Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Valentine Countdown Challenge, Day 15

Today was not a very good day as far as the challenge goes... Wednesdays are tough. But here's what little I did:

* Some cleaning in the living room, as detailed in the post below.

* Hung up a few heart decorations in the kitchen and dining room.

* Placed a favorite pitcher on one shelf of the hutch -- this pitcher is a family heirloom and has been boxed away for years. It's good to have a place to display it.

* Spent a half hour or so working on an embroidered pillowcase.

* E-mailed 3 people concerning our open house -- got a reply from one who can't come and figured out some other times he could possibly visit.

Hoping for a more productive Day 14 tomorrow!

A foray into Zone 5

I've mentioned before that Wednesdays are a tough day for me -- I'm out of the house more than I like to be. This morning I glanced over my schedule and saw only a couple of free hours. What could I do in Zone 5 -- the living room -- that would fit into that time frame?

I decided to take down the lace valances from my living room windows and wash them. I also washed the windows (insides only -- this is New England in January, after all!), dusted the window casings, and swiffered the living room walls. When the valances were dry, I put them back up. Does it look perfect? Of course not! Does it look fresher and cleaner? It sure does!

I'm delighted that even on a very busy day I could tackle a task in Zone 5!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Valentine Countdown Challenge, Day 16

Today wasn't super-productive, but I did accomplish quite a few things toward the challenge:

* Did some more decluttering of craft materials and my closet.

* Did a bit more planning for the upcoming visit.

* Spent time cross stitching on a pillowcase.

* Crafted several more ornaments for our tree and around the house.

* Did a good bit of work on 2 more handcrafted gifts.

* E-mailed our local kids and their spouses with a tentative schedule of events during their sister & husband's upcoming visit.

* Bought batteries for several gifts that need them.

That's probably about it for Day 16!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Valentine Countdown Challenge, Day 17

Today was a very busy day with laundry and other chores, but I did manage to accomplish a few things toward the challenge:

* Washed & dried a completed embroidered pillowcase

* Spent a half hour or so embroidering on the second pillowcase

* Switched the red/green plaid bows on our dining room chandelier for heart print ribbons

* Did a major decluttering of my Christmas craft materials

* Did some decluttering in our bedroom

* Invited a couple to our upcoming open house

* Confirmed a supper invitation with someone else

* Crafted a bunch more heart and icicle ornaments during phone conversations (today was an unusually heavy phone day)

And I think that's about it. Hopefully tomorrow will be more productive!

Menu Plan Monday for January 29

Monday again! It's chilly here in New England, so I've planned lots of warming meals. (There are also a couple of repeats since some meals ended up not getting used last week.)

Here's my plan for this week:

MONDAY: Brown Rice Curry with Vegetables and Shrimp; Coleslaw

TUESDAY: Potato Cheese Soup, Multigrain Ciabatta

WEDNESDAY: Pizza Frittata, Breakfast Potatoes, Baby Carrots

THURSDAY: Macaroni & Cheese, Country Carrots, Coleslaw, Baked Cinnamon Pudding

FRIDAY: Broccoli Sausage Simmer, Rotini, Italian Bread

SATURDAY: Favorite Lentil Soup, Cornbread

SUNDAY: (potluck at church) Crockpot Chicken Enchiladas, Marinated Carrot Salad, Chocolate Cake with Fudge Sauce

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Valentine Countdown Challenge, Day 18

Even though today was a Sunday and a busy one at that, a few things got accomplished toward the challenge:

* I spent a few minutes cross-stitching another pillowcase.

* I sorted all of my "paper treasures" (vintage greeting cards, etc. that I display under a glass-topped desk and in ribbon boards) by season and got them all in one storage container (These were previously in a desk drawer and a crammed folder.)

* I sorted out all of my ribbons and got them in to another storage container. (Ribbons were previously stored in a couple of plastic bags.)

* I got most of my Christmas craft components into one storage container (previously in an overstuffed plastic bag and a few other places).

* I began sorting out all of my lace trim into a new storage container.

* Invited someone to the open house.

* Spoke with our daughter about plans for them to see all the people they hope to while they're here.

It was an all-around good day!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Valentine Countdown Challenge, Day 19

Under 20 days now until our loved ones arrive -- this is getting downright scary. I still haven't done any of the big stuff like moving furniture around. But it's been good getting so many gifts finished and wrapped and so much decluttering (as well as decorating) done. I'm thinking that having all this done will make the furniture-moving much easier when the time comes. We'll see! Today I:

* Made a bunch of beaded heart and icicle ornaments with my granddaughters

* Acquired another component of a gift -- not wrapped yet, however

* Did a bit more decluttering and organizing

* FINISHED an embroidered pillowcase and started another

* Planned the upcoming week's tasks

And that's it for Day 19!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Valentine Countdown Challenge, Day 20

Today was quite a decent day as far as the challenge goes. Here's what I did:

* Worked a bit on an embroidered pillowcase

* Moved all of my fabric scraps to a more secure container, and threw away a lot in the process

* Did some decluttering in Mr.T's closet

* Decluttered an entire plastic tote of craft materials/projects

And looking forward to tomorrow's accomplishments!

Cranberry Orange Muffins

Here are some yummy muffins that I made this week to have along with chicken soup for supper one night. I've been making these for years, but it had been a while. These have a nice compact texture, thanks to the cornmeal, and a lovely cranberry-citrus flavor.


1/3 cup dried cranberries
2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons boiling water
1 3/4 cups flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/3 cup sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
Sugar for tops (optional)

In a small bowl, stir together the cranberries and 2 tablespoons sugar.  Using a hand chopper, chop the cranberries until they are as fine as you like.  Chopping them with the sugar is much easier than chopping just the cranberries, for the sugar keeps your chopper from sticking to the berries as much.  Stir in the boiling water. Let stand while proceeding with recipe.

