December 31, 2009

New Year's Eve Countdown

Hope you have a safe and happy New Year's Eve!


December 30, 2009

What's Cookin' - Microwave Meatloaf

I really enjoy cooking but there's always so much to do. Sometimes I want to get in and out of the kitchen as fast as possible. One of our family's all-time favorite meals is microwave meatloaf. You can have a 1 pound meatloaf on the table in about 20 minutes, depending on how fast you chop and assemble ingredients. When the kids lived at home, I'd double it and make the 2 pound version, but the 1 pound is just right for hubby and I to get 2 meals.

Hubby was helping me chop onions and garlic last night while we made this. I told him, "Probably my favorite fragrance in the kitchen is garlic ... oh, and fresh coffee ... and bread baking ... and chocolate cake. Oh, never mind." Guess I can't choose a favorite!

And one more reason to use the microwave is that it doesn't heat your kitchen. During the hot months in Arizona, the last thing we need is to add one more degree of heat in the house. Cooking in the microwave is the perfect solution. We usually serve rice, beans, creamed corn and tortillas with it. Then make meatloaf sandwiches with the leftovers. Yum!



Microwave Meatloaf

1 egg
1 pound ground meat -- hamburger is always good; this one pictured is made with ground turkey and I've used ground pork before as well - you can even combine them for more flavor
1/4 cup onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup oatmeal (I use quick oats)
1/4 cup ketchup
1/8 cup barbeque sauce (we use KC Masterpiece, although if you don't like it or don't have it, you can just omit and add more ketchup)
salt and pepper

Directions:

Spray oil on a baking dish -- for the 1 pound, I use a 1 quart pyrex dish -- for the 2 pound, a 2-1/2 quart. Mix it all together right in the casserole dish.

Using a fork, beat the egg in the bottom of the dish. Add chopped onion and garlic, meat, oatmeal, ketchup, barbeque sauce, a little salt and/or pepper, then mix well. I use a potato masher for this.

So you have the mixture in the casserole dish. Make the top nice and flat. Then, using a wooden spoon, make a hole in the middle. This is important for even microwave cooking. I usually use the spoon to round the edges around the outside of the meatloaf as well, then again make sure the hole in the middle is open.


Cover the dish -- I use the glass lid for the Pyrex casserole. Cook on high for 5 minutes. Turn dish 1/4 turn and cook an additional 5 minutes. That's it -- just 10 minutes per pound. If you're doing a 2 pound, cook for 10 and 10, totaling 20 minutes. Carefully remove from microwave and drain the grease off. Just crack the lid a little and tip the whole thing over, letting the grease drain through the crack. Use your oven mitts for this and be careful of the steam -- it's very hot.

This meatloaf is so good and so easy. My mom used to make this one in her first microwave when I was a teenager -- so many, many moons ago. I remember how cool it was when we first had a microwave. Once, somebody put something in it with a piece of foil and it caught on fire in the microwave. I think dad ripped open the door, knocked it out onto the kitchen floor and beat it with a broom. Oh, good times!

December 27, 2009

The After Christmas Haze

At 6:04 this morning I'm snuggled into a comforter on the family room love seat with both Miles and Louie wrapped into the folds, just tips of noses showing. And I'm reading *so happily* the new "Mason-Dixon Knitting Outside the Lines" that Youngest Daughter got me for Christmas.

Hubby:  What are you doing up so early?

Me:  Well, I got up ... and there I was ... up.

Hubby:  That was profound.

Me:  I know -- I should probably talk more.

Hubby:  Just not outside the house.

It's nice to read something with big pages and type I can see easily. I am dealing with eye strain right now. Hubby got me a Sprint Moment touch phone with a slide out keyboard. We've discussed it for a good 5 months -- when he began testing the water to see if I'd want one. I opened it Christmas morning, plugged it in to charge, and we took the Granddaughter to see "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel." That was a lot of fun. Many, many tiny kids and lots of noise off-screen. Everything is funnier when you speed it up to a helium-sucking level.

