Friday, October 29, 2010

How To Cook Your Halloween Pumpkin

So, you've carefully cut out 2 eyes, a nose, and a mouth.  Your jack-o-lantern is looking pretty cute - that is until the next day when it starts to rot onto your front steps. 

I always hate to throw out a perfectly good pumpkin - even if it's just into the compost pile.

Several years back I came up with a solution. 

As you can see, my little preschool class is pretty good at making jack-o-lanterns.

After we carved our little snaggle-toothed friend, I toted him home to cook him and eat him (Ewww...)

First, I cut it in half.

Then, I cut each half into even portions.

  If you make your jack-o-lantern to hold a candle, you'll have already scooped out the goop and seeds.  If any goop is left after cutting it open just scrape across the surface with a knife and it will come clean.  Hang onto your seeds.  I'll explain how to roast them later.

Place all of your pieces onto baking sheets with sides.  This is very important because as the pumpkin cooks it will create liquid and you don't want it to leak into your oven. 

Cover with foil and bake in a 350 degree oven for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.  Every pumpkin is different, so check on it after an hour to see when it is done.  You want to be able to smoosh it with a fork.
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Not all pumpkin will be orange when it is done.  This particular one is a dark yellow.

Let it cool completely.  I let mine cool overnight and it did fine.  Then, carefully slide a knife between the soft pulp and the rind.  The pulp will come off easily.  If you want to get every little bit you can scrape a large spatula across the rind and more will come off.

Toss the pulp into a blender or food processor.  Blend until no chunks remain.  If you cooked it thoroughly, it will only take 5 seconds.

Measure out your pulp into 2 cup or 1 cup portions, depending on what kind of recipes you'll be using.

I freeze my pumpkin pulp in 2 cup measurements in ziploc bags.

My pumpkin made 10 cups of pulp (5 bags).  I used one bag to make a yummy pumpkin cake.  Jo-Lynne provided a great healthy recipe.

While the pumpkin is cooking, I carefully wash my seeds in a colander.  I discard the strings and extra pulp.

Then I place the seeds in a baking dish (I like my stoneware), drizzle with EVOO and a pinch of salt.  I let the pan sit on the stove until the pumpkin pulp is cooked.  When I pull out the pumpkin, I pop in the seeds.  Let them roast at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until they are brown. 

We like these as a yummy snack.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wrensday: Washing Machine Flower Garden

When we bought our home 5 years ago we found many random things around the property.  One of the random items was an old washing machine filled with dirt.  We emptied out the dirt (because we couldn't move it with the dirt in it) and put it up on the deck to hold seasonal flowers. 

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It brings a smile to those who see it.

The trick to keeping it "light" is an upside down 5 gallon paint bucket topped with a fiber lined hanging basket.  I occasionally add fresh plants, fertilizer and compost. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I Want To Finish Well

Because I write some of my blog posts ahead of time and schedule them to publish, you had no idea that I was driving up to Richmond, VA today to visit Medical College of Virginia/Virginia Commonwealth University to meet with a transplant team. 

You were not aware that I was being poked and prodded and evaluated to see if I'm healthy enough for a kidney transplant soon. 

You couldn't see the tears in my eyes as my hubby went to the lab to have 15 vials of blood drawn to see if he is potential donor for me.

I didn't want to share that with you because. . . well, I don't know why.  Because it's personal?  Because it's not pretty, and organized, and crafty.  It's not gardening, or cooking, or cleaning. 

But then, tonight, as I sat down and thought of all that occurred today, I realized that if I can show you my silverware drawer and my laundry detergent then I can certainly share something as real as my pain. 

Many of you have been so gracious and kind to me - a total stranger - and I know you have been praying for my health.  I've received so many sweet comments and emails from you and I want you to know that I really appreciate it. 

So, here's what happened today.  I had an EKG done, lots of blood work, a chest x-ray, and a TB test.  I still need an MRI and an ultrasound.  I answered tons of questions about my medical history and my family history.(Polycystic Kidney Disease in inherited)  I met several doctors and let them listen to my chest, back, and abdomen with a cold stethoscope.  I held my breath as they poked my painful right kidney to see if they could feel it.    I also found out that I'll need to have my gallbladder out before the transplant so it won't rear it's ugly head later.   I think the worst part was the EKG because I'm very ticklish and for some reason the leads they used were very cold and I couldn't stop giggling - talk about embarrassing!

