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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First Frost

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Woke this morning to the first frost for eastern Michigan.

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A simple reminder that winter is coming.

Fall never lingers here in Michigan.  One day there are trees full of wonderfully colorful leaves, the next they’re bare and snow is in the air.

Today was a wakeup to enjoy the fall weather as much as I can for as long as it lasts, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Fall Cucumbers – Can You Believe It?

This is what I harvested from the a-frame yesterday:

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32 Cucumbers!  Can you believe it?  It’s October and I am still getting cucumbers.

This is probably the last harvest of the year, but with yesterdays haul it brought the grand total for cucumbers for 2014 to 301 cucumbers.  Not bad for my first year’s attempt.  I attribute much of this success to my trusty a-frame.

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Now, the vines are shriveling and any cucumbers left on the vines are turning yellow.  It is sad in a way, but even in the drying leaves I see beauty.

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What I find most surprising is that the vines are still producing flowers.

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I think if the weather had held out for a bit longer, the cucumbers would have continued to flourish indefinitely.

It was a great year for cucumbers and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Halloween Continues To Spread

This is the second post showcasing this years Halloween decorations around my home.  Although the kitchen is not decorated all that much, there is just enough to know that fall has arrived.

The kitchen is tough to decorate because taking up any space on the counters would be counter-productive.  I do manage to put a few homemade ceramics here and there, but most of the decorations have to be displayed on the top of the fridge, ovens, and breakfast bar — which has never been eaten at in the 20 years we’ve lived here.

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The ceramic pumpkin that sits center on the breakfast bar was made by my Great Grandmother and handed down to me by my mother.  It is one of the few decorations I have in my collections made by her and one that I hold very close to my heart.  Seeing it every morning when I come into the kitchen to make coffee stirs wonderful memories of her and the time I spent with her.  I wish I had appreciated her more while she was with us, but am thankful I have my memories and a few trinkets to keep her spirit alive.

Ceramic pumpkin made by my great-grandmother.

Ceramic pumpkin made by my great-grandmother.

The nook’s decorations are limited to the table.  Being that this table is eaten at three times a day, a centerpiece and tablecloth are about all I can manage.

The nook.

The nook.

Even though it might not be the easiest room to decorate without putting things where they would get in my way, I love to have the kitchen decorated because that is where I spend the majority of my time every day.  Even the slightest bit of festivity warms the soul, something that makes doing something as mundane as washing dishes just a bit more enjoyable, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

It’s Time For Halloween

Decorating for Halloween is one of my favorite holidays to decorate for, however, because decorating my home for Christmas typically takes more than a month because I want it done by December 1st, more often than not, I tend to skip it.

Yes, it does take that long to decorate my home for Christmas. Hopefully this year I’ll be able to share with you some pictures so you can get a glimpse into our version of Bronner’s East (Bronner’s is a huge Christmas store here in Michigan for those of you that are unfamiliar with it).

This year, because I have not quite decided how much decorating I will have time for during the Christmas season, I decided to take out all of my Halloween decorations that have been dormant for several years.  My intension was that if I didn’t use it this year, I’d get rid of it.  With the house decorated and everything I wanted to use in its place, I had four things to drop off at the thrift shop.  Not as many as I thought I’d have, but the pressure was on.  Plus, after I was done using what I had, I decided to add to the decorations with some homemade touches.

Quite a few of my decorations are handmade.  I have a kiln and for several years made various Halloween ceramics.  I sold some, but for the most part, used them for gifts and personal use.  There are also some pieces in my Halloween collection that have been handed down through generations.  These are pieces that I hold close to my heart.

For those that don’t like Halloween or agree with what some consider to be a pagan holiday, bear with me.  I decorate for and enjoy Halloween for the fun and joyful spirit that it instills in children and adults alike.  There are no hidden religious connotations behind anything in my home, at least not in our minds.  If you are offended by the holiday or posts related to it, then I suggest you skip this post and probably the next couple on my blog as they will be consumed with showcasing my Halloween decorations.  I hope though that you will enjoy a look into our home and perhaps find some inspiration for decorating your own.

The Bathroom

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The bathroom is always the first room to get decorated it seems.  Probably because it is the easiest.  Very few wires to hide and not many lights in this room, only the leaves around the top of the mirror and the cone tree in the corner on the vanity.

It always surprises me how just a few decorations can transform a room.  I love bringing fall into the house to match the color changing world out of it, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Tastes Of Fall – Pumpkin Bread

There are so many things that scream “FALL” when I hear them, see them, smell them, or taste them, and one of my absolute favorites is pumpkin bread.

Last week one of our local grocery stores had pie pumpkins on sale and I picked up 6 to can and bake with.

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After canning 7 quarts of pumpkin, I used the remaining couple of quarts in several of my favorite recipes — the first being Pumpkin-Cranberry Bread with Crumble Topping.

Pumpkin-Cranberry Bread w/Crumble Topping

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  • 2 1/4 Cups Flour
  • 1 Tbsp. Pumpkin Pie Spice
  • 2 tsp. Baking Powder
  • 1/2 tsp. Salt
  • 2 Eggs
  • 2 Cups White Sugar
  • 2 Cups Fresh Pureed Pumpkin
  • 1/2 Cup Peanut or Vegetable Oil
  • 1 Cup Dried Cranberries

Topping:

  • 1/2 Cup Flour
  • 1/2 Cup White Sugar
  • 1/4 Cup Cold Butter
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour 2 9×5 inch loaf pans.
  2. In mixing bowl, combine flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.
  3. Combine eggs, sugar, pumpkin and oil in mixing bowl.  Beat until just blended.  Stir the wet mixture into the dry until batter is moistened.  Fold in cranberries.  Spoon batter into pans.
  4. Combine topping ingredients in small bowl.  Cut with pastry cutter until crumbly.  Sprinkle on top of batter in pans.
  5. Bake in oven 50 – 60 minutes.