Anyway, once we got home, I started playing with the new phone. Just getting the touch part down took me a while. Since then I have run the battery out 4 times, which was a blessing so my eyes could rest while it charged.

The Mason-Dixon book is wonderful. Whenever I read anything by those gals, Kay and Ann, I feel like I'm visiting with girlfriends. Here are a couple of excerpts from the book:

Page 35: Tip from Leafy Reticule pattern ... Why do I have to change the position of the marker in round 15?

The Short Answer: We don't know why; just do it, or there will be trouble.

Ha!

And from Page 73: Tip from Baby Dotty blanket pattern ... Make up little songs. Fair Isle is all about rhythm: 2 2 3 1 2 can be sung to the tune of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat." If you're a Prince fan, "I would die 4 u" also works.

Double Ha!

A couple of funny things happened over the holiday. When we went to bed around 1:00 a.m. Christmas Eve, I was so tired I actually forgot about the stockings. This has never happened before. Hubby said, "Hey, don't we have to do the stockings?" And we raced back down the hallway past the 13-year-old Granddaughter's room (she spent the night at our house which was so awesome) and filled the stockings.

A few hours later, she comes into our room in the dark and says, "Merry Christmas, Nana!" I looked at the clock ... 4:27. I said, "No, not yet. Go back to bed."

Then she comes back again a little later, this time on Bampa's side of the bed (smart girl), wakes him up and crawls into bed between us. This is nice. She has done this since she was a baby ... crawled into bed with us and we lay there and talk. Now I know she is past the stage of believing in Santa, but she still gets a kick out of pretending to and, of course, so do we. So we're laying there talking in the dark and she says, "Did you remember to put out cookies and milk for Santa?" And I'm thinking, "Oh, crap!" So I say, "Of course we did. I'm going to start the oven to warm it up for the Caramel Pull Aparts," and I race to the kitchen and choke down half a cookie and slurp some milk and run into the living room with the crummy plate and glass to leave them out. I just hoped she didn't touch the glass because the milk was still cold.

And I get back in bed and we're still talking and she says, "Do you think Santa remembered to put dog bones in the puppies' stockings?" And it's, "Son of a ..." and I leap back out of bed and say I'm going to check on breakfast. Hubby says, "Should we just get up?" and I practically yell, "No!" And I run to the laundry room to get chew bones and then to the living room to put them in the dogs' stockings. I was exhausted before we ever got up!

Something else we thought was funny ... we hosted a small Christmas Eve family dinner at our house. We served Honeybaked Ham, parmesan mashed potatoes, cranberry-dried cherry chutney, pinto beans, fresh baked rolls, Hawaiian salad and chocolate bundt cake with chocolate frosting. Of course, we had a ton of food and ate the same thing on Christmas Day for lunch and dinner.

Then the day after Christmas, hubby's brother called and said they had a lot of food left from their open house and would we come for dinner. Hubby says, "Thank God, we don't have to eat ham and potatoes and beans again," and off we go to BIL's house. And guess what? They served ham and potato casserole, Boston baked beans and chocolate cupcakes. So we virtually ate the same meal again. We laughed all the way home!

December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Hope your holidays are everything you wish them to be!



December 22, 2009

Wordless Wednesday - First Photo with Santa



The Granddaughter, 13 years ago

Wordless Wednesday

Reading "The Help"

Wow! What a fantastic first novel from Kathryn Stockett. It is said that you should write about what you know and it seems she did. Stockett was raised in Mississippi with a black family maid who told her stories about picking cotton as a child. She really nailed the voices of the women in her story, written primarily about two black maids and one young white woman who is appalled at the way the help is treated in their community in 1962.

