Nov 242016
 

Anne and kids at Thanksgiving table

Long time no see, Ruly readers!

This year has generally come down to a choice between blogging about organizing and actually doing my organizing. I have been working on a lot of great projects but have been terrible about keeping you updated.

While I wish my return to blogging could be with a wonderful, insightful post, after a long day of cooking and cleaning, this is about all I am up for at the moment!

As a quick note, this Thanksgiving, we tried a few new things:

  • We flavored the turkey with cinnamon, pepper and salt per these instructions. It was delicious but not that much different in flavor from our typical turkey.
  • We tried substituting mashed cauliflower for mashed potatoes again. I left out the garlic and they came out much better but are still not quite like the real thing.
  • My table was set with one of my grandmother’s pottery dishes and my other grandmother’s glassware and silver. This was a wonderful way to remember them and feel a bit of home. If you are ever in the sad position of taking a memento from a grandmother’s estate, a piece of serving ware is fairly easy to store and brings back a lot of good memories.
  • My daughters were a tremendous help to me! They are getting quite talented at decorating for the holidays and they set the table themselves! They also each made a pie. One chose the classic Nestle Toll House cookie pie (which was delicious but next time we might cut down the amount of butter in it). The other chose Creamy Pumpkin Pie, which is super simple to make and a kid pleaser.

Hope you had an incredible day and thank you for sticking with me through all the twists and turns that organizing journeys take!

Thanksgiving 2016!

Thanksgiving 2016!

 Posted by on November 24, 2016 General Tagged with: , ,
Nov 292015
 
Celebrating his first Thanksgiving in the kitchen!

Celebrating his first Thanksgiving in the kitchen!

What a grand weekend it has been!

There has been so much to worry about in the news lately with the Paris shootings and the escalating situation in Syria. While consciously, I know that I am in little danger, you can’t be exposed to news like this and not internalize it in some way. A few days after the Paris shootings, I woke up one morning from a dream in which gunmen were chasing me and I was trying to find my children and escape.

Thanksgiving weekend was a welcome respite. I needed that time to reconnect with family, reaffirm that everyone was safe and free my mind to focus on fun things like eating and shopping.

Thanksgiving came by all too quickly for us. I was ill with the flu and pneumonia the first part of November and lost about half the month in recovery. My wonderful sister came to the rescue and invited to host Thanksgiving at her house. I told her I wanted to contribute something to the feast.

“Bring whatever you like but ZERO pressure!”

For our family, Thanksgiving has become a cooking holiday. We don’t live near much family so we end up cooking a lot of the meal ourselves. It has become one of our new traditions to try out new recipes and the kids have taken to becoming dessert chefs for the meal. I asked my girls what they wanted to prepare and we settled on pumpkin pie and chocolate-something.

My need for safety and reassurance permeated my cooking as well. I decided that I should learn to make an apple pie. I don’t think I have ever made one before. There is nothing more American than apple pie and I wanted a reminder of tradition and all the things that make the U.S. a great country.

The day before Thanksgiving was pie day. While I was originally going to work with each girl individually to make her recipe, my eldest son announced that he was going to be cooking too. So, we shifted to brother-sister teams. Each brother-sister pair made a pie and then I, along with my chef-in-training son made the apple pie. Fortunately, all came out delicious!

Pumpkin pie can be a controversial flavor but my daughter and I love it!

Pumpkin pie can be a controversial flavor but my daughter and I love it!

First up, team pumpkin pie!

First up, team pumpkin pie!

The finished pie ready for baking!

The finished pie ready for baking!

I used some of the leftover pumpkin puree to make a version of Gwyneth's sweet potato pie smoothie.

I used some of the leftover pumpkin puree to make a version of Gwyneth’s sweet potato pie smoothie.

My son also liked the smoothie.

My son also liked the smoothie.

Next up, team chocolate chip!

Next up, team chocolate chip!

All the children loved working with the stand mixer.

All the children loved working with the stand mixer.

Pie ready for baking!

Pie ready for baking!

