The List – One More Thing to Check Off

It’s been a long time since my last post. Life happens and I have somewhat come to accept this although I do miss blogging terribly and have hopes of someday once again making it part of my life.

Blogging was a huge benefit to me for several years while in between hobbies/interests and when Hubby was still more of an anomaly at home rather than a staple. Looking back it is funny to see how I filled the gap of him being gone so much. There were odd jobs, volunteer opportunities, activities and clubs with the kids, crafts, and most recently my blog, gardening, cooking, and canning. Although I still cook and can and still have a garden (although for some reason it doesn’t seem all that important anymore), the blogging just as all the other “fillers” that either faded into nonexistence or were put on the back burner until I can get back to them, ceased.

Honestly I can’t say I don’t have time to blog, because although Hubby is home pretty much 24/7, he does his own thing a good portion of that time. My time management priorities, however, have not yet recovered from the transition of him being so present in my every day life. That plus having moved on to other goals on my “list”…you know the one, the list that everyone has, either written or mentally filed deep in our brains, of those things we want to experience or try. Some might call it a bucket list, but for me it’s not so dramatic. My list is just a compilation of things I’d like to learn or do at some point during this life, and if not during this one, perhaps in the next. Blogging was on that list, and although that is something that could (should?) be on going, having moved on to new challenges keeps the hours in my day pretty full. So until congress finally passes the bill changing the hours in a day from 24 to say 36 or more, I think I’m doomed to just go with the flow and enjoy the ride.

So you’re probably wondering why I’m even making a post. Well, the one thing I truly miss about blogging, that I have yet to find any sort of comparable replacement, is the support I received from other bloggers and readers. I didn’t “live” for likes or comments, but when I did get them, they sure helped to justify what I was doing or sharing. Yet, even when a post would go by without a single comment or like, just having it out there and knowing others might be reading it, gave me a sense of completion. Does that sound sad? Throwing something out there on the world wide web to help cement my own purpose? I hope not. I don’t consider myself necessarily a needy person, constantly in need of affirmation for every little thing I do. I am human though and even though Hubby and the kids are extremely supportive and encouraging, sometimes I need to go beyond the security of my home and risk putting it all on the line for the world to see – on the internet.

What I wanted to share today were some photos of one of the things I’ve been working on for about 6 months now that had been on my “list” for many years – decorated sugar cookies. Nothing truly spectacular or life-changing, but something that I wanted to learn how to do and do to the best of my ability. What a ride this has been. I am having so much fun baking and decorating cookies and candies and now might even delve into the world of fondant covered cakes. There were so many techniques and tricks I had no idea were out there, and I can’t wait to try them all. My biggest problem now is finding a home for everything I make. Hubby is completely supportive of me sitting at the table working for hours on cookies, making them beautiful, but always asks “so who are those for?” Who indeed? The family can only eat so many sugar cookies before they get tired of them and I only have so many people to give them to. Yet, I keep going.

Valentine’s Day was a perfect opportunity to make cookies and surprisingly I did manage to give them all away without a single complaint from any recipients. Christmas too was no problem, as was Halloween. So what’s next? The one aspect of sugar cookies that does make sharing them with the same people over and over again possible is being able to make variations on flavors. Halloween and Christmas last year I was still just getting used to the basics, but with Valentine’s Day I moved on to a chocolate sugar cookie with strawberry flavored royal icing as well as dabbling in fondant. With the variations available in flavorings, I might just be able to pull off giving cookies away to my family and neighbors for at least a few more months. After that maybe I’ll move on to cakes.

So here are some pictures of the Halloween, Fall, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day cookies I’ve made so far. They took a long time to make, but I think the time was worth it. Perhaps I’ll get a chance to make some posts with recipes, etc. on Simple Grateful Cooking someday.

Thanks for stopping by ~ A Simply Grateful Tilly.

Halloween Cookies:

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Fall Cookies:

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Christmas Cookies:

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Valentine’s Cookies:

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Since the 4th

The 4th was a wonderful day of family, friends, food, and fireworks. I thought I was being clever by having Hubby, the kids, myself, and my parents all meet up at Planet Fitness for their FREE Pizza Night, but in the end I did just as much work (if not more) as I would have had I cooked dinner. Instead of dinner I made 6 appetizers for late in the evening and 6 desserts for after the gym. Two days in the kitchen cooking — so where’s the time savings?

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We did several of these lanterns. What fun and a lot safer than fireworks.

Oh well, when don’t I want an excuse to try a few new recipes and make a few old favorites? That would be never!

Now I’m enjoying the first true harvest from the garden and working on my first canning project of the 2016 garden season. Check out my post at Simply Grateful Gardener for July 6, 2016 Garden Harvest.

