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.

 

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The Tenth Day of Christmas

On the tenth day of Christmas there was freezer space I found

And lots of pork and chicken that needed to be ground.

Remembering ‘not to sweat the small stuff’ is really important when something unexpected happens. This was really put to the test when I decided to grind some meat to fill our freezer.

Since we bought our meat grinder last summer I have enjoyed grinding all sorts of meat and filling our freezers with it. So when I noticed that the freezers were looking a bit empty, I knew it was time to pull out the old meat grinder and set to work.

The meat grinder we selected is a manual, heavy-duty one and quite heavy. Because of this, Hubby told me to attach it to our marble dining room table when I used it so it was at a height that was comfortable and where it could be attached to the end easily with clamps.

All summer and fall I did this without incident. I admit though that cranking the handle on our grinder certainly wasn’t easy. In order to get the meat to go through the blades easily, it had to be partially frozen, which certainly made the turning hard. The end result however made it well worth the effort.

Ground pork at the store goes for nothing less than $3.00 per pound but more often $4.00 per pound. I can buy boneless pork butts for $.99 a pound and grind it myself. I think a little bit of work is worth saving $2 to $3 per pound, especially when we use more ground pork than ground beef.

Well, the saying ‘All good things come to an end…’ took a shot at us on the tenth day of Christmas. As I was cranking away at the meat grinder yesterday the unthinkable happened – CRACK! Yep, I broke the corner right off our dining room table. And it wasn’t a clean break. Basically the corner crumbled into pieces, leaving me holding the meat grinder by the handle and shards of marble all over the dining room floor.

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I suppose most people would probably freak out if their table were to break as they were grinding meat, but after the initial shock, I just shrugged and moved my grinder to another corner of the table. What else could I do?

Before you start thinking “Wow, this girl really knows how to keep her cool” I should tell you, this isn’t the first break we’ve had in our marble table. When we tried moving it about 10 years ago to change the carpet in the dining room, the table broke in half. At that break I went into hysterics. Hubby assured me he could fix it and did. He attached a large sheet of plywood to the marble base and then placed the two pieces of marble on top of it and somehow cemented them together. Viola! It was fixed. This time however, I seriously doubted this table was salvageable.

Marble is not the best material for tables. We had a coffee, two end, and a couch table made of marble and every table cracked after just a few years. The cracks did not go all the way through, but they were cracked none the less. And this wasn’t from abuse or misuse. You might argue that perhaps this was from wear and tear, but if that were the case, then how can you explain the cracks in the bases as well. There certainly wasn’t any wear and tear on those. They just sat there, undisturbed, never being moved, never being touched. Nope, marble is definitely off my list of materials I will ever buy furniture made from again.

Hubby wasn’t upset at all when I told him about the break. In fact, he right away asked me if I wanted to get a new table. I flatly told him NO. We rarely entertain anymore so why spend money on something we don’t need. I’m more concerned with where I’m going to attach my grinder.

He broke up the rest of the table, which basically crumbled when he tried to pick it up, and we are left with the board he had put on the base years ago. Good enough!

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I threw a table-cloth over it and no one is the wiser. It’s slightly narrower than I’d like, so Hubby said he’d get a bigger sheet of wood and attach it to the top and we’ll be all set.

Even though my meat grinding didn’t go as smooth as I would have liked this time, I still have ten packs of ground pork in the freezer, 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 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.

The Second Day of Christmas

On the second day of Christmas I began plans for next year…

Peppers are a poppin’–to spread some holiday cheer.

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Although I have claimed this year was the year of the skunk because of Bell’s chance encounter with one early last fall, I could also claim that this year was the year of the pepper. After harvesting more than 1,000 peppers from the garden starting in July, and not picking the last until early November, I’d have to say my pepper crop was a success.

Last spring I planted approximately 35 szegedi, white cloud, and Romanian bell pepper plants, 6 yellow and green bells, and two jalapenos. At least 95% of the peppers I harvested came from the Romanian and szegedi, which was my hope. I canned nearly all of those. The other types were for eating and just a little freezing.

In 2014 I harvested more than 200 jalapeno’s just from two plants and never thought I need to plant them again. Now, however, I can’t wait to plant at least 10 jalapeno’s this spring so I can prepare and freeze the absolute best jalapeno poppers I’ve ever tasted.

For years we have enjoyed the occasional treat of store-bought frozen poppers. I didn’t buy them very often because we try to stay away from processed food as much as possible. The thought of making them myself, however, seemed unrealistic. All I imagined was dropping a cheese filled pepper half, dipped in bread crumbs into my deep fryer and ending up with a pile of goo burning at the bottom.

Experience is a wonderful thing. With all the cooking and experimenting I’ve been doing these past couple of years, I finally felt confident enough to give making my own poppers a try. With experience comes “tricks of the trade” and to make perfect poppers, there is definitely a trick!

I bought a small container of jalapeno peppers, made sure I had enough time to complete the project because doing this right was not going to be short and sweet, and then set to work. The results…perfectly fried poppers pulled from the deep fryer. For the recipe and step-by-step instructions, visit Simply Grateful Cooking Homemade Jalapeno Poppers.