Heat oven to 400º. Sift together flour, cornmeal, 1/3 cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a large bowl, beat eggs lightly. Add milk and oil; beat until smooth. Stir in the orange peel and the
cranberry mixture. Stir in the sifted dry ingredients until just combined. 

Divide batter evenly among 12 greased muffin cups, filling 3/4 full. Sprinkle tops with sugar,  if desired. Bake at 400º for 15 to 20 minutes. Cool several minutes before removing from cups. 

Yield: 12 muffins.

I don't remember where this recipe came from, but it's been in my handwritten cookbook for years. When my mother-in-law worked nights, she often stopped by our house for breakfast. This was a favorite baked treat to serve to her with coffee.

Crunchy Toffee Crackle Cookies

I just made some of these cookies to take to with us when we have dinner at the home of friends tonight. My assignment was to bring some vanilla ice cream and a few cookies. I decided to bring these, as they are some of the best cookies I've ever tasted. Much as I love chocolate, I must say that these cookies are almost my all-time favorite.


1 cup butter-flavor Crisco®
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup Skor® baking bits
Sugar for dipping

In mixing bowl,cream together shortening and sugar. Add egg and extracts. Sift together dry ingredients and gradually add to the creamed mixture, mixing thoroughly. Add the toffee bits, mixing with hands if necessary. Preheat oven to 350º.
Shape dough into 1” balls; dip tops in sugar. Place on parchment or teflon-lined sheets. Bake at 350º for 12 minutes or until lightly browned. Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

When I was a child, a bakery in our town made cookies that looked and tasted a lot like this. Over the years I tried to find a similar recipe but had no success. This one, which I improvised from another recipe I found, comes pretty close. As I baked these today, I started wondering if some butterscotch or praline flavoring (both available from King Arthur) substituted for the almond flavor might make these even more like the ones I remember...

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Valentine Countdown Challenge, Day 21

Today wasn't a super day as far as the challenge goes, but I got a few things done:

* Finished a handcrafted gift

* Wrapped 2 gifts

* Invited a couple of different people to visit while our daughter & family are here

* Arranged a Valentine-y centerpiece on the kitchen island

* Shopped for more storage containers for reorganizing my closet and craft storage

Am sure hoping for a more productive day tomorrow!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Valentine Countdown Challenge, Day 22

Wednesdays are a very busy day for me, with much of the afternoon spent out of the house. So -- as might be expected, I didn't get a lot of "extra" things done toward the challenge today. Here's what got done:

* Spent a few minutes on the embroidered pillowcase.

* Spent a few minutes on another handmade project

* Got ready to wrap a gift, but didn't get it done -- tomorrow!

* And the biggie -- decluttered and reorganized the floor of Mr. T's closet!

Hoping for a much better day tomorrow, but it's going to be another busy one...

Meatless Bulgur Hash

Here's what we're having for supper tonight...


2 cups water or vegetable broth
1 cup bulgur (cracked roasted wheat)
1/2 tsp. salt
5 medium potatoes, peeled and diced in 1/2-inch cubes
3 Tblsp. flavorless vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tblsp. soy sauce
Shredded cheddar or other cheese, optional

Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan. Stir in the bulgur and salt. Return to a boil, then lower heat to a low simmer and cover. Cook for 15-20 minutes or until all the water is absorbed. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, cover the potatoes with salted water and bring to boil in a large saucepan. Cook for about 10 minutes, or until tender. Drain, reserving both the potatoes and the water they cooked in.

Heat the oil in a large skillet (cast-iron is good) and stir in the onion. Saute´over medium heat for 7 minutes, then stir in the garlic and saute´for another minute. Add the cooked bulgur and potatoes. Stir the soy sauce into 1/2 cup of the potato water and pour it over the hash -- not all in one spot; try to cover a lot of ground. Cook for another minute, then serve right away.

If desired, sprinkle shredded cheddar (or another good melting cheese) over the finished hash. Either place in hot oven for a few minutes until the cheese melts, or simply cover the skillet for a few moments, again until the cheese melts.

Yield: 5-6 servings.

This is yummy with salsa and fried eggs!

The recipe comes from Ken Haedrich’s wonderful book, Country Breakfasts.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Valentine Countdown Challenge, Day 23

Today wasn't as productive as I'd hoped, but here's what I got done:

* Decluttered a LOT in the computer room

* Spent time hand-sewing on a gift -- about 3/4 done now

* Spent a few minutes embroidering on a pillowcase -- close to done

* Wrapped 2 gifts

Monday, January 22, 2007

Valentine Countdown Challenge, Day 24

Today was a fairly unfruitful day for the challenge. Mondays are always busy, with laundry to do, sheets to change, etc. Here's what little I did:

* Crafted another heart ornament for the tree.

* Started the hand sewing part of another handcrafted gift... I'm about 1/4 done with this one.

* Spent a few minutes embroidering on a pillowcase... nearly done now, just need to finish embroidering an outline of a ribbon bow.

* Touched base with my daughter via e-mail to begin planning an open house for while they're here.

Sure hope tomorrow is more productive!

Menu Plan Monday for January 22

Another Monday! Time sure is flying by! It's cold here in New England, so I have lots of soups and other hearty meals on my menu plan this week. There are a couple of repeats for meals that didn't get used last week, also. Here's my plan:

MONDAY: Creamy Chicken Rice Soup, Cranberry-Orange Muffins

TUESDAY: Meatless Bulgur Hash, Fried Eggs, Salsa

WEDNESDAY: Corn Chowder, Italian Cheese Bread

THURSDAY: Pork Chops braised with Cider & Apples, Mashed Potatoes, Winter Blend Vegetables

FRIDAY: Broccoli Sausage Simmer, Rotini, Italian Bread

SATURDAY: Pizza Frittata, Breakfast Potatoes, Baby Carrots

SUNDAY: We'll be helping serve a meal to a young people's choral group who'll be ministering at our church. I'm bringing dessert: Chocolate Cake with Fudge Sauce, and Ice Cream.

