A New Spin On Chicken Marsala

I really had no intension of spending half a day working on dinner yesterday, but making homemade ravioli from scratch without a pasta maker takes a lot more time than I remembered. Check out the whole process and recipe on Simply Grateful Cooking, Chicken Marsala Ravioli.

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I’ve made ravioli before, but forgot how labor intensive it is. I have an electric pasta maker, but that doesn’t work well when rolling out dough for ravioli, and the manual pasta maker I had I got rid of — why I’ll never know. Still, working with my hands and truly enjoying every aspect of this process felt good.

The only change I might make to the recipe next time is to double the sauce portion. Although there was “just enough” sauce, Hubby tends to like his ravioli/pasta swimming in sauce. And, since Marsala sauce is so tasty, dipping some bread in the leftovers wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

Another new meal for the recipe book and enough for two more meals in the freezer, not a bad days work, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

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Christmas Cookies – Let The Baking Begin!

To be completely honest, my Christmas baking began more than a week ago, but the ones I made tonight are the only ones we still have some left in the tins to eat — which isn’t saying much as they are disappearing fast.

So far this holiday season I’ve made Lemon-Cranberry Cookies, Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies, and the two cookies I made tonight that you’ll find recipes for on Simply Grateful Cooking: Peanut Butter Blossoms and Dark Chocolate Oatmeal.

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Best part of tonights baking…two new mixes-in-jars for the pantry shelf, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

 

Preparing For The Holidays — The Days Are Counting Down

Every year preparing for the holidays is a huge deal for me. The house alone goes through a complete transformation that consumes most of my time for more than a month — more like a month and a half. I can’t just decorate a room, I have to completely change it. From the curtains/window treatments to the wall decorations, to every nook and corner being touched by something for the season. Then there’s the baking, cooking, parties, shopping, get-togethers, movies, music, and everything else that makes the holidays special. It’s a labor of love, but some years its overwhelming and more like work than joy.

This year, with everything being set back because of our skunk incident, a huge backlog of canning projects from the garden, cleaning out the garden, and not harvesting the last of our garden until the beginning of November, starting the holiday preparation was set back several weeks.

Then, when Hubby decided to remodel 14 rooms at our motel, I spent two weeks helping strip the old rooms, clean walls and carpets, and then setting up all the new furniture, mirrors, televisions, and pictures. It didn’t seem like this year was going to be a year for decorating or the holidays at all. Plans for dinners, decorating fun, caroling, Christmas parties, shopping trips, and everything else that always was part of the “JOY” of Christmas for me, hung like a dark cloud above my head. The pit of my stomach ached with dread just thinking about everything that needed to be done.

Finally, in between trying to keep up with laundry, cleaning the house, the kids activities and needs, making meals, and trying to maintain my sanity, I did manage to begin the process of decorating. Honestly though, the process was not fun. All the while I kept stressing about being so far behind, wondering if I’d ever get it done in time to invite friends and family over, and practically giving up every time something went wrong — and lots went wrong.

The first tree I put up took me two days to fix the lights. I burned a hole in the new drapes I made for the great room door wall when I ironed them. I blew two plugs because I didn’t follow my own rules on lights allowed per plug. Every time I turn on my villages at least two houses go out so I change the bulbs, but then another goes out. And then the unspeakable happened…I hung one of my most prized decorations, a portrait of Santa, above the mantel and ten minutes later it came crashing to the ground, shattering the glass, splitting the frame at all four corners, scratching Santa’s face, and leaving several gouges on the print.

At this point I knelt among the shards of glass and began to cry. Hubby and Grace both came running, but there was nothing they could do. Although this portrait was not my oldest decoration, it was one of my favorite and one that I bought during a dark time in my family’s life that symbolized hope for a brighter future. The crumpled frame, shattered glass, and damaged picture all mirrored how I felt about the upcoming holiday season–broken. For several days I avoided doing any decorating, leaving boxes scattered everywhere, decorations strewed all over the floor, the basement completely in upheaval, the house a total mess. Yep, I had a holiday meltdown and it wasn’t even December.