Hubs and I spent an hour with a care coordinator going over the details of  the process.  The most uncomfortable part is the donation part.  You see. . . someone has to give up a body part for me to get healthy.  That just doesn't float my boat.  I like to be the one giving - not taking.  It's one thing to give blood but it's a completely different scenario to give an organ.  The coordinator helped us put things in perspective and we'll start getting the word out for a live donor soon.  (Come to find out, Hubs is not the best donor for me because he has high blood pressure). 

As we were driving to the Center this morning at 6:00 a.m., Hubs looked at me and said  "Are you nervous?".  I thought for a minute before giving an answer.  Yes, I was nervous.  But, not for the reasons you would think.  I was nervous because I knew that God had given me this assignment to do.  I knew He had assigned me to be a light to every person I met today.  I spent time with 11 different people today in one-on-one conversations.  I had an opportunity to show how God has blessed me and given me grace and mercy to handle whatever comes along.  I was nervous because I didn't want to disappoint my Lord.  I wanted to finish today well. 

If you're still reading, thanks so much for hanging on to the end of this lengthy post.  I'm sorry I don't have any photos to share.  I wasn't wearing a very flattering  gown!

Spicy Appetizer Recipe

This weekend we went to a friend's annual "Fall Fire Bowl".  We had a great time eating chili and cornbread and sitting next to their fire pit.  The weather was perfect and we all had a great time.  Each of us brought an appetizer or dessert.

 I came up with a last minute salsa/olive/spicy/beany type of concoction that my Hubs rated "Yum -Good" and that I had to hide from my son lest he eat all of it. .  Sometimes these experiments work out and sometimes they don't. This one worked out so I'm glad I remembered to write down the ingredients as I created it.

Here's the recipe:
1 can  black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup mild salsa
1 chili pepper, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 green onion, chopped
1/4 cup chopped olives
1/4 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. mesquite seasoning
2 Tbl. lime juice

Mix together in a medium sized bowl and let sit for several hours before serving.  Serve with pita chips.

Now, for the dilemma!  What should I call this concoction?  Any ideas?  Please share!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Monday Motivation:

This is the time of year that makes me want to clean out closets.  Call me crazy (I know you are), but the cool weather sends me scurrying into my coat closet to make sure everything is in order. 

Last year's post on organizing the coat closet created a bit of a stir.  I got a lot of emails about your coat closets, the coat closet you grew up with, and your neighbor's coat closets.  I also got a few comments and emails about the review I did of the closet in the photo I used.  Since we had so much fun then, I decided to visit another closet this year and show the good and not-so-good of how it is organized.


First off, I love-love-love the pocket doors.  It helps to have sliders here so the closet doors don't swing into the front door.

Secondly, I like the umbrella stand, but I think it's bound to get knocked over right there next to the front door.  Maybe it could be scooched into the closet. 

Next, great use of multiple hanging poles.  If your family is like mine, we have many more short jackets and coats than long ones.  This closet would be perfect for a family with small children.

Additionally, nice baskets for hats and gloves. 

Lastly, I might add a tray for wet boots on the floor and a set of hooks to hold keys and bags (maybe on the side of the vertical, middle section). 

If your coat closet is in need of some TLC, just follow these simple steps and you'll be ready for the cold weather. 
1. Start with the top shelf. Take everything out and sort like items with like (hats with hats, gloves with gloves, etc.)

2. Go through each pile and remove items that are worn out, don't fit, or you don't like any more. Put any items that are still useful into a bag for the thrift store or homeless shelter.

3. Gather containers that you can use as a drawer/bin for each of the groups of items you have. I have one for gloves, one for hats and scarves, and one for tote bags.

4. Now, do steps 1 and 2 with the clothes that are hanging on the rod.

5. Place clothing back onto the rod according the person they belong to. For example, start with your smallest person. Hang up all of their coats on the left side of the bar. Then, go to the next tallest person. Hang up all of their coats to the right of the previous person's coats. Continue on to the tallest persons's coats. This will give you extra floor space to the left of your closet.

6. Next, gather everything from the floor of the closet and go through steps 1, 2, and 3. This would be a good time to vacuum the floor and baseboards. Also, check for any mold that may have grown in the dark depths of the closet when you weren't looking (Ewwwww). Wipe it down with a bleach cleaner and let it dry thoroughly.

7. If you need to store shoes in the closet, place an extra door mat or a shoe tray on the floor to catch any dirt or rain/snow drips from the shoes.

8. If you're in the mood to make some improvements to the closet, you can add some hooks to the door or use an over-the-door hanger to hold an organizer. There are many to choose from. Here is one I like and here's another good idea.