Miss Eugenia Phelan, nicknamed Skeeter at birth by her brother, graduated from Ole Miss with a diploma and ambition when all of her girlfriends were getting engaged and married. While away at college, her beloved maid, Constantine, disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter what happened or where she's gone. This mystery is a thread that runs through the entire book, entangled with her desire to improve relations between white women and their hired help. Skeeter wanted to be a writer and applied for a position as an editor with Harper & Row Publishers in New York. The response she receives from the senior editor sets in motion the clandestine project she is writing with the help in town, telling the good and the bad about the white families they work for. This was a very dangerous project for all involved during this time of prejudice and racial unrest in Mississippi.

Aibileen is the first maid to come on board with the tell-all project that Skeeter proposes. They originally connected when Skeeter took a job at the local newspaper, writing a column on keeping a clean house. Readers would write in with cleaning questions and Skeeter would answer them. The catch was that she knew next to nothing about cleaning and asked Aibileen for help. Aibileen had worked for many white families over the years and was currently helping to raise her 17th white baby while cooking and cleaning.

An excerpt by Aibileen:

"After while my mind done drifted to where I wish it wouldn't. I reckon I know pretty well what would happen if the white ladies found out we was writing about them, telling the truth a what they really like. Womens, they ain't like men. A woman ain't gone beat you with a stick. Miss Hilly wouldn't pull no pistol on me. Miss Leefolt wouldn't come burn my house down.


No, white womens like to keep they hands clean. They got a shiny little set a tools they use, sharp as witches' fingernails, tidy and laid out neat, like the picks on a dentist tray. They gone take they time with em.


First thing a white lady gone do is fire you."

Minny also agrees to tell her story to Skeeter, although very begrudgingly. She is a sassy woman who has lost several jobs for speaking her mind to her employer. Minny is the bouncing red ball in this book -- you have to keep your eye on her all the time and just try to keep up with the highs and lows of her life. When the project is floundering, Minny is the catalyst that pushes it into high gear while at the same time providing a safety net to the vulnerable maids in the community.

As the story progresses, the tension becomes greater and greater. This was one of those "just one more chapter" books that I couldn't put down because I simply had to find out what happened next. My mind stayed on these women and their stories even when I wasn't reading. So well done!

"The Help" is our book club's pick for January -- was a great choice! Visit Stockett's website at http://kathrynstockett.com/

December 21, 2009

Cutting Up Furniture

Apparently we're not happy unless we have a project to complete with minutes to spare right before we have company or a holiday. I was just starting to feel like I had Christmas under control when Saturday morning hubby decides we must go buy the big screen TV we've talked about for years. We host the family Christmas Eve dinner every year and that was only 5 days away.

The big problem, though, has been finding a TV stand that we like to hold the big screen. When we bought this house, we got an entertainment center that is 11 feet wide and nearly fills the entire wall of the family room. And the color, that matches our family room tables and kitchen cabinets, is a white-washed maple. We've looked for a very wide TV stand in this color range and never found anything we liked.

So we decided to cut up our entertainment center, taking the shelves or tops off. Talk about scary. Hubby, who is very much a handy man, is more the full-time executive in his day job. He doesn't get to play with power tools in the garage much. However, he bought new blades for his jigsaw and router and off we went.

Here is the original entertainment center, which is actually 5 separate pieces.



Here he is making a cut on one of the shelf units.



Here is one of the pieces with the top cut off. The cuts and routing left raw strips of wood on the top of each side. We purchased a veneer strip that matched very closely, although it can be stained to match even better if necessary. You iron this on with a regular clothes iron to activate the glue. So, yes, any of the nabes out during this process saw us ironing our furniture in the garage. Don't make eye contact with the crazy people!



And here is the finished TV stand with the 52" screen. Thinking about the Bowl games and Super Bowl probably pushed him over the edge this year. And I must say I'm excited to watch the cooking shows on the large screen.