There you have it! Looking forward to seeing others' menus!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Valentine Countdown Challenge, Day 25

Even though today was a Sunday, it was a little more relaxing than some. Between us, Mr. T and I managed to accomplish a few things toward the challenge:

* We took down our (real) Christmas tree and got all of the ornaments put away, except the ones we are using on the

* (Artificial) tree which we brought in and set up for our "Christmas in February" when all the family will be together.

* Decorated this second tree with hearts, snowflakes, etc.

* I finished a handcrafted gift tonight.

* I made a couple of new heart-shaped ornaments for the heart/snowflake tree.

* I did a bit of embroidery on a gift pillowcase.

Not bad for a Sunday! Hoping for even more progress tomorrow!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Tackling Zone Three -- Round 2

Well, there was not time to post about this last night, but yesterday I got lots more work accomplished in Zone 3 -- working in our upstairs bathroom this time. Here's what I did:

* Took down the light globes, washed and replaced them.

* Dusted the light fixtures.

* Washed the shower curtain and tub mat.

* Scrubbed the tub and shower. Shined faucets with Windex®.

* Tackled the sink faucets. Scrubbed around them with a toothbrush. Also scraped off a lot of gunk with a jackknife. Polished them with Windex®.

* Scrubbed the sink with a Mr. Clean® Magic Eraser.

I still need to declutter the linen closet and give the floor a good scrubbing, however. Maybe I can get to that in the next few days.

Valentine Countdown Challenge, Day 26

Well, not a lot got accomplished today because we spent aboout 7 hours of it away from home. We took our elderly neighbor to visit her husband who is in a hospital 1.5 hours away. Because of the distance she had not been able to visit him and he has been there about a month. I did get some work accomplished in the car, and purchased a few gifts -- we went shopping and out to lunch while our friend had a nice long visit with her hubby -- and did a bit more crafting after we arrived home. Here's what got done:

* Did a lot of embroidery on a pillowcase. Nearly done!

* Bought several gourmet food items to use as Christmas gifts and to include in a Valentine care package for faraway friends.

* Bought 2 books for gifts.

* Nearly finished a handcrafted gift -- just a tiny bit left to do.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Valentine Countdown Challenge, Day 27

Okay, here's what I accomplished today:

* Finished a homemade gift.

* Did some decluttering in the craft closet

* Did some cleaning in the bathroom

* Got another homemade gift about half done.

* Wrapped three gifts.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Valentine Countdown Challenge, Day 28

I got a few things done today toward the challenge:

* Did some cleaning in a bathroom that will prepare it for being completely company-ready (see "Tackling Zone Three" below for details)

* Spent a few minutes working on a homemade gift

* Purchased several more items to complete two more gifts

* Purchased two flat plastic boxes to assist in decluttering my craft closet

And I think that's about it! Ever-hopeful for more productivity tomorrow!

Tackling Zone Three

Well, I sure haven't been as faithful to my FlyLady zones as I should be in the past few months, but I've been attempting in the past couple of weeks to "jump in where I am" and do better. Last week I managed to get some good quality decluttering and cleaning done in the kitchen.

This week we're in Zone 3 -- the bathroom -- and up until today I hadn't accomplished much but the daily swish and swipe. We have 1 and 1/2 baths, and today I zeroed in on the half bath. I didn't expect that such a tiny space (which I had thoroughly decluttered a couple of years ago, and to which the clutter has not returned) would need so much attention. But it does!

Here's what I did today:

* Washed the window and dusted the window frame and sill

* Took down the curtains -- washed, dried, pressed (even adding a bit of spray starch) and replaced them

* Thoroughly wiped down both sides of the door and the casings with a dry swiffer cloth

* Dusted the trimwork on the doors with a dry toothbrush

* Took a sponge and a big bucket of water with Greased Lightning® added, and washed down both sides of the door and the casings

* Noticed that the toilet paper storage basket was empty and added 2 rolls

* Noticed that the above-mentioned basket was looking shabby and made plans to craft a new one (It's woven paper twist on a foundation of an empty tissue box)

* Swiffered the walls

* Thoroughly washed the floor, using a toothbrush to scrub the edges

* Washed and dried the wastebasket

Now that's a feeling of accomplishment! Several of these tasks will "stay" done -- like the curtains and the work on the door -- for several months now. With just my daily maintenance work, this bathroom will be in fine shape for our company. Now for tomorrow -- I plan to tackle the tub/shower and the shower curtain/tub mat in our main bathroom.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Valentine Countdown Challenge, Day 29

Now this is scary... to get to where there are less than 30 days until the end of the challenge!

Today was not too productive as far as the challenge... Wednesdays are always a busy day for me with several hours spent out of the house. But here's what I managed to get done:

* Did some decluttering in my craft closet -- an essential to my plan.

* Found a nifty new home for my yarn -- an old decorative tin in the shape of a milk can.

* Took down all of the Christmas cards and placed them in a wooden basket -- from which we will hopefully remember to pick a card each day and pray for those who sent it to us.

* Cut out one last sewing project and started sewing on it.

* Did some hand sewing on another project.

* Embroidered a bit on the pillowcase I'm working on.

Hoping for a better day on Day 28!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Valentine Countdown Challenge, Day 30

Today was pretty much useless as far as the challenge is concerned. I had reports to type and send off for our church's annual report, and needed to get a good start too on preparing for my Sunday School lesson. I also prepared more of a labor-intensive supper than usual -- homemade calzones with soup.

This is the tiny bit I got done:

* Rewrapped a gift basket to add some items to it and place it in a gift basket bag -- it is based on a rectangular tray and is a very unwieldy shape to try and just wrap with cellophane. The bag works much better and -- since I had to add a few items anyway, re-wrapping it was not wasted time.

* Decluttered a couple of items from the computer room.

* Spent a few minutes doing hand sewing on a gift project during a phone call.

