A tour of my favorite Christmas decorations.

I hope everyone’s having a lovely holiday season! ๐Ÿ™‚

Things here are great. I’ve spent most of the day baking cookies, which is always fun.

I thought I would take some time out to share a few of my favorite Christmas decorations with you all. I always enjoy seeing everyone else’s!

As with everything else, I try to keep things simple when it comes to how heavily we decorate around here. These days, we pretty much stick with just the tree and a few outdoor lights. The apartment we moved to this year doesn’t have a balcony, though, and our windows aren’t really visible, so…Steve strung the lights inside, instead. I love the effect, and kind of wish we could leave them up all year :).

Xmas lights 2017

Please pay no attention to the breakfast tacos and assorted clutter covering my coffee table. Thank you! ๐Ÿ™‚

We’ve been using clothes pins to hang our Christmas cards from the lights as they arrive.

Christmas cards image 2017

Here’s our tree. It’s fake and I bought it at Target for twenty dollars seventeen years ago. I’d say I’ve gotten my money’s worth!

Xmas tree 2017

For minimalists, we sure do have a lot of presents under the tree :O.

And now for a few of my favorite ornaments.

A couple of cute Santas:

Winnie the Pooh is very popular around here.

I also have a lot of baking themed ornaments. A lot of these are from the Hallmark “Season’s Treatings” collection, but I don’t have the whole set.

measuring cup 2017

The world’s teeniest measuring cup, spatula, whisk, and measuring spoons.

gingerbread man 2017

I love gingerbread people and houses! I found this little fabric one at Target a few years ago. Isn’t he cute?

This year I also hung these pot-holders on the fridge. I’m not sure what year they’re from, but they’re pretty old. They were my grandmother’s.

potholders 2017

And last but not least, my star tree-topper, which came from the Dollar Store the same year as the tree, 2000. Not bad for a two dollar purchase!

star 2017

What are some of your favorite holiday decorations? Have you had them forever and a day, like I have? ๐Ÿ˜‰

Happy holidays, y’all!

xoxo,

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Make your own hamburger buns.

One of the reasons I started this blog was to share simple cooking/cleaning/general homemaking tipsย  and ideas that I have put into practice over the years — and to give a shout-out to the blogs I have learned them from. Because when I first got married I knew next to nothing about being a wife or homemaker, and I have learned so much from reading other people’s blogs! I haven’t been doing much of that thus far, but I hope to rectify that in the future…even if the tips wind up being published only sporadically ;).

My tips and recipes and stuff won’t be anything fancy. Nevertheless, I hope they will be helpful to a novice such as I was (and in many ways still am) :). At the very least, I hope they will be encouraging. I’ve noticed that when I read homemaking blogs, even if the posts are about things I already do, know how to do (or, hey, will never do), it still usually inspires me in some way. Sometimes it’s just nice to read about other women’s routines and ideas! Makes me want to try my hand at something new.

So…my tip this week is to make your own hamburger buns. They are inexpensive and taste so much better than store-bought ones.

DSCF2670I used to be afraid of yeast baking, honestly, because it seemed rather complicated to me. I think I was mostly worried about not doing the kneading right. But a couple of years ago I got a KitchenAid stand mixer with a dough hook for Christmas and it sort of changed my life. Now I bake all sorts of bread!

For the hamburger buns, I use this recipe and tutorial from The Frugal Girl. I follow it pretty closely, except I use my dough hook for the kneading and I often mix in at least a third white whole wheat flour. And I usually halve the recipe overall because my freezer is not very big and I don’t want to fill it up with nothing but hamburger buns :).

I have also made this recipe in my bread machine a couple of times. I use the dough cycle and then take the dough out, shape it, put it on the cookie sheets and into the oven (with a bowl of hot water) for the second rise.

It is a somewhat time-consuming process, but not really difficult. You can, after all, work on other stuff while the dough sits and does its thing :). And then, when you are done, you get to eat the results with the delicious toppings of your choice. I often serve mine with homemade bean patties of some sort (a recipe for another day), but the leftovers are great to pack in my husband’s lunches, topped with Tofurky veggie “cold cut” slices or a breaded Morningstar Farms “chikn” patty like this one:

DSCF3480 Happy baking (and eating!),

Elizabeth

PS – The top photo is from my first attempt at making these buns, while the bottom photo is from my most recent one. The tops of the buns turn out a lot smoother and prettier these days! But they have always tasted good :).