We are thinking about taking the shelf tops that we cut off and turning them into wall-mounted shelf units to hang on either size of the screen. They have pretty crown moulding around the top so this might work well to give us some display shelves. So now we are just 3 days until Christmas Eve and I'm heading out to finish up my Christmas shopping.

December 15, 2009

Candy Trivia

The baby shower was so much fun. There were 10 of us and we had put two tables together to make a great big square dinner table so all of us could sit together and eat. The little momma got some wonderful gifts and loved the knitted horsie blanket.

We had "Cook Yourself Thin" Stuffed Shells and "Pioneer Woman Cooks" Comfort Meatballs, chopped salad with raspberry vinaigrette and fresh baked dinner rolls. I used pacifiers for cute napkin rings and gave them all to the momma to take home. It will be a long time before she has to search for a pacifier.


We had snowball cupcakes for dessert -- devil's food with buttercream icing rolled in sweetened coconut.


And for favors, I decided to send everyone home with a breakfast treat ... cinnamon rolls with maple icing from the "Pioneer Woman Cooks" cookbook. Put two in each favor bag and tied with a baby blue curly ribbon. To quote my husband, "These cinnamon rolls are sick!" They really are delicious. Link for recipe.



Now for the candy trivia. For one of my favorite party games, I put candy in a container and whoever guesses the number of pieces closest without going over takes the container home.

This time I put Reese's Pieces in a decorative glass jar. There are 655 Reese's Pieces in a 1 pound, 1.25 oz. bag of candy. I actually ended up breaking into a second bag to fill the jar. The closest guess was 500 something -- by the momma-to-be.

December 12, 2009

Reading "The Quickie"

I've always been a fan of James Patterson's novels and "The Quickie" is no exception. Written with Michael Ledwidge,  I don't believe I've ever read a book with quite so many twists, turns and surprises, right to the very end. Just when you think you know what's going on ... you don't!

Lauren Stillwell is happily married to a successful businessman, enjoys driving a Mini Cooper and has a job she was made for. Until the day she decides to surprise her husband, Paul, by showing up at his office in Manhattan for a lunch date. And sees him with another woman. And then everything changes.

She decides revenge is the only way to salve her wound and has an affair of her own. But nothing is as it seems. Something new is revealed about their past history, jobs and marriage with every page turned. Anymore said about the story would just be a spoiler but the action and intrigue are non-stop.

This is a quick read with short chapters that make you say, "Just one more ..." While I was reading it, I had left the book laying on a table and when I told hubby he'd enjoy it, he said he'd already snuck in the first six chapters!

December 9, 2009

A Little of Knit, a Little of That

My baby sister toured the Pittock Mansion in Portland, Oregon, recently and sent me a special photo ...



A lovely knitting display with yarn and needles on a beautiful quilt. The Lion Brand book is from 1916! I use Lion Brand yarn and patterns all the time. Aren't we glad they're still around?

Speaking of knitting, here is the completed Horsie Blanket with an edge crocheted in each of the 3 colors. Finished size is 38" by 42" and I am very pleased with the way it turned out. The baby shower is on Saturday and I am really looking forward to it! I would just like to thank Amy-lynne Mitchell for the free Giddy-Up Cloth dishcloth pattern that inspired this blanket. The beige and dark brown squares are the horse's head design.



And speaking of babies, this item was in an article written by a terrific columnist from The Arizona Republic, Clay Thompson. His column is called "Valley 101" and he answers questions from readers, usually with a note of hilarity.

Question from reader: I was reading that a baby was born on a Southwest Airlines plane recently that was then diverted to Denver. What would be the place of birth on the certificate, the place the aircraft was flying over or the city it landed in?

I did not know the answer to this -- do you?

Clay Thompson's answer: I'm glad this happened on a domestic flight because if it had been an international flight it would have involved complicated stuff called jus soli and jus sanguinis. If you think I am going to try to explain those to you for 75 cents, much less spell them again, you are sadly mistaken.