July is still hot and humid, great for the garden, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

 

Farewell To The Holidays – The Twelfth Day of Christmas

On the twelfth day of Christmas, the last until next year,

I reflected on the season filled with hope and holiday cheer.

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A bit late, but still relevant — the holidays are finally over and the transformation of the house from festive and bright back to our normal comfort zone has begun. Every Christmas season is filled with ups and down, successes and failures, joy and even sometimes sorrow as we try to make each holiday better than the last. This struggle to keep up and surpass what we experience every year can be overwhelming and add more stress to an already stressful situation. That being said and knowing this to be absolutely true, doesn’t stop me from falling into the Christmas trap every November and December.

This year I nearly gave up and in to the pressures of the holidays, threatening to ruin what can be and should be the most wonderful time of year for the entire family. Sure I’d love to believe that all year we should carry the love and magic of Christmas in our hearts and demonstrate this in our actions, but it is not something I believe can be done. Some people hold the magic longer, some manage to keep it strong inside of them, but there is only one time of year when people are a little kinder, a little more giving, and full of more hope openly without inhibition. In a perfect world this could be maintained 24/7 – 365, but alas perfect the world is not. Life is demanding and that is why I think it is so important not to lose focus during the holidays, although I can’t say that I am always successful.

Still, now that the holidays are over, there is a certain air about the house that continues to be refreshing and comforting. The holidays enter with a bang filling us with expectation and anticipation and then leave us quietly as wrapping paper is discarded, presents are put away, decorations are stored, leftovers are consumed, and family and friends fall back into their “normal” routines. We spend two months preparing for and enjoying the holidays and then the next ten months recovering. This recovery period is when I like to reflect on the holidays. It is this time that gives us the opportunity to really appreciate what we have and relish in the memories of moments that will help to keep Christmas alive in us until next year.

It takes me several weeks to untransform the house from “The Christmas House,” back to our home, and some years I find myself literally throwing decorations into boxes just to get the job over with. The minute I clean an area and clear away every sign of Christmas, leaving it refreshingly bare, I am filled with a certain excitement to have every inch of the house as clean. It takes a lot to contain the excitement I feel as ornaments are wrapped, trees are disassembled, and lights are unplugged and boxed. Saying farewell to all these symbols and reminders of Christmas for another year, allows me to miss them so that next year when they are pulled out, I appreciate them and once again am filled with their magic.

The next couple weeks I will be working on putting the decorations away, catching up on cleaning that kept being put off, and dreaming of what next year’s holidays will hold. After that, it will be time to start thinking of spring, planting the garden, and summer canning, but that is still months away. Winter has firmly made its mark here in Michigan, with bitter cold temperatures, fierce wind-chills, and snow piling up on the ground and roof tops.

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Today is a day for snuggling under a comfy quilt, sipping a steaming hot cup of cocoa, and counting my blessings, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

 

The Eleventh Day of Christmas

On the eleventh day of Christmas, poppy seeds were on my mind

So a recipe for bread I had to find.

When I was 18, I moved out of the comfort of my parents home and into my first apartment. I had no roommate, no boyfriend, no one to share the bills or the chores. Every responsibility rested solely on my shoulders, including the cooking.

Growing up my mother made dinner nearly every night, but my time in the kitchen was quite limited. There were no cooking lessons from mom or afternoons spent learning the basics of cooking from either of my parents. Any cooking lessons I received came from my home economics teacher, Ms. Mazzola, when I was in seventh grade. I remember learning to make zucchini bread, blueberry muffins, and learning the basics of how to use a measuring cup, oven, and reading a recipe. Beyond that, I was self-taught.

Moving out on my own I thought I knew everything, but learned very quickly, I truly knew nothing at all. Beyond budgeting money, keeping my apartment clean, and laundry, there was also the new responsibility of being solely responsible for feeding myself. Money was tight, very tight, with more than half my yearly income going to rent, utilities, and insurance, so eating out was not an option. That first year I ate a lot of toast, eggs, and jelly sandwiches.

By my first anniversary of being on my own, I had changed jobs, increasing my salary substantially, moved into a new apartment where more utilities were included in the rent, and began teaching myself how to cook. During the first year I did learn how to cook a roast, can applesauce, and make cheesecake, but still my cooking skills were in great need of improvement. So, with a little more money to play with, I began collecting cook books.

Four years later I had more than 100 cookbooks, had learned how to cook many exotic dishes along with tons of home-style meals, and had taught myself how to can. It was an exciting and enlightening journey, one I reflect on warmly.

It’s been 28+ years since I moved out on my own and started cooking and a good portion of the cookbooks are gone (I copied the recipes I liked from most) and now I utilize the tried and true books I love and kept. I still have a soft spot for cookbooks, in fact, I think I truly like them better than researching recipes on the internet. Although there are some awesome recipes on the internet, it is terribly frustrating when I try a recipe that has obviously not been tested.  I ran into this when I first started playing around with mixes-in-jars and tried filling mason jars only to find that unless I had a jar that held 6+ cups of dry ingredients, it wasn’t going to work. News Flash! A quart jar only holds 4 cups packed dry ingredients.