My son's enthusiasm for cooking was so fun to see.  He thought rolling pie crust was awesome!

My son’s enthusiasm for cooking was so fun to see. He thought rolling pie crust was awesome!

My homemade pie crust.  Not that difficult to make and tastes like a butter cookie when baked!

My homemade pie crust. Not that difficult to make and tastes like a butter cookie when baked!

Lattice-topped apple pie...a classic.

Lattice-topped apple pie…a classic.

The finished pies and salad.  I learned a trick from my sister-in-law that pomegranate seeds on your Thanksgiving table add instant elegance.

The finished pies and salad. I learned a trick from my sister-in-law that pomegranate seeds on your Thanksgiving table add instant elegance.

We loaded up into the car and drove to my sister’s house. She prepared a huge feast of numerous delectable dishes as well as a gorgeous 20-pound turkey! We ate to grand sufficiency and had a wonderful time.

Our gorgeous and delicious feast!

Our gorgeous and delicious feast!

Yum!

Yum!

Below are links to the recipes we tried this year. All were supremely delicious!

Have any Thanksgiving memories or recipes to share? Please comment!

 Posted by on November 29, 2015 General Tagged with: , , ,
Dec 022014
 
Inspired by a designer wreath, my Thanksgiving wreath design.

Inspired by a designer wreath, my Thanksgiving wreath design.

I have needed a wreath for my front door to fill the holiday gap between Halloween and Christmas. I have my black tulle wreath for Halloween and usually try to find a fresh pine wreath for Christmas but November has a gap.

Early this fall, while flipping quickly through a design catalog, I came across an unusual wreath of ruffled burlap with orange flowers. I thought the materials and colors perfectly reflected November. It was quite expensive but I tore out the page for inspiration, wondering if I could make my own version.

I began by making a base for the wreath from two wire coat hangers, leaving one end open.

Two wire coat hangers became the base for my wreath.

Two wire coat hangers became the base for my wreath.

I then cut simple long rectangles of burlap about 13″ wide and a yard or two long, folded them in half and sewed tubes.

Stitching the burlap tubes.

Stitching the burlap tubes.

I used two tubes and slid them onto the open hanger, stitching the tubes together by hand.

Adding the burlap tubes to the wreath form.

Adding the burlap tubes to the wreath form.

At this point, there was some creative hand sewing to get the ruffles just right. I don’t really have instructions for this. I just made stitches where necessary to keep the ruffles bunching correctly. (I also realized that in most craft projects there probably is a lot of this “fussy” behind the scenes detail work, which is why most of us never end up with a result that looks exactly like the instructions we are following.)

Then, it was time to make the flowers. I was inspired by some handmade flowers my artistic aunt recently created. I googled how to make them and came up with this video.

I used leftover polyester fabric from our Halloween costumes. The first step was to cut out circles from the fabric, which I did much of while waiting for my children’s soccer lessons.

Cutting lots of circles of various sizes from orange and yellow polyester fabric.

Cutting lots of circles of various sizes from orange and yellow polyester fabric.

The next step was FIRE! You hold the edge of the fabric near a candle flame, just long enough to melt the edge and curl it but without singeing it or burning it. It took some practice before I stopped burning the fabric.

Burning the edges of the circles with a candle to make them curl and seal the ends.

Burning the edges of the circles with a candle to make them curl and seal the ends.

The YouTube tutorial suggested cutting small slits in each circle to create petal shapes. These were rather difficult to burn and I singed the ends of most of my first few flowers. When I looked at my aunt’s example, it seemed that she did not cut the slits and just used the circles whole. I tried this technique and it was far easier and just as beautiful.

Two options for burning patterns: on the left, the result of burning the circle uncut.  On the right, cutting small slits in the circle before burning to create more of a petal shape.

Two options for burning patterns: on the left, the result of burning the circle uncut. On the right, cutting small slits in the circle before burning to create more of a petal shape.

I then had a whole stack of petals on the table. I started showing my daughter how to stack all the orange together and all the yellow together to make the flowers I had in mind based on the tutorial.

A large collection of burnt  petals.