As far as I can tell, in general, when a baby is born on an airplane or some other public conveyance, the birth is registered in the state in which the plane first lands or the bus or train stops.

If you ask me, this is another good reason to stay off airplanes. And to stay away from airports. I hate airports. It's not the birth-certificate thing but rather the idea of some baby being born on your flight. Aren't there enough babies on airplanes as it is?

Thanks, Clay Thompson, for the info -- and the laugh!

December 8, 2009

December 7, 2009

The Christmas Spirit

Youngest daughter and I were laughing today about one of our Christmas tree hunting trips in Colorado years ago. We had gone to a Christmas tree farm and driven way in to hopefully find the perfect tree. We always packed treats to eat and took a big thermos of hot chocolate. We'd sing carols all the way there and back. This particular year, our little granddaughter had just turned one so we were especially festive and happy.

We had tromped around and found a great tree, hubby brought out the hand saw and we all gathered 'round to help by watching. There were, of course, other families there, doing the same thing and a few rows over, was a big station wagon.

All of a sudden, the mother is screaming, "Get in the *#%$@ car and shut the hell up!"

I could not resist shouting out, "Merrrrrrrrrrrrry Christmas!"

And the kids are horrified and bolt for our truck. They apparently thought someone would come over and open up a can of Christmas whoop-ass on us. Didn't happen. I'm sure my Christmas spirit helped!

Hubby has told us about seeing his sister in a Christmas program when they were kids. Jingle Bells was the song and she was kind of swinging her bent arm and punching the air for emphasis as she sang with gusto, "Oh what the fun it is to ride ... " I guess every time she sang 'what the fun' his parents would cringe and hope for the best.

Meatballs, Stuffed Shells and a Horsie Blanket Update

So I'm getting ready for a baby shower this weekend and I've been testing recipes, much to the delight of the family. Have hit on several absolute keepers that I would highly recommend.

First, Pioneer Woman's Comfort Meatballs. They are just plain delicious, simple to make and the sauce that goes over them is mouth-watering.

My photo is not the best, but I can guarantee they taste incredible. I have her lovely cookbook but have included the link for this recipe from her website.



Next, the Stuffed Shells from my "Cook Yourself Thin" cookbook. This one is more work and more time intensive because you're cooking with a lot of fresh ingredients like garlic, onion, zucchini and spinach. You sauté a pound of fresh spinach, drain it, squeeze the excess water out and then chop it before mixing it with the ricotta and other ingredients.

Of course, hubby walked by while I was chopping the spinach and I could tell he thought he wasn't going to like this dish. But he loved it -- everyone loved it -- and the results are so worth the effort. And it makes a lot so will feed a crowd. The baking dish shown in the photo is my smaller Pyrex dish. The recipe made another 9" x 13" dish of shells as well. Both of these dishes are delicious reheated, which is always a bonus.

Finally finished knitting and blocking all of the squares for the horsie blanket. Now I'll start seaming the pieces together. It's going to be so cute. I wish you could see the horse's head in the dark brown squares, but they just don't want to photograph well for me. I hope this blankie is something the little guy will drag around with him for years.

December 5, 2009

Happy Birthday Dancer!



Happy Happy Birthday


to our


dancing, prancing Niece!


Hope your birthday is filled with joy!


Much Love from Auntie and Huncle

December 4, 2009

A Confusing Disney Christmas

When our Granddaughter was little, we were fortunate to live near a house that was really decorated for Christmas each year. People would drive for miles to see their display. They had lots of animated vignettes and music and lights and every Saturday night Santa would be out in his sleigh to take pictures and hand out candy canes. We especially loved it because we could walk over there after dinner and wander through the amazing display.

She was 2 years old when Disney released "The Prince of Egypt," which she loved. And she was also very into all the Disney Princesses. She loved to dress up and would clop up and down the tile hallway in her plastic high heels like a Clydesdale in a beer commercial. She had fairy costumes and tiaras and jewelry and it was so adorable.