Hoping to accomplish a bit more tomorrow!

Kitchen Catastrophes!

I thought I'd better take a few minutes and post about my kitchen catastrophes of the past Christmas season -- before I forget what they all were. They might bring a chuckle and some encouragement to others, too!

Catastrophe #1 -- The Almond Brittle Adventure.

I have a great recipe for almond brittle, and I make it almost every Christmas. It's an easy microwave recipe -- you combine sugar and corn syrup and microwave for a length of time, then add almonds and microwave some more, then add a couple more items and microwave a bit more, before pouring the brittle onto a pan to cool. Of course, you use a microwave-safe bowl or casserole dish for this recipe. I always use a glass bowl.

So I combined my sugar and corn syrup and stuck the bowl in the microwave for 4 minutes, then ran upstairs to do something else until the timer went. I heard a popping sound or two but didn't think anything of it. The timer went off and I opened the microwave door... to find an amazing sight! The sides of the bowl had separated from the bottom. So what I had was a shallow glass bowl full of molten sugar/corn syrup, and a separate glass ring that had originally been the rest of the bowl. Very interesting! More interesting still was the question of how I was going to safely remove the liquid (more-or-less)-filled "bowl" without spilling anything or seriously hurting myself. I could easily remove the ring part, so I did that and took it immediately to our glass recycling bin. I finally figured out that I could safely remove the "bowl" part, with its rapidly hardening (but still incredibly warm) contents, by pulling it out microwave tray and all. Then I set it in the sink and filled it with water.

What a mess! I eventually did get all of the molten sugar mess out of the "bowl" and got it clean enough to place in the recycle bin. And yes, I did make another batch of the stuff. I used a 3-quart Pyrex casserole this time and watched it like a hawk. It came out just fine, thankfully.

Catastrophe #2 -- The Unexpected Oven Outage

It was the Friday before Christmas. I have a little tradition of baking Christmas cookies with my grandkids, and this was the day we had set to bake and decorate. Two of the kids were still away visiting their other grandparents. But my other 2 granddaughters were coming, along with a friend and her daughter. I had baked quite a few cookies the day before so the kids would have plenty to decorate, but of course they would also want to help bake. I planned to make the spritz cookies flavored with Jello® for that.

Early in the morning, my daughter-in-law called saying that the 5-year-old wasn't feeling well. We decided we'd have to cancel and I went about my day. I had plenty to do!

But one thing I didn't do was bake anything. That night, I turned on the oven. I had bought some tins to package homemade hot chocolate mixes, and wanted to wash and dry them before using. Since the most efficient way to dry a tin is in a warm oven, I turned the oven to 200º , put the tins in the oven and continued washing dishes. After 10 minutes or so I turned back to check on the tins and found that -- surprise, surprise! the temperature still read 100º.

The oven was not heating at all -- in fact, it was not working at all. The igniter had given out. (This particular Kenmore stove seems to eat igniters. I can't even tell you how many of these we've bought -- without a doubt, enough to pay for a new stove!) Fortunately, the last time this happened, my practical husband had prudently ordered two igniters. He quickly fixed the problem and in a few minutes my oven was working again.

I was thankful that the cookie-baking had been canceled! Can you imagine the disappointment of three little girls when the oven would not work to bake their cookies? At that time of day my husband would not have been available to diagnose the oven problem and fix it. It was a good reminder to me of God's perfect timing and how He cares about even the little details in our lives.

Catastrophe #3 -- The Pizza Crust Panic

This happened on Christmas Eve afternoon. My daughter and family had returned from Ohio, so they and our son's family would all be joining us for Christmas Eve supper. I would serve our traditional Christmas Eve Soup, accompanied by cheese pizza along with raw veggies and dip (ranch dressing). I had pizza dough going in the bread machine, so I proceeded with everything else. We planned to eat early, between 4 and 5 p.m.. When the signal sounded on the bread machine, I greased 2 pizza pans and turned the dough out on one. I would then cut it in half and press half into each pan. Did I say dough?

What plopped out onto my pan was not "dough". It was a sticky, stringy, semi-liquid mass which had me wondering if I had left out most of the flour from the recipe. I quickly realized that wasn't the case -- there was lots of unmixed flour resting in the bottom of the bucket. For some reason the dough had not mixed!

Fortunately, since we had planned to eat early, this happened while our local supermarket was still open -- they would close at 6 -- and so my long-suffering husband hurried off to buy some uncooked pizzas so we could start again. He got back in plenty of time to get them cooked before the kids arrived. While he was gone I cleaned up the mess as best I could. By the time everyone got there, all traces of the catastrophe were gone and we had cheese pizza to serve with our soup!

I still don't know what happened with the bread machine, but I'm going to try making calzone dough in it today. If that doesn't mix, I'll have my suspicions confirmed that it's time for a new bread machine!

Catastrophe #4 -- The Turkey Drippings Deluge

This one happened on Christmas morning! We were cooking a turkey breast, along with mashed potatoes, stuffing, and gravy, to take to my parents' home for Christmas dinner. This was one of those turkey breasts that you cook from the frozen state. We had never cooked one of these before; it had been in my parents' freezer for some time and really needed to be used, so we tried it. It smelled wonderful as it cooked and things seemed to be going well with our preparations. We took the turkey out of the oven at the appropriate time so it could "rest" before carving. Not long before we were to leave, I prepared to make the gravy while my husband would carve up the turkey. It was on the tip of my tongue to ask him if he thought the turkey would have enough liquid to use for the gravy, or if I should just use chicken broth. Before I could get the words out, he lifted the turkey in its bag out of the pan and onto the butcher block next to the stove. And proceeded to slit open the bag!