When my children were little I used a series of tote bags for keeping everything organized and ready to go out the door. I had a different color bag for every activity we had (library, church, PTA, work, beach). When I came across something, like a library book needing to be returned, I simply placed it in the correct bag and it was ready to go.

Proverbs 31:21  She has no fear of winter for her household because all of them have warm clothes.  (NLT)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Family Favorite: Hot Fudge Sauce

Yesterday was our youngest grandson's first birthday. 

We had to celebrate long distance as he is in Boston and we're in Virginia.

Our newly married daughter (who lives locally) and her new hubs came over for dinner and we all Skyped with the rest of the family, singing Happy Birthday and watching the little birthday fella practice his newly found walking ability. 

Since no birthday celebration is complete without dessert, we whipped up our favorite Hot Fudge Sauce and served it over some Breyers Vanilla ice cream.  Yummmmm.

I always keep the ingredients in the pantry so I can make this sauce at a moments notice. 

It's hard to photograph hot fudge sauce as it melts the ice cream and causes you to drool a little bit.

I had to hurry as the family was snatching the bowls off of the counter. 

Here's the recipe: (makes 1 1/2 cups sauce)

2 oz. unsweetened chocolate
1/2 stick butter
5 oz. can evaporated milk (now that we eat healthier, I use real cream instead)
3/4 cup sugar (I only use 1/2 cup)
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp. vanilla

Melt butter and chocolate in a saucepan over med/low heat.  Add milk, sugar, and salt.  Mix well and cook 20 minutes over low heat.  Stir in vanilla.  To store, cover and keep in fridge for 2 weeks.  Reheat slowly.

** This recipe easily doubles for a crowd
** If you don't care for dark chocolate, you can substitute semi-sweet chocolate
** If necessary, you can simply eat this by the spoonful for a quick chocolate fix (in my humble opinion)

Warning:  If you make this recipe for guests, you will be required to provide the recipe for them.  They won't leave your home without it. 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Homemade Dishwasher Detergent

I've been slowly converting all of my "chemical"  cleaners over to more "natural" cleaners.  For the past month, I've been experimenting with several recipes and combinations of recipes to find the best cleaning solution for my dishwasher.

I finally came up with a combination that works well for me.  We have well water which is hard even though we have a softener attached to our water pump. 

Here's my recipe:
1 cup baking soda
1 cup borax
1 cup water

Stir together for a few minutes and allow to sit for several minutes before using.  It is very watery until it has time to sit.  Use 2 Tbl. per use. 

I have my recipe written on a card that I keep in my recipe box.  It's handy when I need to make a new batch of cleaner.  I had to make a new category - Natural Cleaners -  to keep the cards in.  I'm getting quite a collection of cleaning recipes. 

Along with this cleaner, I found that I must use vinegar as a rinse agent - you know, in that little dispenser in your dishwasher that you're supposed to fill with an expensive rinse aide.  I fill up my dispenser whenever it runs low (to check mine I press on the *bubble* on top of the dispenser - when I can't see any more liquid, I refill it)

My son found a set of these canisters at the thrift store and brought them home for me.  I've been using them to store my new natural cleaners in.  I like the spoon holder on the side.  They came with wooden spoons, but I replaced them with old plastic measuring spoons so that I can control the amount of cleaner I use. 

I like using items that I have on hand to make my own cleaners.  I like not adding harsh chemicals and bleach to my septic system.  I like saving money.  What natural cleaners are you using? 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Thrify Finds

Yesterday I took the day off.

I spent the entire day thrifting, antiquing, and eating with a dear friend. 

I didn't spend a lot of money, but I had a lot of fun.

Here are a few of the items I picked up for next to "nut'in".

I found two amber glass votives with adorable little flowers on them.  (the clear glass you see on the bottom is only an upside down vase I used to elevate the votive to get a better pic)

I'm a sucker or old linens.  I picked up these bridge napkins - so called because they have card patterns in the corners and were used when ladies entertained their bridge club.

I love the pinwheel pattern of this table runner.  I'll probably use this to make something for my Etsy shop.  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Simple Math: Addition for Fall Decor

Ah. . . Autumn.  I love all of the Fall colors.

I was looking around my house this weekend and decided to add a bit of color to a basket I already had.

First I added some sticks for height and then I added some clearance purchased orange berries for filler.

A metal urn (thrifted) filled with dollar store pumpkins and gourds (dollar store) sits nearby.  I also added an uplight (from my staging stash) that I turn on at night for added ambiance.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Monday Motivation: Changing Your HVAC Filter

Today's Monday Motivation is a reminder to change or clean your HVAC filter.