For some reason this holiday season felt like a job, not the “Most Wonderful Time Of Year” that I thought it should. Everything I touched seemed to break or lose it’s luster. I felt no joy, no excitement, no childlike anticipation as I had for so many years. And the worst part was that for the first time since my grandmother died in 1999 I could not feel her presence as I decorated. My grandparents were my inspiration for going to such lengths to transform my home every year into a Christmas Wonderland and even after my grandmother died, I could feel her with me as I decorated my home. I’m not sure if it’s because my grandfather passed away this past July and now that they have been reunited, they are both decorating up in heaven finally leaving me for good or if the stress that has plagued our home for the past several months is just taking its toll, but this season started out very hard.

Hubby and Grace both went to great lengths to find a replacement for my portrait, to no avail. The artist no longer paints and the limited edition print was not to be found. Hubby did manage to clean out the broken glass, glue the frame back together and fix the picture as best as he could. I plan on trying to hang it again tomorrow and under the majestic glow of Christmas lights I hope the flaws in the print will not be noticeable.

Eventually I pulled myself together and began to push forward on the decorating front. The house is decorated, as decorated as I plan on making it. The only thing left to do is put the ornaments on the family Christmas tree in the great room. Hubby, Grace and Zeb all helped start that process this afternoon and even if not another ornament gets hung, it’s perfect.

Hubby sat down with me today to talk about the holidays and what plans we have. We agreed we need to step back and rethink the season. Although I definitely enjoy the hustle and bustle of the holidays, perhaps the hustle and bustle from the past several months just burned me out and now is the time to recoup a bit. Hubby suggested we get through the holidays as stress-free as possible and then have people over. He even said to leave the decorations up until we’re done celebrating, why feel tied down by dates on the calendar.

Sometimes having someone acknowledge your feelings is all it takes to pull you out of a rut. With his words, Hubby took the pressure off of me to make this holiday season “perfect.” He gave me back the perspective I’d lost on why I love this time of year and what is truly important.

Tonight I took the kids and Bell to an outdoor mall and we walked among thousands of Christmas lights, listening to holidays music, drinking Starbuck’s holiday drinks, and wishing all we saw a Happy Holiday. Then when we got home Grace and I did holiday facials and made plans to make homemade candy and cookies TOGETHER next week.

A lot of the time during the holidays it seems like all I’m doing is working to get everything done for the holidays…counting the days. December 1st begins the final countdown and flies by. Not this time. I am really going to try to enjoy the rest of December and make the most of every day in the coming year with my family and friends. Christmas is a state of mind, not a time of year, and I need to remember this always, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Year of the Skunk

Every year I add an ornament to our tree. To be fair, I actually add more than one, but at the very least, one new ornament must be added. This ornament can be our traditional family ornament, an ornament that I couldn’t pass up at the store, one that is gifted to us, or an ornament that signifies something that happened during the past year.

Back in October I was just getting back into the swing of blogging, catching up on posts that had been piling up, looking forward to new possibilities, ready to really make an effort to posting regularly again. Then, the unspeakable happened…Bell got skunked!

I know this is not something earth-shattering or life-changing, but here in our house, it was unbelievably horrid. Having a dog get skunked is a common occurance out in the country, but living in a subdivision with more than 1100 houses and very little open area for wildlife, this is not the case. So when Bell was let out at 9 o’clock at night, no one thought twice about it. When Bell came trotting back to the door (actually she was cowering with her tail between her legs, but Grace didn’t pay attention to this–a mistake she will never make again), the door was opened and she bolted in.

Now normally I would think if you noticed something was off when your dog comes back into the house, especially in the “smell” department, you’d immediately send that dog back outside. Not at our house. What did Grace do? Well, in her infinite wisdom she called upstairs to me, who was comfortably nestled in bed preparing to work on a blog post, and told me to call Bell because she thought she smelled funny.