There was the answer to my question... there was liquid and plenty of it -- but it was not usable for my gravy! It cascaded over the butcher block and into the open cabinet beneath it, then ran to the floor and began spreading over a large area. What a mess! We were grabbing things out of the cabinet and moving them to safer ground, but greasy liquid had left its mark on many of them. We spent the next half hour cleaning up the mess. We had to take everything the liquid had touched out of the cabinet, then thoroughly wash and disinfect the shelves and the butcher block. We washed the items off as best we could and then wiped them with disinfecting wipes. The floor actually had to be cleaned before we could proceed with this maneuver, or we would be tracking turkey broth everywhere.

Needless to say, I used chicken broth for the gravy -- and we were late for Christmas dinner!

What did I learn from these catastrophes?

* Not to be over-confident (or despairing); things like this can happen to the most well-seasoned cook.

* To be flexible.

* Not to lose my temper or my sense of humor.

* To be much more thankful for my wonderful husband and his willingness to help.

* I was reminded of how God knows every detail of our lives and is in control of each one. And I'm so thankful there is always something to learn from every catastrophe!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Valentine Countdown Challenge, Day 31

Oh, how the time is flying by!

Mondays are always busy for me -- I do laundry, change sheets, etc. -- but I did manage to get a few things done toward the challenge:

* I wrapped 2 completed gifts.

* I finished another handmade gift for our Christmas in February.

* I cut out and began stitching another sewn gift.

* I spent some time this evening doing some handwork on yet another gift.

Hopefully tomorrow I can get some more decluttering done!

Hearty Pasta Tomato Soup

Several people have asked for this recipe, so here it is. The original recipe is from Quick Cooking, Sept/Oct. 2001 issue. I've made several changes in the recipe to suit my cooking style and our own preferences.


6 cups beef broth
28 ounces stewed tomatoes
15-16 ounces tomato sauce
2 cups sliced zucchini (I used the frozen zucchini-squash blend)
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup sliced carrots (I used baby carrots)
1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
1 medium green pepper, chopped
1 lb. Italian link sausage, sliced about 1/2 inch thick with scissors
2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. basil
1 garlic clove, minced
Pasta of your choice, OR 2 cups frozen cheese tortellini
Grated Parmesan cheese, optional

Place all ingredients except the last two in a 5-qt. slow cooker. Cover and cook on High for 4 to 5 hours until the vegetables are tender and the sausage slices are cooked and tender.

At this point, add pasta to your taste and continue cooking for 15 to 20 minutes or until pasta is cooked. I used orzo, so only had to wait about 15 minutes. Rotini or elbows would probably take 20 minutes or so. If you choose to use the tortellini, you need to cook it first, then stir into the soup and cook for about 30 minutes or so.

Yield: 10-12 servings

I’ve had this on my menus for weeks and weeks -- had all the ingredients, just never got around to making it. When I finally did, I realized WHY I’d been putting it off. It called for bulk Italian sausage, and for browning it first. I just don’t have time for that sort of thing on Sunday morning! Since what I had was link sausage, I decided to try slicing it up and putting it in with all the other ingredients uncooked. It worked perfectly! This might be problematic if your sausage was very high in fat (might make the soup greasy), but mine was a lower fat kind and so it was fine. Turkey Italian sausage would probably work even better.

Also, much as we like tortellini, I didn’t want to take time to cook it. I just stirred in a half cup of orzo when we got home from church, and it came out well. Tonight, for the leftovers, I am going to cook some tortellini and add that.

We loved this soup. It was extremely good, and indeed very hearty. We liked it so much that -- now that I’ve figured out this easier way to make it -- we’ll be having this soup much more often!

A word about my menu planning

... or, when we eat the leftovers

Last week Laura jokingly asked when we ate our leftovers. This got me thinking that maybe I need to explain a bit about my planning.

I seldom plan a day when we will specifically eat leftovers. The only time I might do that would be the day after a big meal like Thanksgiving or Christmas.

But we do eat leftovers. We love leftovers! I just don't usually plan them as menus because I like the idea of having some meals already planned (and the ingredients on hand) that I can use the next week, or whenever.

There are just two of us at home now, but I typically make meals that serve 4. I have one serving, my husband has two, and there is one serving left over which I can eat for lunch the next day.

Sometimes, though, I make a meal that is intended to serve 6 or more -- this happens especially with crockpot meals. In that case -- as today, with the Hearty Pasta Tomato Soup -- we have the same meal the next day, or I might save that meal to heat up on an exceptionally busy day.

I've also been intending to explain that, although I always plan and cook a meal on Thursdays, we ourselves eat out that night. So I never have leftovers from that meal. What happens on Thursday is that I cook a meal and deliver it to my parents; my mom is ill and they need some help with meals. (I try and make it enough food to last them for 2 or 3 meals.) Then, the same night, we do our grocery shopping along with my parents' grocery shopping. It makes for a busy night and it seemed to be taking longer and longer. For awhile we've been eating out every other Thursday night at the Subway in our local Walmart. Then we can get right to the shopping as soon as we finish eating. We made the decision to do this every Thursday when we saw how much time it saved us and how much earlier we were able to finish, deliver my parents' groceries, and get our own groceries put away. It only costs us around $11 -- and it is money well spent because it saves us so much time. I typically wash the dishes as I cook my parents' meal, so I come home to a clean kitchen as well. So that is the deal on Thursdays.

Hope this clarifies my menu planning a bit for those who were wondering. It may sound strange, but it works for us, and hopefully these ideas may be helpful to someone else as well.

Menu Plan Monday for January 15

Well, here it is Monday again. I don't know where the time goes... but I do know it's time again to post my menu plan. As often is the case, I have several repeat menus due to meals that didn't get used for one reason or another -- we ate leftovers, or ate out, or whatever. Here goes:

MONDAY: Hearty Pasta Tomato Soup, Multigrain Ciabatta Rolls (both leftover from Sunday's crockpot meal)

TUESDAY: Veggie Calzones, Spinach Broccoli Soup

WEDNESDAY: Pizza Frittata, Breakfast Potatoes, Baby Carrots

THURSDAY: Cashew Chicken, Rice, Fruit & Nut Tossed Salad

FRIDAY: Corn Chowder, Italian Cheese Bread

SATURDAY: Broccoli Sausage Simmer, Rotini, Wheat Italian Bread

SUNDAY: Cranberry Pork Tenderloin, Mashed Potatoes, Mixed Vegetables

Looking forward to seeing others' menus! I hope to post a few of these recipes throughout the week, too.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Valentine Countdown Challenge, Day 32

Not a lot got done today, challenge-wise; it was a busy Sunday, what with visiting missionaries at church, a stint in the nursery tonight and a couple of meetings going on. But I got a little bit done:

* Cleaned and decluttered the top of my refrigerator.