There are definitely those recipe sites where all the recipes are tested, but sometimes I like to go rogue and try something that maybe can’t be find on one of those. This is when I really need to be careful and often need to rely on the experience and lessons I’ve learned throughout my years of cooking. I am certainly no expert and have had my share of failures — more than my share probably — but with failure comes a lesson and with a lesson comes knowledge and that knowledge can be far more beneficial than when everything turns out as written.

During the holidays Hubby’s mother used to make an Eastern European rolled poppy-seed bread that Hubby really enjoyed. Now that she is older and not able to really make these types of things anymore I decided to see if I could make something similar for him that he would enjoy just as much. None of my cookbooks had anything like this, so to the internet I went. I found several recipes, all basically the same and set to work.

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After I’d mixed the dough for the bread portion, I found I had something just slightly thicker than soup — nothing like the dough that was described. Rather than throw it out and start from scratch, I increased the amount of flour and after 3+ more cups of flour, had a dough that was ready for proofing. From that point everything went good and in the end, I had a poppy-seed bread that Hubby said was perfect. If you’d like the recipe, check it out on Simply Grateful Cooking, Poppy Seed Bread.

Honestly, having the recipe not work out worked out for the best in the end. Seeing as I had a ton of dough to work with, I decided to try making some fruit, cinnamon, and poppy-seed sticky buns with it. These were even better than the bread and something I could call my own. At first I thought I would cut the recipe in half so I wouldn’t end up with so much dough, but now that I have more than one thing I can use this dough for, I think I’ll keep it as is.

Whether it’s preparer error or creator error, some recipes are just not going to turn out no matter what you do. Being able to salvage a recipe and even expand on it is one of my favorite aspects of cooking, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

 

The Eighth Day of Christmas

On the eighth day of Christmas to start the New Year right

I caught up on dirty laundry and made everything clean & bright!

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Starting the New Year off on the right foot is a good thing, at least it feels that way. For weeks as the push for getting everything done for the holidays closed in, everything around the house seemed to be put on the back burner. And I do mean everything.

Nothing got cleaned, nothing got washed, nothing got put away. If people were coming over, I threw clutter in things, under things, or buried them under a stack of presents for camouflage. Dishes were only done when there wasn’t one dish left in the cupboards. Laundry got done only after Hubby threatened to start wearing my underwear if he didn’t get some clean ones of his own. Waste baskets overflowed making it easy to shoot baskets with wadded up tissues because the basket was buried under a mound of already wadded up tissues so the target was three times its original size. And the dust was so thick on the end tables and floor that I dared not put on a ceiling fan for fear of reducing visibility in the great room to zero.

Yep, the house was trashed and I couldn’t stand it, but what could I do. Running away sounded good, but if I ran away, Hubby and the kids would just want to come with me, and then what would I be accomplishing. Ignoring the situation certainly wasn’t an option, not when you’re tripping over piles of papers, wading through baskets full of dirty clothes, and constantly moving stacks of dishes from one spot to another just to find an inch of counter space to pour a glass of milk.

So, what better way to start off a new year than to spend it trying to get caught up on some long overdue house cleaning and laundry that I seriously think could have walked itself to the washing machine. Obviously not everything could get done in one day, but even finishing one load of wash, running the dishwasher one time, and clearing a couch off so we could comfortably sit and enjoy a movie as a family is success in my book.

I’ve got the rest of the year to get caught up and catch my breath, and with any luck maybe I’ll be more organized and prepared for the holidays in 2016 — or not. I don’t think I’ll hold my breath on that one.

Anyway, HAPPY NEW YEAR to all, even if it is a day late — but heck it is still the new year and when exactly will it become the old one? For now, I’m going to enjoy the smell of a freshly dried towel from the dryer, eat off a clean plate with a clean fork, and yes, put my feet up on my still cluttered coffee table while sitting on my uncluttered couch — and for this I am, Simply Grateful.

The Seventh Day of Christmas

On the Seventh day of Christmas the countdown did begin

To say farewell to last year and see the new one in.

New Year’s Eve through the years has changed from what was once a big deal to something quiet and reflective. The transition was not an easy one to accept at first. Watching as friends and family drifted away, witnessing the kids growing up and getting closer to leaving the nest and starting their own New Year’s Eve traditions, and spending more and more New Year’s Eve countdowns without Hubby around because of the demands of work — have all taken their toll on finding a reason to “celebrate” at year’s end. Continue reading

The Sixth Day of Christmas

On the sixth day of Christmas the time did come to can

Fresh pineapple marmalade and jam.