One of the vignettes was a religious scene of the Christmas crèche with strings of lights stretching above it to form a pyramid high in the sky. There were life-size animal figurines and statues of Mary, Joseph and the three Wise Men. The baby Jesus was lying in his cradle with a golden halo around his head. It was a beautiful display that made you stop and celebrate the real reason for the season.

So one Saturday evening in December 1998, we finished dinner, put on our jackets and walked over to the Christmas house for a visit. We, obviously, weren't the only family to have this idea because there were tons of people milling around. We started at the crèche scene this time and walked up to stand right in front of the cradle.

It's amazing how these things happen, but all of a sudden the music stopped as the song changed and it was strangely quiet, even with all of the people around. Right then, as the Granddaughter gazed upon the baby Jesus, something clicked in her Disney-soaked brain and she said -- very loud in her high-pitched little girl voice, "Oh, look, it's the Princess Jesus."

Everyone heard her and the crowd was very appreciative with lots of laughter. We realized that she had confused the baby Jesus' golden halo with a princess crown and thrown in the title of her latest Disney tape to boot -- "The Prince of Egypt" became "The Princess Jesus."

There's nothing like a Disney Christmas!

December 3, 2009

Christmas with Ants in the Pants

Putting up Christmas decorations always brings back memories of past holidays and funny things that have happened over the years.

One especially funny, endearing moment involved the Younger Daughter on Christmas morning when she was 3 years old. She had opened the Ants in the Pants game and was eager to play so Older Daughter (5 years old) and I got down on the living floor with her and began popping plastic ants.

While OD and I were having pretty good luck sailing those pesky ants into the pants, YD was having a great deal of trouble. Ants were flying over her shoulder and hitting her in the face. It didn't take long for her frustration level to hit an over-the-top high. All of a sudden, she swept her arm across the floor, sending the game pieces flying.

And she shouted, "Stupid a**hole ants!"

Then she realized she had cussed and would probably be in big trouble, so she looked at me, gasped in horror, jumped up and ran into the kitchen sobbing. At this point, OD and I were just plain stunned; we looked at each other and burst out laughing. We literally rolled on the floor with tears of laughter running down our faces.

Sometimes, even now, 28 years later, when something is very frustrating, one of us will shout, "Stupid a**hole ants!" and laugh. It always makes us feel better.

December 2, 2009

Happy Birthday to Me

Amongst all the lovely birthday greetings I received were several funny cards. This cute and clever card is from my in-laws. Inside it reads:

Directions

1. Apply bows.

2. Go out.

3. Watch the well-wishers appear!

Get lots of attention on your birthday!

And from my baby sister who knows I love antiques ...



Inside it says:

... but the Antiques Roadshow is coming to town - they'll be able to give you an estimate. Ha!

And one more from my dear friend ...



Inside: Hope you get everything you want for your birthday.

Last Saturday night, hubby and I went on a date to the Glendale Glitters holiday festival. The air was cool -- it rained just a little, just enough to make everything smell clean and fresh. Historic downtown Glendale, Arizona, has been holding this festival for 16 years now. Covering 12 blocks of downtown, they use 1.5 million lights, have craft booths, food booths, live entertainment and even some of the nearby shops and antique stores stay open late. Although I obviously need to learn how to use my camera for night shots, here are a few photos ...







This Santa is made of popcorn and was a raffle for the Marines ...



We shared a Philly Cheese Steak, cheese fries and a funnel cake smothered in powdered sugar. Just yum! And, oh yes, we found this booth and made a purchase ...



We sat down in the amphitheater area and watched a great group of kids sing and dance their way through Christmas songs and Broadway tunes. So much fun!

And we cruised through some of the antique shops, although didn't see anything we had to have ... thank God! Then, on the way home, we passed this house ...



Let me just say that electricity in Arizona is not cheap. While I would hate to pay their electric bill, I definitely appreciate their enthusiasm for the holiday!