* Spent a few minutes working on a handmade gift.

* Spent an hour or so embroidering on a gift pillowcase. It's close to done!

Hoping for a much more productive day tomorrow!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Something new!

I have exciting news -- exciting to me, anyway! I've decided to create another blog, called Mrs. T's Christmas Kitchen. This idea has been simmering around in my brain for awhile, and today I finally decided to take a few minutes and get it started. I'm planning to use this new blog as a place to keep all of my Christmas recipes, decorating and craft ideas, gift ideas, Christmas thoughts and memories. I may not post there much more than once a week at first... we'll see. I'm looking forward to this new adventure and to seeing some of you in my Christmas kitchen!

Valentine Countdown Challenge, Day 34/33

Yesterday was so busy, I completely forgot to share my challenge progress! I'll try and remember all that got accomplished toward the challenge yesterday and today.


* Worked for a bit on a sewing project for a gift.

* Spent time (while traveling in the car) cross-stitching on a pillowcase for a gift

* Found gift bags the right size to fit the homemade gifts I'm making

* Picked up a few more gifts for our family Christmas in Feb.


* Decluttered and cleaned under my sink and put down new shelf liner

* Finished a gift I was sewing

* Cut out and started stitching on another homemade gift

* Framed some photos that really needed to be framed, using frames I already had

* Talked with our loved ones in the West Indies and lined up different activities for their upcoming visit with us.

I'm not sure I've remembered everything, but it's been a fairly productive couple of days!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Vegetable Lasagna

Someone asked if I would post the recipe for my vegetable lasagna. I'm happy to -- this is a recipe I concocted myself by combining a couple of recipes. I believe I have posted this before, but it's been a couple of years, so here it is again for those who'd rather not dig through the archives! It's always a favorite whenever and wherever I serve it. It's good made with regular spaghetti sauce, but Alfredo sauce makes it even better. Here's the recipe:

1 1/2 cups chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 Tblsp. olive oil
1 10-oz. pkg. frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1 10-oz. pkg. frozen chopped broccoli, thawed
1/2 tsp. salt-free garlic-herb seasoning blend
1 lb. part-skim ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (divided use)
1 egg
3 Tblsp. grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
3/4 tsp. oregano OR Italian seasoning
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 quart spaghetti sauce or Alfredo sauce
9 lasagna noodles, UNCOOKED
1 cup water (maybe less)
Extra Parmesan, if desired

In large skillet, sauté onion and garlic in olive oil until soft. Add the thawed vegetables and the herb mix. Stir to combine, cover skillet, reduce heat, and simmer about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

In medium bowl, combine ricotta, 1 cup mozzarella, egg, Parmesan, and seasonings. Set aside.

Spread 1 cup spaghetti sauce on bottom of a 13 x 9” baking dish. Layer on: 3 noodles, half of cheese mixture, half of vegetable mixture, and 1 cup sauce. Repeat layers. Top with remaining 3 noodles, 1 cup sauce, 1/2 cup mozzarella. Sprinkle with extra Parmesan if desired.

Pour water around the edges of the baking dish. If your vegetables happened to produce a lot of liquid, reduce the amount of water accordingly. Cover baking dish tightly with foil.

Bake at 350º for 1 hour 15 minutes. Let stand 15 more minutes before serving. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

May be made ahead and frozen for future use. Simply thaw overnight in refrigerator and bake as directed.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Valentine Countdown Challenge, Day 35

Today wasn't the most productive day -- too much else going on -- but I accomplished a few things toward the challenge:

* Wrapped a gift (which just arrived in yesterday's mail) for our family Christmas

* Finished a gift I was sewing.

* Started sewing another gift item -- nearly half done!

* Bought some more floss for the embroidered pillow cases (I ran out of a color)

* Tentatively planned that our Christmas meal will be a nice selection of appetizers and desserts

* Made a list of possible appetizers to serve

* Started a list of possible desserts to serve

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Valentine Countdown Challenge, Day 36

Where, oh where is the time going? Wednesdays are always a busy day for me, so I didn't get a lot done toward the challenge. Here's what I managed to do:

* Worked for a short while on a handmade gift.

* Cut out another gift item and got it pinned, ready for sewing.

* Did some decluttering and filing in the computer room.

* Cleaned out my entire fridge, decluttering and even taking out the glass shelves and washing them. My fridge is sparkling now (on the inside, anyway).

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Valentine Countdown Challenge, Day 37

Today was actually quite a good day as far as accomplishing things toward the challenge. Here's what I got done:

* Finished the gift I was sewing and wrapped it.

* A bit of filing and decluttering in the computer room.

* Two decluttering projects in the kitchen.

* Cut out and began work on another sewn gift. It's half done already!

* Spent some more time thinking and planning toward the time when our daughter and family will be with us.

Kale/Potato Soup

For those who enjoy a good soup for supper, along with some cornbread, rolls, or crusty bread, here is another of our favorites. I served this for supper on Friday night and it was yummy. The simple ingredients blend into a very unique and wonderful flavor.