After I was sure that the process and recipe were right, I gave some thought as to how I was going to utilize this recipe next summer. I decided to try freezing a few of the poppers two different ways to see how they would hold up.

First I froze one before I cooked it. The only glitch in doing this I could see was whether or not it would cook through before it browned too much. No problem. It took between 3 and 4 minutes to turn golden brown and the cheese was melted and hot.

The next test was to freeze a deep fried popper and then reheat it. Reheating could be done in two ways: microwave or oven. Both methods worked fine. The microwaved popper heated up faster, but was not as crispy as the oven heated popper, but either way worked great. I microwaved the frozen popper for 1 minute and then 25 second intervals until it was hot and baked the frozen poppers in a 350 oven for 10-12 minutes.

Success! So come this summer I have a new project and a plan. I’m going to plant at least 10 jalapeno pepper plants and hope to harvest 100’s of peppers. I’ll clean, fill, bread, fry, and freeze at least half of them, and then clean, fill, bread, and freeze uncooked the rest. This way I’ll have poppers the kids and Hubby can reheat whenever they want, and I’ll have fresh ones to deep fry next year for holiday entertaining.

What a great way to spend the second day of Christmas – in the kitchen, making something everyone loves, and getting a jump start on my garden plans for the coming spring, 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.

Starting The New Year Right – Fruit Filled Pastries

I lost my Little Grandma (my father’s mother) when I was seven years old.  I still remember her vividly though and have many wonderful memories of her.  During the holidays especially I am reminded of her and many of the wonderful recipes that she handed down.  Many of them have become a family tradition and recipes that I hope to pass down to my children and grandchildren.

One recipe that is requested by family and friends alike are the fruit filled cream cheese pastries that were a specialty of my grandmother’s.  They are a bit labor-intensive, but well worth the effort.  The trick is to make sure the dough remains chilled, as it gets sticky if it isn’t.

Cream Cheese Fruit Filled Pastries

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  • 4 Cups Flour
  • 1 Pound Butter
  • 2-8 oz. Cream Cheese
  • 1-4 oz. Cream Cheese
  • Fruit Filling or Preserves

Blend flour, butter and cream cheese by hand until well blended.  Set in refrigerator overnight.

Next Day:

Cut off a portion of dough about the size of a fist.  Roll this dough out as thin as possible on powdered sugar.  Cut into wedges, as in a pie.

Put 1/2 tsp. of filling on wide end of wedge.  Roll wedge from wide end.

Place pastry on parchment lined cookie sheet with edge of roll under pastry.  Bake on 2nd from the top rack for 15 to 17 minutes at 375.

I went through five 8 oz. jars of home canned preserves with this recipe.  I made peach-pineapple, plum, and tart cherry pastries.  I have used store-bought poppy-seed filling in the past, and they were excellent as well.  Any thick filling will work.  Definitely expect some of the filling to ooze out the sides, but enough remains to make these pastries a wonderful addition to any dessert tray.

Knowing that a part of my grandmother lives on in spirit in the traditions and recipes that we enjoy every year during the holidays and throughout the year is important to me.  This recipe especially makes me feel close to her, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Christmas Cookie #9 – Cookie Candy Cups

Although Christmas is over, I am still playing catch-up when it comes to updating my blog with the Christmas cookies I managed to make this year.  My goal was 12.  I’ve got a few more to post, but I’m not sure I quite made it to 12.  Still, I made lots of other desserts this year, so certainly no regrets.

This recipe starts with my all-time favorite cookie base – Nestle Toll House Cookies.  As much as I love chocolate chip cookies, I love the Nestle Toll House cookie batter baked without morsels as much as I love it with, sometimes even more.  Because of this, I decided to use it as the base for these very versatile cookies.  Versatile in that you can add practically any chocolate-type candy you like.  I used Rolo’s, Peanut Butter Cups, and Hershey Kisses, but you could easily use miniature Snicker’s, Milky Ways, Nestle’s Crunch, or any other’s you can come up with.

Cookie Candy Cups

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Original Toll House Cookie Dough:

  • 2 1/4 Cups Flour
  • 1 tsp. Baking Soda
  • 1 tsp. Salt
  • 3/4 Cup Butter, softened
  • 3/4 Cup Sugar
  • 3/4 Cup Brown Sugar
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla
  • 2 Eggs

Candy:

  • Rolo
  • Peanut Butter Cups
  • Hershey Kisses

Preheat oven to 375.  In large bowl combine butter, sugars, and vanilla, beat until creamy.  Beat in eggs.  Gradually add dry ingredients.

Roll teaspoons full of dough into balls and place in mini muffin tin lined with paper liners.  Bake 12 minutes.

Remove from oven and immediately press unwrapped chocolates into center of each muffin cup.

These were a big hit with the kids as well as the adults that visited our home this holiday season. Definitely a cookie I’ll be making again throughout the year, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.