The pretzel project

Last week, I cleaned out my pantry and found this Fleischmann’s pretzel-making kit.

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I’d bought this a looong time ago. Not really sure when. I know I brought it with us when we moved into this apartment, though, and that was almost 6 months ago! Woops.

I’d originally gotten this because, while I was interested in trying to make pretzels (my husband LOVES them), I was a little afraid of making them completely from scratch.ย  I’d never made pretzels before and assumed it would be difficult and/or complicated. For some reason the boiling step was worrying me. But when I saw that the expiration date on this kit was next month, I decided I ought to go ahead and use it up soon.

Because I was still worried it would be a long, involved process (despite the claim on the box that it would take “less than one hour”), I decided to ask my husband if he’d help me with the project over the weekend. I wasn’t sure if he’d be into it and I didn’t want to be pushy, so I just sort of mentioned it in an email and left it at that. I was surprised when he brought it up a couple of times during the week, reminding me that we were making pretzels together over the weekend :). I think I’d failed to take into account just how much he loves soft pretzels! Ha, ha.

When Saturday rolled around, we popped open some of S’s latest home brew and got to work.

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The pretzel-making turned out to be pretty easy after all…

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…including the boiling part I’d been so worried about.

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The only glitch came when I burned myself on a baking sheet (hmmm, maybe beer and baking don’t mix?).

Our end product looked and tasted great, though.

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Next time I attempt pretzels (or pretzel buns, which I also love), I will probably make them from scratch, but the kit was definitely a good way to familiarize myself with the process. I do think having a partner helped a lot, too. For instance, S was able to take all of these great pictures while we both worked, something I often have trouble with when I’m making things on my own.

Also, what can I say? It never hurts having a super-cute boy in the kitchen with you. I think I’m going to have to remember that and enlist his help more often ;).

Happy Holidays (and a book announcement)!

I’ve baked entirely too many cookies over the past two days, only about half of which have turned out decently :(. Ah, well, they can’t all be winners, I guess. And it’s still fun to make them, even if they turn out ugly!

Here are a few before they went into the oven (for the record, these turned out okay :)).

DSCF3070For those of you who celebrate Christmas, I hope you are having a wonderful one!

But regardless of how you celebrate (or don’t), I wish you all the best of the season and hope you are enjoying some fun with family and/or friends.

I also wanted to let everyone know that my latest book, Fear and Laundry 2will be going on sale over the weekend! It will be available from Amazon for $.99 beginning Saturday, after which time the price will increase to $1.99 for a few days and then finally return to the usual amount of $2.99. So get it soon!

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And if you haven’t read it yet, the first book in this series, Fear and Laundry is always available for $.99. So if you are looking to read a couple of cute and lighthearted YA romances (the first of which was honored as a notable entry in Shelf Unbound Magazine’s 2013 Writing Competition for Best Independently Published Book), I encourage y’all to head over to my author page this weekend and put that Amazon money you got for Christmas to good use ;)!

Also, I am always interested in learning about and supporting my fellow authors, so if you’ve written a book, too, LMK with a like or a comment! I would love to check out your work.

Happy holidays,
Elizabeth

My Thanksgiving re-cap and plan

Place settingI hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving :).

Ours was nice. My father-in-law came to visit us for a few days. On the morning of the holiday, S and I participated in a 5-mile Turkey Trot and then afterward, I finished preparing dinner. Here’s what we ate:

Ultimate Dinner Rolls

This year, I only made one pie instead of two and I started making preparations two days ahead of time instead of only one. I suppose these changes made a difference, because this was probably the “easiest” time I’ve ever had cooking the T-Day meal! I felt far less rushed than usual and I loved that. So I’m going to record the “plan” I used here, so I won’t forget it and can hopefully recreate it in the future :).