4 oz. (or more) kielbasa (I use the light variety)
3 medium potatoes, peeled
Approximately 6 cups water
1 tsp. salt (or more if needed)
1/2 lb. (or more) fresh kale
1 Tblsp. olive oil
1/4 tsp. pepper

Dice the kielbasa and place in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Cook, stirring often, until kielbasa is lightly browned. Cut the potatoes in half, then in half again and slice them 1/4-inch thick. Add them to the Dutch oven with enough water to barely cover them. Stir in the salt. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender. While potatoes simmer, wash the kale well under cold running water. Trim off any blemished parts. Cut the leaves from the stems and shred the leaves finely with scissors. Set aside. (Throw the stems away.) When potatoes are done, take a potato masher and mash lightly to break them up. Add 5 cups water along with the shredded kale, the olive oil, and the pepper. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 4 to 5 minutes until kale is nicely wilted.

This is a most delicious soup!

Up to speed with Kelly's Missions...

It's always a good day for me when I can keep up with Kelly's Missions for the Flylady zone of the week. This week we're in the kitchen -- a very good thing, after all the cooking and baking and culinary disasters and general busyness of the holidays. I'm counting this toward my Valentine countdown challenge, too, because it's always helpful to have one's kitchen nice and clean when company's here and helping with cooking, washing dishes, setting the table, etc.

Today I managed to clean my silverware drawer (the mission for yesterday) --even taking out the silverware holder, washing & drying it, etc. -- and began decluttering the pantry (today's mission was to do at least one shelf of the pantry). I actually have two pantries -- an open cabinet in my kitchen and an old freezer in the cellar for additional storage. Today I was able to declutter the entire kitchen pantry! I am very encouraged!

Monday, January 08, 2007

Valentine Countdown Challenge, Day 38

Today was not the most productive day, but I did accomplish a few things toward the challenge:

* Almost finished the sewing project I've been working on for a gift. Another half hour should do it!

* Spent some time thinking and planning about menus to serve when our guests are here.

* Did a lot of work tonight on the embroidered pillowcase.

Maybe tomorrow will see some decluttering done. I sure hope so!

Sweet Potato Chowder

Several people have inquired about the recipe for Sweet Potato Chowder which I posted in my menu plan for this week. Here it is, for all those who are interested:


2 celery ribs, chopped
1 Tblsp. olive oil
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
2 tsp. chicken bouillon granules
4 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cubed
2 Tblsp. dried minced onion
1/2 tsp. seasoned salt
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. parsley flakes
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
Garlic powder to taste
1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 cups milk
Real crumbled bacon if desired

In large saucepan, saute´ celery in olive oil until tender. Stir in broth, water and bouillon. Add potatoes, sweet potatoes and seasonings. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Combine flour and milk until smooth -- one of those Tupperware® shake-up things is perfect, but a covered jar will work -- and gradually stir into the simmering soup. Bring soup to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened and bubbly. Top servings with real bacon bits if desired.

Yield: 8 to 10 servings.

I adapted this from a recipe in the November/December 2000 Quick Cooking. The recipe originally called for 2 cups of cubed turkey ham (add along with potatoes if you use it). It seemed to me one could get the same basic flavor, a lot more cheaply, by topping the servings of soup with bacon bits. Worked great! We also sprinkled on some oyster crackers and enjoyed the soup with cornbread on the side for complete protein. A delicious and very warming soup!

Menu Plan Monday for January 8

Well, Monday is here again! Here is my menu plan for this week:

MONDAY: Sweet Potato Chowder, Cornbread

TUESDAY: Veggie Calzones, Spinach Broccoli Soup

WEDNESDAY: Pizza Frittata, Breakfast Potatoes, Baby Carrots

THURSDAY: Veggie Lasagna, Carrot Salad, Wheat Italian Bread

FRIDAY: Corn Chowder, Whole Wheat Bread

SATURDAY: Broccoli Sausage Simmer, Rotini, Wheat Italian Bread

SUNDAY: Hearty Pasta Tomato Soup, Ciabatta Bread

Valentine Countdown Challenge, Day 39

Today being a very busy Sunday, I didn't get a whole lot accomplished toward the challenge. The one thing I did do was spend a good bit of time working on an embroidered pillowcase (I'm making a set for my parents' anniversary the end of this month). It's progressing well.

Hoping for a productive Monday!

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Valentine Countdown Challenge, Day 40

Today was a productive day, but I didn't accomplish much toward the challenge. I did quite a bit of housework, plus some cooking and baking for tomorrow's potluck meal at church, and a lot of work on this week's review lesson and next week's Sunday School lesson.

For the challenge, just a couple of things got done:

* I planned with my husband the best day to take our company out to breakfast at our favorite breakfast place.

* I spent some time working on the cross-stitched pillowcase tonight.

* I did a tiny bit of decluttering in the computer room.

Hoping for a much more productive week next week. Have a great Sunday, everyone!

Goals for the New Year

Carrie, over at Life on a Back Road, asked readers to share their goals for the New Year. I shared mine there, but thought I would post them here as well, and ask my readers to share their own goals for 2007.

Here are some of my goals for the coming year. They are in no particular order, and I'm sure I will think of more later, but for now:

1. To go to bed earlier and to get up a half hour earler than I do now.

2. To exercise and drink plenty of water every day.

3. To make my daily quiet time with God ever more meaningful.

4. To continue to grow in the areas of godly speech and diligence in work.

5. To continue to grow in the practical skills of homemaking, money management, and time management.

6. To stick with the housekeeping routines that work for me.

7. To continue to grow spiritually and to use my talents and my spiritual gifts for God's glory.

What about you? Please leave a comment and share your goals for 2007!

Friday, January 05, 2007

Valentine Countdown Challenge, Day 41

Today was quite a good day for the challenge, though I also spent quite a bit of time on housework and on my Sunday School lesson. Here's what I accomplished toward the challenge:

* E-mailed my daughter with possible dates and times for the family/social events we want to include while she and her family are visiting.

* Talked with another friend to set a date for something we'll do together while they are here.

* Spent some time working on a gift I'm sewing.

* Spent an hour or so working on a cross-stitched pillowcase.