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A few weeks ago a local grocery store had a sale on extra-large fresh pineapples — $.99 each. So being the ever vigilant bargain hunter, I bought 16 of them. What could I possibly do with 16 pineapples you wonder? Well, can them of course.

Now pineapples aren’t typically ready to eat right when you bring them home, at least this hasn’t been my experience. This being the case and knowing that I wasn’t going to be in a position to can them right away, I picked out pineapples as green as they came.

For two weeks they sat on my dining room table waiting, ripening, until a few days ago. As I entered the dining room, the sweet smell of pineapple overwhelmed me and I knew right away it was time to set to work.

Some of my favorite things to can with fresh pineapple include crushed pineapple or using the juice in sweet & sour sauce, but with this batch of pineapples I decided to start with some Fresh Pineapple Jam and a Mixed Winter Fruit Marmalade, both recipes can be found at Simply Grateful Canning.

These recipes made only a dent in my pineapples, so I’ve got lots more things I can make, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

PS:  Happy New Year!

The Fifth Day of Christmas

On the fifth day of Christmas I made for the first time…

Gingerbread Men!

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Can you believe it? I had never made gingerbread cookies before yesterday! Have I deprived my family or what?

Honestly, the reason I never tackled this cookie was because I found them to be completely intimidating. The rolling, the cutting, the baking, the decorating — it all added up to “I don’t have that kind of time — not during the holidays!”

Well, with the 12 days of Christmas carrying on beyond Christmas day, I decided this was the year to give this traditional Christmas cookie a shot. I did cheat just a bit, as I didn’t make my own Royal icing but rather opted to buy cookie decorating frosting. In my defense though, I wasn’t sure the family would even like these cookies, so why spend the time making the icing. Cookie icing could be put on next year’s to do list.

The cookie dough came together very quickly in my food processor and set up faster than I thought it would in the freezer, making this project far less time-consuming than I planned. In less than an hour I was decorating and the family was taste-testing homemade gingerbread men. You can check out the recipe and step-by-step instructions at Simply Grateful Cooking Homemade Gingerbread Men Cookies.

Hubby loved the cookies, but without any frosting; Zeb loved the cookies with tons of frosting; and Grace, well she said they tasted similar to molasses cookies and being that they are not her favorite or even close, she probably won’t be eating too many of these. Decorating the cookies though was definitely fun everyone.

I am so glad I finally bit the bullet and made gingerbread men. Next year I am looking forward to doing this again and possibly experimenting with other cookie cutter shapes and even using some of these as ornaments on the Christmas tree. How Christmasy will that look? And dare I say, try my hand at a homemade gingerbread house!

The house is filled with the spicy scent of gingerbread, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

The Fourth Day of Christmas

On the fourth day of Christmas an ice storm came to town,

Pass some steaming mugs of cocoa all around.

There is nothing better than a bubbling cup of hot cocoa on a cold, blustery winter night. Last night freezing rain pounded our house from around 3 p.m. till nearly midnight, leaving us with a slick coat of ice on the ground. It was the perfect night to stay in, wrap yourself up in a warm blanket, and sip homemade cocoa around the fire.

Hot cocoa is one of those drinks that if made right can be addicting, but if made wrong, can be terribly disappointing. For years I have sampled every hot cocoa mix I could find on the grocery store shelves and taste-tested tons from coffee houses and restaurants. Although there have been some real winners among the many cups I’ve drunk, I decided the time has come to find the perfect hot cocoa recipe to make at home.

First on my list of ones to try was the traditional Hershey hot cocoa (find the recipe at Simply Grateful Cooking Hershey’s Traditional Hot Cocoa). The results? It was good. I can’t say it was the absolute best I’ve ever had, but it was very good, something I would make again — if there weren’t a stack of recipes printed off and waiting to be tested on the kitchen counter.

For now, I’m content we were able to enjoy some homemade cocoa together and begin our journey on the road to the perfect hot cocoa, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

The Third Day of Christmas

On the third day of Christmas, some candy I did make

And from cooking & cleaning got a break!

The third day of Christmas was spent helping Hubby out at the motel. With how many hours he is away from home, it was nice to spend an entire day with him, even if it had to spent at work. At the end of the day though, Hubby surprised me and took us out to dinner. We don’t go out to dinner very often, probably two or three times a year at most, so an evening without cooking is quite a treat.

Once we were home however, I took advantage of the time I didn’t have to spend cleaning up the kitchen from dinner and made a few candies that I’d not gotten to during the holidays. I made Old-Fashioned Butter Mints and No-Bake Peanut Butter Oatmeal Drops (both recipes can be found on Simply Grateful Housewife). The peanut butter oatmeal drops could be considered a cookie, but they are so rich and chocolatey, some might consider them a candy.

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Life doesn’t always give us the time we want with those we love, so being able to spend an entire day with Hubby is very special, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.