OK, OK, I know. Boring stuff. But, important stuff.

This filter traps a lot of the junk that floats around in the air in your home. If it gets too dirty, it keeps the heating and air-conditioning system from running efficiently. It's really an easy job.  The hardest part is remembering to change it out or clean it.  An added bonus is that the air in your home will be cleaner and that means less dusting. Yay!

1. Find where your filter is. It is sometimes attached to the air handler itself but sometimes it is behind a vent cover in the wall. I have to unscrew two little screws on a vent panel to access mine.

2. If you have a disposable filter, you'll need to replace it with a new one. Don't reuse a disposable filter. If you have a reusable one, take it outside and spray it with the garden hose and let it dry. Then replace it in exactly the same position you found it in.

I check my filter every month. I have a reusable one and I vacuum it clean every month and wash it outside every 3-4 months. Sometimes I also spray it with a little Lysol to disinfect it before placing it back into it's spot.

Today's Tip:  If you use disposable filters, buy a bunch when they are on sale or when you have a coupon and then you'll be more likely to change them out when you actually have the replacement on hand. 

*part of this post was originally published in October of 2009 - just keeping it real!
"Let the clean air blow the cobwebs from your body. Air is medicine."
                                                 Lillian Russell (1862-1922), quoted in Reader's Digest, March 1922

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Planning An Outdoor Wedding: Special Touches and What it Cost

This is the 10th and final post in my Wedding Series (can I get an Amen?)

Previous posts include:

I am a sentimental fool.  And apparently, I've raised a few sentimental daughters as well.  Our minds are always looking for ways to incorporate family memories into parties and family celebrations.  We also like to look for ways to make new memories.  For this wedding, my offspring outdid me with sentiment. 

Here is one of the ways wedding guests could give the couple good wishes.  These chalkboard guest frames could be written on with chalk. . .

Or with chalk markers. . .

We love these chalk markers.

We even made a "necessary" sign to help guests find a necessary room.

Another chalkboard read. . .

For guests to do this. . .

Do you see the 2 orange thumb prints sitting in the tree K. I. S. S. I. N. G?

Another chalkboard directed guests to take homemade applebutter or coasters as a small thank you gift.

My grandson, the ring bearer, carried the rings (pretend rings) in a bird's nest.  He had a few "treats" waiting for him after his performance.  On the back of my chair is the wrap I made to wear after the ceremony.  I am a very small person and all of the wraps I could find were way too big.  I decided to make my own by hemming and fringing a piece of suiting fabric.  It worked very well and I was happy to not drag a ton of fabric around behind me. 

In memory of my beloved Mother in law, who passed away two days before the wedding, my daughters made a beautiful, understated memorial for her.  Nearby was a miniature posy that mimicked my daughter's wedding bouquet

Lastly, my son made this swing for his sister as a gift. 

We were glad the photographer decided to make it a feature in the first published wedding photo.

There were many other touching things, but I think you all have been very patient to hang on for this long.

Now, for those of you who like to know the financial details, here are the numbers.

1.  Dress, alterations, veil,  - $850.00
2.  Rentals (dance floor, chairs) - $1,200.00
3.  Photography - $3,000.00
4.  Food, dishes, beverages, cake - $1,000.00
5.  Decor (table fabric, plants, table decor, candles, umbrellas) - $700.00
6.  Outdoor items (mulch, wood for stage etc. $300.00
7.  Stationary (programs, invitations, stamps) $300.00
8.  Emergency straw and sump pump $100.00
9.  Party favors, kazoos to send the couple off in style $80.00
Total   $7,530.00

This is not an exact count.  The bride and groom paid for some of the items and of course we can't put a price on the gift of time and effort our friends gave to help make the day so special.  Our budget was $7000.00 and we could have done without a few things that put us over budget, but we think the day was just perfect.

I'm linking to :

Planning An Outdoor Wedding: The Menu

This is the 9th post in my Wedding Series.

Previous posts include:

Food, glorious food. 

Can't have a wedding reception without it. 

Careful thought went into the menu for this outdoor wedding.  We asked some friends of ours to head up the whole food situation in exchange for a favor we did for them - you know. . . good ol' bartering.  I definitely think we got the better half of the deal - but don't tell them that.  Along with this couple, we had a number of other friends who gave up their Saturday (and Friday night) to make this day special for our kids.  They were so efficient and professional that many guests asked who our catering company was - I'm serious. . . they were that good!