This recipe makes two loaves which is great for sharing.  Unfortunately, one of these bread didn’t even make it the day with Hubby and Grace around.  We’ve already had to break open the second bread and aren’t even on day 2.

Fall is a wonderful time of year, especially with pumpkin, apple, and pear season in full swing, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Carrot Creatures

It has been a busy couple of weeks and time just seems to escape me.  For some reason, finding time when I’m not thoroughly exhausted, to write a blog post is getting harder as the fall weather takes a firm hold of Michigan.

The garden is lush and green, but without the sun and long hot days, I’m not sure the hundreds of tomatoes on the plants will ever see red.  I’m hopeful, but realistic enough to have a back-up plan.

The sweet potatoes are still spreading like wildfire, but I’m not going to begin harvesting those until October or later.  The last of the beets are going to be pulled and canned tomorrow, but today I pulled out some carrots.  I’d left quite a few in the ground after harvesting some baby ones earlier in the summer.  I couldn’t believe what I pulled out.

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And that’s just a few of what I pulled.

What was really interesting though, were the wonderful carrot creatures I unearthed.  Wouldn’t these make great monsters for Halloween?

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Well, they aren’t going to last that long.  Already I used a bunch of them today in a Tomato Alphabet Soup.  Surprisingly this soups base tastes a lot like Speghetti-O’s — go figure.  That’s okay.  It was reminiscent of my childhood without all the additives and preservatives.  A perfect accompaniment for dinner on a beautiful Michigan fall day.

Tomato Alphabet Soup

  • 1/4 Cup Butter
  • 3 Medium Onions Sliced
  • 4 Cups Fresh Chopped Tomatoes or Cherry Tomatoes
  • 2-4 Large Carrots Chopped
  • 1 tsp. Basil
  • 1/2 tsp. Thyme
  • 1 tsp. Salt
  • 1 Tbsp. Sugar
  • 4 Cups Chicken Broth
  • 1 Cup Alphabet or Orzo Pasta

Saute’ onion in butter until tender.  Add tomatoes, carrot, and chicken broth and bring to boil.  Add remaining ingredients and simmer for 45 minutes until carrots are very tender.  Using a stick blender, puree soup.  Strain soup through thin screened strainer and return broth to pot. Bring back to boil and add 1 cup of alphabet pasta.  Cook until pasta is tender.

A quick and easy tomato soup to warm you up on those cool Fall evenings.

Fall has hit here hard and fast and although I might have liked the heat and sun a bit longer to harvest more tomatoes, I love the change and am enjoying the cool temperatures, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Sqeaky-Clean Pumpkin Seeds

It’s pumpkin time!  With fall comes pumpkins and with pumpkins comes pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin spice latte, pumpkin cookies, and pumpkin seeds.

No matter what I use a fresh pumpkin for, I am always sure to make good use of all the wonderful seeds inside.  The only trouble is cleaning them.

For years I’d struggle to separate the seeds from the guts and get frustrated because no matter how hard I tried, there would still be strings of pumpkin on my seeds when I baked them.

Not any more!  I learned this little trick through an act of frustration.  A couple of years ago I was too tired to clean the seeds as soon as I pulled them out of the pumpkin, so I put them in a bowl of water until I found enough energy to work on them.  When I came back about 30 minutes later, all the strings and tiny pieces of pumpkin had sunk to the bottom while all the seeds were floating on top.  What a time saver!

How To Clean Your Pumpkin Seeds – The Fast And Easy Way:

Step 1:  Remove seeds from pumpkin.

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Step 2:  Remove the larger pieces of pumpkin pulp from the seeds.

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Step 3:  Place pumpkin seeds in a bowl twice as large as you need and fill with enough water so the pumpkin seeds can float to top.

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Step 4:  Allow seeds to sit for 5 – 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes.  Then, carefully remove clean pumpkin seeds floating on top of water.

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That’s it!  This is what the water looks like with the remaining pumpkin pulp sitting on the bottom of the bowl.

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I love working with pumpkins and using the pulp as well as the seeds.  Finding a trick that cuts down the time I have to spend in the kitchen makes it even better, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Taming The Jungle

This is what the back garden looked like just two weeks ago, August 26, 2014:

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Then we had a heat wave and I didn’t work in the garden other than to harvest.  I can’t take the heat and especially can’t take the humidity.

Here is what the garden looked like yesterday – September 7, 2014:

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The tomatoes grew to a point of bending or breaking their bamboo stakes and then the sweet potatoes grew right over them, nearly smothering them.

Note to self:  Don’t plant sweet potatoes around tomato plants for 2015 — they need their own garden, and a big one at that!

Seeing as the tomatoes were practically buried under the sweet potato vines, I had to do something.  I spent a couple of hours trimming the sweet potato vines and pruning and re-staking the tomato plants.  The tomato plants were so overgrown that I had to use shepherds hooks that Hubby cut down for me to hold the over flowing vines.  There were some plants that were more than five-feet tall.

This is what the pruned and trimmed garden looks like, September 8, 2014:

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I can actually see the dirt around the tomato plants now, not to mention I found a few plants that had been completely covered by the sweet potato vines that would have been lost forever had I not gotten in there to tame this nearly out-of-control jungle.

The hot and humid weather was great for the garden and gave it one last boost before the cooler weather of fall begins its reign, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.