A large collection of burnt petals.

My daughter took one look at my examples and the huge collection of petals and informed me that I was being far too restrictive in my combinations. She quickly pulled together the most beautiful combinations of yellow and orange and also told me to make some with just the small petals so I had flowers of different sizes. Her artistic talents amaze me sometimes.

My daughter inspired me to combine the the petals in various combinations to create more interest.

My daughter inspired me to combine the the petals in various combinations to create more interest.

The next step was to hand sew a few stitches to keep the petals together in the finished flowers. My youngest daughter informed me that she wanted to learn how to do this. We sewed the first few together, with me pushing in the needle and her pulling it through. Then I gave her a threaded needle and told her to try it herself. She did a beautiful job!

Sewing flowers with the help of my daughter.

Sewing flowers with the help of my daughter.

The pile of finished flowers.

The pile of finished flowers.

My daughters had big plans for these flowers. They wanted to sprinkle them all over our Thanksgiving table as decorations. Fortunately, we had some left over and their plans were realized. They looked amazing!

A simple but elegant touch sprinkling the flowers all over the Thanksgiving table!

A simple but elegant touch sprinkling the flowers all over the Thanksgiving table!

It was then time to attach the flowers to the burlap base. While you could glue them, I like to be able to wash my wreaths before I put them into storage so I sewed the flowers on by hand. This was another part of the process where there aren’t specific instructions but a loose method of figuring out how many to use and where to put them. In the designer example I was following they bunched them all on one side.

To finish it off, I added a tulle hanger loop and a tulle bow. I also used more hidden tulle as ties to help with bunching the burlap together attractively.

In the end, I had something similar to my designer example but a bit more simplified. I love how it came out and it means even more to me seeing the work of my daughters reflected in it too.

Our Thanksgiving friendly front door.

Our Thanksgiving friendly front door.

 Posted by on December 2, 2014 General Tagged with: , ,
Dec 012014
 
The scene the day before Thanksgiving.

The scene the day before Thanksgiving.

It has been quite a weekend and I am still in disbelief that it is the first of December!

We started off with weather drama–our first snow of the season! It was only a dusting that melted quickly but enough to cause panic. We did our grocery shopping the day before the storm and the store was packed.

Glad to be done with the grocery shopping!

Glad to be done with the grocery shopping!

When we got home, I took the time to thoroughly clean out the fridge as I unpacked the groceries and this was my best Thanksgiving organizational tip. I found that my trusty sanding sponges are great for scrubbing sticky messes out of the fridge. With the fridge cleaned out, there was space for holding the brining turkey. I also had a fresh supply of plastic food storage containers and only good, fresh ingredients to work with. We only have one fridge to work with so we have to make the most of the space.

The tidied fridge with groceries unpacked.

The tidied fridge with groceries unpacked.

On the day before Thanksgiving, we ideally would have stayed home but I had a pregnancy checkup to attend. With light snow falling, my husband did not want me traveling alone so the entire family packed up and we all had a beautiful journey to the doctor through snow-covered farmland.

Virginia has some of the most beautiful farmland in the country and it is even more charming with a dusting of snow.

Virginia has some of the most beautiful farmland in the country and it is even more charming with a dusting of snow.

Once back from our travels it was time to get cooking.

THANKSGIVING MENU

The main courses of our Thanksgiving feast.

The main courses of our Thanksgiving feast.

The Turkey

While most cooks will advise you to stick to what you know for important meals like Thanksgiving, I find it more interesting when cooking for my own family to try some experiments. I read Padma Lakshmi’s advice on cooking a Thanksgiving turkey by brining it in buttermilk and cooking it with apples and oranges and found it so unusual I had to try it.

The brining ingredients: buttermilk (with a little salt and sugar added) and turkey.

The brining ingredients: buttermilk (with a little salt and sugar added) and turkey.

Brining the turkey in buttermilk in a turkey roasting bag in the fridge for about a day and a half.

Brining the turkey in buttermilk in a turkey roasting bag in the fridge for about a day and a half.

Cutting up apples and oranges for the seasoning.