Tuesday, I —

  • baked a pan of cornbread for the dressing
  • made pie crust dough and refrigerated it
  • got out all my serving dishes, utensils, etc. and made sure everything was clean and ready to go

Serving dishes and utensils

Wednesday, I —

  • transferred the Tofurky Roasts (I make two because they’re so small and I like leftovers) from the freezer to the fridge to thaw
  • made the pumpkin pie filling, rolled out my pie crust, and baked the pie (and for the first time ever, instead of using pieces of foil, I used this doohickey* I recently bought to prevent the crust from burning; it worked perfectly and I was very pleased with the results)
  • made the dough for my rolls, shaped them, covered them with plastic, and put them into the fridge
  • opened a can of cranberry sauce and put it in its serving dish in the fridge
  • crumbled the cornbread and mixed it with the rest of my dry dressing ingredients. I stored this in my largest Pyrex mixing bowl and covered it with its matching lid so it was all ready to go the next day.

Garlic Parmesan Roasted Broccoli

Thursday, I —

  • peeled and cut potatoes, put them in water and stored them in the fridge in another covered Pyrex mixing bowl (side note:ย  I’m not a Pyrex rep or anything. It’s just that I got these bowls as a birthday gift last year and I love them. I use them for everything, ALL the time!)
  • washed and cut broccoli, put it in casserole dishes, and topped it with the olive oil and seasonings; stored it in the fridge
  • put the Tofurky Roasts in a roasting pan, basted them, and put them into the oven to cook
  • took the rolls out of the fridge and let them rise on the counter; brushed them with butter
  • cooked onion and celery and mixed them with the other wet ingredients for the dressing, added them to the dry ingredients and put the dressing into baking dishes
  • put the dressing into the oven when the Tofurky was partway done
  • put the broccoli into the oven
  • boiled and mashed the potatoes
  • heated the gravy on the stove
  • cooked the carrots and baked the rolls (since these both only took 15 minutes)

And voila! That was it. Probably the only thing I would do differently is cut the broccoli, and possibly the potatoes, on Wednesday instead of Thursday.

Like I said, though, this was overall the easiest Thanksgiving meal I’ve ever made and I feel like the pre-planning I did helped. I literally wrote out all the steps I needed to take ahead of time and then checked them off as I went. So even though on Thanksgiving Day, my garbage disposal decided to back up and spray gunk several feet into the air (and my husband very kindly came in and fixed it for me), it didn’t throw a huge wrench into my day or anything ;).

However, what I apparently didn’t remember to do, was take photos of most of the food! We didn’t get any of the Tofurky or the pie before it was cut :(. S did manage a shot of one slice with his phone before it disappeared, though…

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Now I suppose the Christmas planning can begin…? ๐Ÿ™‚

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Choosing my T-Day recipes (+ a reading update).

It’s lunchtime and I’m reading my book and polishing off last night’s leftovers.

Still reading Dracula. Last night was a “reading night” here (as in an evening when S and I read books instead of watching a movie) so I was able to make a good dent.

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Yay, progress! (I really do like this book, I promise; I’m just slow.)

As for the food — I am accentuating my Tofurky sandwich with what remains of this recipe I tried last night for Garlic Parmesan Roasted Brussels Sprouts.

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This was all that was left, so I guess you could say the sprouts went over pretty well :).

I’m still on the fence about making them for T-Day, though. I keep thinking the garlic Parmesan topping would work just as well with broccoli, and I love broccoli (as opposed to just being friends with Brussels sprouts), so I may use that instead.

I WILL be making these Ultimate Dinner Rolls that I tried a couple of weeks ago, though. They were easy and turned out really well! This will be my first Thanksgiving making rolls from scratch. I usually use frozen ones. Here is a tutorial for how to make them:

This nice lady (Tessa at Handle the Heat) seems to have a LOT of helpful videos on her site, actually. This morning I watched this one about making pie crusts.

I have gotten pretty good at making pie crusts over the years (if I do say so myself), however I still picked up some tips here!

I’ve mentioned before that I was not a domestic diva growing up. My mom claims this is because I “never wanted to learn anything.” To which I say, what kid DOES want to learn anything useful? When the choice is between chores or watching TV in your room, I don’t think I’m the only child who would have picked TV (please tell me I’m not the only one). So parents who know how to do cool homemaking stuff, please do me a favor and force your kids to learn those skills, too! Otherwise they will end up clueless like me. When I first moved out I had to try and pick up things from Food Network, HGTV and books. Now it’s the internet, of course.

