look just like candy!", he exclaimed. To which I replied, "They sure do, don't they?"

Then he noticed our stockings hanging from the fireplace. He shouts, "I love your socks!" I explained that they are called stockings and I told him what most people do with them at Christmas. He was quite intrigued and over the next several hours talked several times about the stockings. Then out of the blue, he announces, while pointing at the stockings, "Hey Mary Ann, I like your flip-flops!"

Monday, December 05, 2005

My Husband's Blog

While I am still in link-sharing mode, I will take this opportunity to share my husband's blog. He has been on Blogger for as long as I have, but I have just never thought to share the link!

He is not likely to share recipes and frugal household tips, but rather general thoughts and opinions on life and the world's happenings, all from a conservative Christian perspective. He has a real gift for writing and is able to convey his thoughts in a clear manner that is still very interesting to the reader.

So go on over and check Andy's Treasures out!

Friday, December 02, 2005

Mary Ann's House This Week

It has been a busy and productive week! I think it is safe to say that we have recovered from Thanksgiving and are getting on with life.

The major accomplishment for the week has been that I cleaned my oven. It has needed cleaning for some time, but after a banana bread spill on Tuesday, it really needed it! So Wednesday morning, I got it started. My goodness! Even with all the doors wide-open and the kitchen fan running, the smoke alarm was still beeping constantly. I finally took it off the wall until we were done. But it was worth it- the oven interior which I thought was naturally black is now a shiny gray.:-)

I have wrapped most of our Christmas gifts this week. We don't usually go all out with big gifts, but give fairly small gifts to each person. My family has always done Christmas more simply and I would like to keep it that way! My husband and I love doing stockings for each other, but if we are not careful, we can easily spend more on stocking stuffers than big gifts!

We got our Christmas tree last night. We were going to wait until tomorrow, but ended up stopping at a little "Amish" country store on our way home from town last night. They not only gave us a fairly good deal on a cute, short and round tree, but I might be able to bake some breads and cookies for them to sell through the holiday season. I am going to take him some samples tomorrow.

I finally used a spa gift certificate that we won through a radio contest last Christmas. I got a spa manicure which is very special. It was a very nice salon, but a little more pricey than I could pay on a regular basis. What a treat it was, though, to have a few minutes of pampering.:-)

I made my bi-monthly trip to Sam's Club and the health food store and stocked up on the essentials. We should be pretty well set on the basics at least through Christmas, with extra baking and company coming. We are trying our best to stay out of the stores on weekends all this month.

I am now babysitting here at my house 4 days a week. It is a great combination of what I love most- kids and staying at home.:-) However, it is a challenge to fit housework and everything in with a baby and 2 toddlers in the house. ( I haven't ever had all 3 at the same time, only 2.)I am definitely getting better at balancing baby schedules and still getting my work done, as well as playing and doing fun activities with the kids.

For tonight's dinner we are having Israeli Spice Chicken, a salad, pita bread and hummus. The chicken is one of our very favorites and is great for clearing out your sinuses while cooking. :-) We are planning to decorate the tree and house tonight, too!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Hillbilly Housewife

I do seem to be on a link-sharing kick. But we can all use some new places to visit, right?

Hillbilly Housewifeis another informative homemaking site. I love to cook and gather lots of yummy, relatively healthy and cheap recipes and this site is full of them. Miss Maggie, the owner, also writes some great articles and she has a very humorous way of going about it. I found her article about Convenience Foods to be a great source of information. I recently came across her article Apron Evangelism and loved it.

Here is a phrase from her Convenience Foods article that my husband and I found amusing. Speaking about canned chicken broth- "It tastes like the shadow of a chicken was waved over a gallon of water and canned in a factory to sell to foolish women who don't know any better." When I expressed my plans to make turkey broth and soup from our leftover Thanksgiving bird, my husband asked if I was going to wave its shadow over a pot. Very funny indeed.:-)

If you've never visited Hillbilly Housewife, you need to go on over and check it out!