We put our heads together and created  a menu that my little kitchen would be able to handle, that the guests would enjoy, and that would represent the different cultures that were being joined with the marriage of two lovely young people.

Here's what we came up with:

After the ceremony, while pictures were being taken, the guests gathered around a table filled with fruit, cheese and crackers, hummus, and yummy Italian bread sticks.

After the first dance and the blessing, we dug into:

Kielbasa-kabobs (to represent the German side of the family)
Shrimp with cocktail sauce (because what's a reception without shrimp?)
Croissant sandwiches with Black Forest Ham ( again, German)
Filipino meatloaf (to represent the Filipino side of the family)
Filipino Empanadas (provided by the groom's mother)
Veggie tray with dip
Caprese kabobs (no, we're not Italian, but we love us some Caprese salad)
Lumpia (double yum- a wedding gift to the couple that we all got to enjoy)
Pansit (provided by the groom's mother)

To finish up:
Wedding cake (spice cake with creamy frosting)
Pies of all sorts (lovingly prepared by family and friends)

For beverages we had:
Sweet Tea (hello - we live in the South)
Apple Cider Punch (equal parts apple cider and ginger ale)
Coffee ( regular and decaf)
Ice water

Here's what my little kitchen usually looks like:

Here's what it looked like the day of the wedding - minus 3 other people who were putting out food.  Notice we added an extra table in the kitchen and we also had the dining room table and a table on the back porch as a staging area for dishes, food, and serving pieces.

Here is the drink station.  The large bin in the left side of the photo was our ice bucket.  A super large cooler full of ice was hiding behind the table, ready to stock the ice bucket.  Notice the table to the far right.  It's holding white coffee mugs we collected for months from thrift stores.  Many of the cups match my daughter's dishes (Pfaltzgraff's Heritage pattern) so she has plenty of cups to entertain with.  I would have loved to have used all white, thrifted dishes, but our guest list simply got too big to do that. 

This is obviously the plate of a growing young man - humm - maybe my 19 year old son.  So, you can see, there was plenty of food to go around.  We also sent some home with our friends and we've been eating the remainder for days now.  I even have some in the freezer.  Like my friend Chris, says "better to have too much than not enough".

Here's a view from above (thanks Sylvia for the great pics - I'm so glad you thought to photograph everything!)

I'd say a grand time was had by all.  Anyone care for a leftover kielbasa kabob?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Planning An Outdoor Wedding: The Decor

This is the 8th post in my Wedding Series.

Previous posts include:


Once we got the hard scape decor taken care of (tables, chairs, dancefloor etc.) it was time to decorate.

We tried to use a lot of the items we already had around the house.  With lots of chairs and benches already available, we just rearranged them.  Here's a bench I worked on several months ago with the cushions I recovered. 

We borrowed round tables and topped them with tablecloths made from canvas drop cloths.  The drop cloths were then covered with chocolate brown burlap.  The centerpieces were simply various containers filled with chrysanthemums, various vases filled with acorns and candles, sections of tree stumps and acorn ornaments.

One large table (refinished road side find) worked as a guest table.  It contained two different ways that guests could give best wishes to the couple. 

Painted thrift store frames were used to make these guest signs.  Ashley painted the backs of the frames with chalk board paint.  Guests could write on the chalkboards and have their picture taken with their message to the new Mr. and Mrs.  I'll show you the second guest sign-in on Friday.

I made this sign with an old picture frame, a grapevine wreath, extra fabric, a paint pen, wooden letters, and acorn ornaments.  Ashley wanted this message displayed for her guests, so I just used what we had, adding only the wooden letters.

We borrowed these long tables and covered them with more drop cloths and burlap. We found large market umbrellas and used two of them to cover the food tables instead of using a tent.  We borrowed a friend's large potted ferns to cover the umbrella bases and fill the gap between the tables. 

The chafing dishes, some borrowed and some we own, lined the tables.  A friend made food labels and set them in small easels I bought last year at the dollar store.

At the entrance to our home, we placed a sign to welcome the guests.  Hubs made it using a grapevine wreath, black foam core, white primer, large sticks from the back yard, and my Christmas tree grapevine garland.  Smaller, similar signs with arrows were made to help guests find their way to the parking area. 
(I took this photo the day after the wedding - in the rain)

The little touches we added really helped to set the mood for the wedding. 

**special note** We used acorns we found in our yard as filler because it was an outdoor wedding.  I would not use them inside because they occasionally contain small worms that come out.  Trust me. . . it happens.  I'm just sayin'.