* Did a bit more decluttering.

Hoping for more progress tomorrow!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Valentine Countdown Challenge, Day 42

Where, oh where is the time going? It seems to be flying even faster than usual these days.

Today wasn't as productive as I'd hoped, but I did get a bit accomplished:

* Did some decluttering in my craft closet.

* Completely decluttered the drawer where I keep my candles/holders and reorganized it.

* Spent a few minutes working on a cross-stitched gift pillowcase.

Hoping for a much more productive day tomorrow!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Valentine Countdown Challenge, Day 43

Today was not the most productive day for the challenge; Wednesdays are always such a busy day for me. But I accomplished a couple of things:

* Finished the mini snow globe garland I was making and hung it around a door frame.

* Pinned and cut out the fabric pieces for a sewn gift.

* Did a few minutes' worth of decluttering in 2 closets.

Hoping for a more productive day tomorrow!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Valentine Countdown Challenge, Day 44

I didn't get a lot done today toward the challenge, but accomplished a few small things:

* Started decluttering a closet.

* Finished painting a handcrafted gift.

* Finished a bunch of tiny snow globes I intend to glue to a ribbon to use as a winter garland decoration.

* Pressed the fabric for a sewn gift.

And that's about it for today!

Yesterday's Ice Storm

Here is an ice-coated branch, complete with tiny icicles.

Here is an icy sprig of fir.

And last we have a branch of pine, with every needle encased in ice.

My husband took all of these photos (and many more) yesterday during and after the storm. They can only give a small glimpse of how lovely the trees looked.

"He casteth forth His ice like morsels: who can stand before His cold?" (Psalm 147:17)

Monday, January 01, 2007

Valentine Countdown Challenge, Day 45

I actually did accomplish some things toward the challenge on this first day.

* I did a bit of painting on a craft project -- nearly completed that part of the task.

* I also made all of 2005's Christnas cards into gift tags -- freeing up space in the basket for '06 cards, and creating new tags for the wrapping I still have to do.

* I did quite a bit of decluttering.

* I wrapped a gift.

* Spent a bit of time on a fun winter decoration to put up when the Christmas things are taken down.

Greek Spinach Pie

A couple of weeks ago Angie asked for more info about the Greek Spinach Pie, which I had included in my meal plans for Menu Plan Monday. Things have been busy and I haven't gotten around to posting the recipe, so am doing so now.


2 10-ounce pkgs. frozen chopped spinach, cooked, drained well
6 eggs, beaten
1 lb. feta cheese, crumbled
1 large onion, chopped
3 ounces olive oil (may use less -- Mrs.T)
1 lb. filo dough
Additional olive oil if desired
Melted butter for top

Heat oven to 400º. In large bowl combine the first 5 ingredients. Brush the bottom of a 13x9-inch pan with olive oil. Line the bottom of the pan with filo dough, overlapping to cover completely -- there should be no tears or rips. Sprinkle sparingly with spinach mixture, then add another layer of filo. Brush with olive oil. Continue repeating these layers. When you have added the last layer of spinach mixture, add 4 layers of filo dough on top. Brush the top with melted butter. Make slits in the top to form a diamond pattern.
Bake the spinach pie for 1 hour at 400º. If the top layer becomes brown too quickly, cover with foil and continue baking.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings, depending upon how hungry people are and what else you are serving.

This delicious recipe is from my friend Margie. It travels well and tastes good hot, cold, or at room temperature.

Cherry Pepper Chicken (and Lemon Pasta)

Laura asked for the recipe for Cherry Pepper Chicken, so here it is. It is scrumptious with the Lemon Pasta, but would be good with a different side dish as well.


2 lbs. chicken parts (I use chunks of boneless breast)
1/2 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
3 Tblsp. olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 tsp. Italian herb seasoning
One 22-oz. jar cherry peppers, either hot or sweet/mild (If you can’t find that size jar, use a smaller one)

Preheat the oven to 350º. In a plastic bag, combine the flour, salt and pepper and shake the chicken parts in this mixture until they are coated. Brown them in 2 Tblsp. of the oil in a large skillet. Remove the chicken to a large casserole or baking dish (a glass 13x9” pan works well), arranging the chicken in a single layer. Scrape any browned bits from the skillet into the casserole.
Wipe out the skillet with a paper towel and add the remaining 1 Tblsp. oil. Saute´the onion until translucent, stir in the Italian seasoning and spread this mixture over the chicken pieces.
Drain the peppers and put the liquid in the skillet. Bring it to a boil while you deal with the peppers. You need to remove the seeds and tear the peppers into chunks. Scatter the pepper chunks over the chicken and throw the seeds away. When the pepper liquid comes to a boil, pour it over the chicken, again scraping any browned bits over the chicken too. Cover the casserole tightly with foil and bake about 1 hour. Then remove the foil and bake the casserole uncovered 20 minutes longer. Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

This chicken is delicious and very different. It came from Cook & Tell, my favorite cooking newsletter.


12 to 16 oz. pasta -- you may use spaghetti, linguine, or any other pasta you like. I like to use rotini.
1 Tblsp. olive oil
8 oz. sour cream (the light variety works just fine)
1 lemon
Salt & pepper
1/2 c. chopped fresh parsley (optional)
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Preheat oven to 350º. Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until tender. Drain and put into a baking dish. In a bowl, combine the olive oil, sour cream, grated rind of half a lemon, juice of 1/2 lemon, and a pinch of salt. Pour this sauce over the noodles and toss to mix. Bake uncovered 20 to 25 minutes. Grind plenty of pepper over it, add the parsley and Parmesan if you are using them, and toss again. You may add more lemon juice if desired, or serve each portion with a lemon wedge. The pasta will have absorbed the sauce and will be very tasty indeed.
Yield: 4-6 servings.

This recipe is also from Cook & Tell. It goes perfectly with Cherry Pepper Chicken or anything else you’d like a pasta side dish with.