I knew better than to call Bell, but upon hearing the word “upstairs” Bell ran as fast as she could through the kitchen, the dining room, the great room, up the stairs, through the hallway, and into my room. Bell is a very athletic dog, so bounding from the door right onto my bed was no problem.

Anyone who has had a pet skunked can attest to the fact that the smell that accompanies this wonderful act is awful. The smell is not like the smell you’re used to when you smell a skunk off in the distance when sitting on your porch enjoying the coming night. Not even close. The smell is far more concentrated, like multiplied by 100.

Well, Bell jumped right onto my bed and proceeded to roll on her back in submission, which spread skunk oil all over my bedding. Needless to say, I was not happy. I screamed for Grace and we got Bell back out of the house. Of course this was not before she ran from room to room, trying to avoid being put outside, laying down on the carpet in each room she had to go through, until I finally had to pick her up, hold her tight against me, and throw her outside.

Now, skunk smell is not one of those odors that you can just wash away. No, this smell has to wear out and for some reason is not necessarily just where the oil might have touched. The smell gets into the woodwork, every piece of material/clothing (including in shut closets), leather (including furniture, shoes, coats, and accessories), wall paper, and furniture (including wood). Yep, that stench gets into every nook and cranny in your house.

The first couple of days we were lucky enough to have some fairly mild weather so we had every window and door open trying to air out the house. Every piece of clothing had to be washed (my clothes from that night were thrown out), all bedding had to be cleaned, and all drapes and valances had to be taken down, washed and hung to dry.  I didn’t dare put anything in the dryer because all of our appliances for some reason seemed to ooze of skunk smell, so my clothes line did double time.

My bedding, like the clothes I had on the night Bell was skunked, was a lost cause. After two weeks of airing it out, washing it countless times, and spraying it with every type of air freshener/odor eliminater I could find, we tossed it. And I eventually had to buy a plastic mattress cover, one of those made to put on mattresses with bed bugs, to contain the smell that would not go away. As for the new mattress pad I had just bought a week prior to this happening, well that too had to be tossed.

Airing out the house helped a bit, but the smell in the carpets, walls, and furniture seemed to intensify. For the next two weeks I washed walls, floors, carpets, furniture, and tried my best to get our house back in order. The smell slowly dissipated, but it wasn’t until mid-November that I can honestly say you could walk through our house without the faint smell of skunk lingering about.

The smell on Bell however is a different matter. She has had more baths in the past six weeks than her entire four years of life. She’s been washed in tomato juice, vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice, peroxide, mouthwash, watered down bleach, and even the professional skunk removing shampoos sold at pet stores. Still, the smell prevails. It’s certainly not what it was, and some days, she actually smells okay, but the moment she gets the least bit damp from rain or even walking through the frost on the grass, the smell comes back.

Bell is an indoor dog. We have no option of keeping her outside. So when she comes back in the house smelling worse because of rain or snow, the smell lingers. Blankets need washing and furniture needs wiping down. It’s as if I have a full time job of trying to keep down the skunk smell in our house.

Everything was in upheaval for more than a month, setting everything back. But, it has now been nearly a month and half since this happened and things are beginning to get back to as normal as normal can be around here. I’ve almost finished decorating the house for Christmas, I’ve started my Christmas shopping, I’ve finally gotten back into trying new recipes and experimenting in the kitchen, and I’m looking forward to enjoying the holidays.

Black Friday, Grace and I went out for our annual day after Thanksgiving shopping trip. While we were out, we bought our annual family ornament, but when I came across this little ornament at Joann’s, I knew I had to buy it.

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As much as I would love to forget our whole “SKUNK INCIDENT,” that is just not going to happen, so why not have a little fun with it. Everyone who comes into our house this holiday season will have to bear with me and endure a regaling of Bell getting skunked, Grace letting her into the house and sending her up to my room, and the process of trying to get the smell out.

I can say without hesitation that this has been the worst experience of owning a dog to date, but at least we can laugh about it now, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.