But this is why I am so grateful to people who post tutorials and instructions online. They really help out “stragglers” like me.

Thankful,
Elizabeth

Food waste, recycling, and Oatmeal Chocolate Chewies

FoodWasteFriday

Happy Halloween!

This is my favorite holiday of the year, and yet I don’t own very many Halloween decorations. Huh. What decorations we do have, I didn’t even bother to bring out this year! Oh, well. I do plan on making a Jack-o-lantern pizza for dinner tonight. If it turns out, there will be pictures.

Speaking of pictures…I didn’t take any of my food waste this week, but I will report it anyway. A few days ago I tossed out a bit of bagged lettuce that’d gone south (surprise, surprise) and as I write this there are three aging pieces of pizza and some moldy tortillas sitting in my fridge, awaiting eviction. Yum :(.

On the subject of waste (sorta)…In the last neighborhood I lived in, recyclables had to be sorted before they could be collected, and there was no curbside recycling offered. We had to take all of our stuff to a recycling center. That was in a different city. Here, there is a recycling bin on the premises (I live in an apartment) and we are allowed to put all of our recyclables into it. I’d never heard of “single-stream” recycling before (it’s possible I don’t get out much) and was curious about it. This morning I finally looked it up and was enlightened by this little animated video I found on the Atlantic website, all about MRFs — Material Recovery Facilities. If you, like me, are a nerd who likes knowing how things work, and if you don’t already know all this stuff, you might enjoy watching this, too.

This article about the pros and cons of washing recyclables is also interesting. I wash or at least rinse all of mine, but that’s mostly so they won’t stink up my kitchen. Now I know there are other good reasons to do it, too!

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In more appetizing news, here are the cookies I made last week. This is another recipe from the Betty Crocker cookbook, Oatmeal Chocolate Chewies. Very, very easy and tasted so good! Past tense. Because we’ve already eaten all of them.

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Have a wonderful weekend!

Elizabeth

Recent Lunch Snacks

My husband takes his lunch to work almost every day. Since it’s become a goal of mine to make more of our food from scratch, I’ve bought fewer prepackaged snacks and begun baking more things to pack for him. Here are a few recipes I’ve tried recently.

Egg-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies. Neither of us has egg allergies, but the alternate ingredient in these is cream cheese, and I had half a package (plus an open bag of chocolate chips) in my fridge I wanted to use up,ย so it worked out nicely. The cheese gives the cookies a unique, almost tangy taste that I really like. It was the second time I’ve made them and I’m sure I will again.

The following week I made two loaves of chocolate chip pumpkin bread, using a can of pumpkin I’d had sitting in my pantry for who knows how long, and some more of the aforementioned chocolate chips.

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023This recipe came from the Betty Crocker Cookbook my MIL gave me when I was first married. I’ve been making serious efforts to downsize my belongings in recent years and have divested myself of many cookbooks, but this one’s a keeper. I use it quite often! The pumpkin bread recipe is tried-and-true, as are so many others. One loaf of this bread went straight into the freezer for later and we ate the other throughout the week.

Last week’s treat was Trail Mix Cookies. I found this recipe on Pinterest (of course :)) and appreciated it both because it was super easy to whip up, and because I already had all of the ingredients for it sitting in my pantry and fridge.

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I love recipes that use up odds and ends! For these, I was able to use up 1/3 cup of raisins, 1/3 cup chocolate chips (eventually I WILL empty that entire bag; I have faith) and for the other third I mixed sunflower seeds, chopped pecans, and sliced almonds. We eat natural peanut butter on our sandwiches, but I had some “regular” PB, too, left over from some Pad Thai experiments, so I used that. Also, I cut the brown sugar down to 2/3 cup. I figured these would probably be plenty sweet, what with the peanut butter, chocolate chips, and raisins, and I was right. They turned out pretty tasty! Honestly, I was a tad skeptical they’d turn out at all when I first saw the super-oily dough, but I was pleased with how pretty and appetizing the finished product turned out. Refrigerating the dough before baking it really is key to helping these keep their shape.

DSCF2787I’m not sure yet what the next treat I bake will be, but I’m hoping to find some more relatively healthy recipes…part of the beauty of making and taking your own lunch is the low cost, of course, but the other is having control over what goes into the food!

Elizabeth