Cutting up apples and oranges for the seasoning.

This year I had to plan some extra time to teach my inquisitive daughters who wanted to help.  Here: showing my daughter how to peel an apple.

This year I had to plan some extra time to teach my inquisitive daughters who wanted to help. Here: showing my daughter how to peel an apple.

I stuffed the apples and oranges inside the cavity, tucked a few in between the skin and the breast meat and put the rest in the bottom of the pan along with a little bit of water.

I stuffed the apples and oranges inside the cavity, tucked a few in between the skin and the breast meat and put the rest in the bottom of the pan along with a little bit of water.

After several hours, the turkey was done!

After several hours, the turkey was done!

Everyone loved this turkey, especially my children. The turkey was moist and delicious and the fruit gave it just a bit of sweetness.

Corn Pudding

Another new recipe was trying the Virginia selected recipe of “Corn Pudding” from The New York Times’ list. Apparently this list was rather controversial. This NBC News story about Minnesota’s outrage over “grape salad” was hilarious. I must say that I have never heard of corn pudding before but then being a relatively recent transplant to Virginia I didn’t feel qualified to judge.

Shaving the corn kernels for corn pudding.  It was actually quite hard to find corn in the grocery store this time of year.

Shaving the corn kernels for corn pudding. It was actually quite hard to find corn in the grocery store this time of year.

In general, corn pudding is quite a simple recipe but the cooking process is a bit unusual. You cook the pudding in a water bath. Generally, you do this in the oven but since my oven was occupied by the turkey I used the electric skilled my in-laws gave to me one year as a present. This is a lifesaver when you need more oven space.

Corn pudding is cooked by steaming it in a water bath.

Corn pudding is cooked by steaming it in a water bath.

My only problem with the electric skillet for this cooking method was that the steam condensed onto the top of the pudding. We had to drain it before eating to remove the excess water. Other than that, it seemed to cook perfectly!

Corn pudding.

Corn pudding.

What does corn pudding taste like? If you have ever had a dessert like flan or the Greek dessert Galataboureko you have an idea of the general consistency and sweetness of this dish. Then add some corn kernels to it. It is really quite sweet. It must come out of the same southern tradition as sweet potatoes with marshmallows. In general, we liked it. I am not sure if we would make it every year but it is an interesting side dish.

Stuffing

Our stuffing came from a basic package mix. The only change this year was that we tried the “cornbread” variety and it was delicious!

Stuffing ingredients.

Stuffing ingredients.

Garlic Cauliflower Mash

So, when you are trying new recipes, not every recipe can be a winner and this one definitely is not! I wanted to include a vegetable and a clean eating recipe in our meal. This alternative to mashed potatoes sounded great but tasted terrible! It might have been better with either no garlic or just a very tiny amount. The garlic in this was overpowering and made it inedible. I even tried heating it up a bit the next day to reduce the garlic taste but it was just awful. Most of this went into the garbage.

Reboot with Joe's Garlic Cauliflower Mash - not a winner for us.

Reboot with Joe’s Garlic Cauliflower Mash – not a winner for us.

In the match-up between traditional boxed mashed potatoes and the healthy alternative, garlic cauliflower mash, the potatoes were the clear winner!

In the match-up between traditional boxed mashed potatoes and the healthy alternative, garlic cauliflower mash, the potatoes were the clear winner!

Cranberry Mousse Mold

I thought it would be humorous and a reference to my home state of Utah (Jello capital of the world) to serve some sort of Jello dish with our dinner. We tried this Cranberry Mousse Mold. The first problem with this recipe is that it is impossible to find cranberry flavored Jello. I checked several stores and none of them had it. I ended up using strawberry instead. I put the whole box in but the Jello just never ended up setting up correctly. There seemed to be too much liquid from the cranberry sauce and water. To make it work, I ended up freezing it but it began to melt quickly as soon as it came out of the freezer.

The cranberry jello mold disaster.

The cranberry jello mold disaster.

It’s very disappointing to ruin a Jello recipe! The flavor was actually OK but the consistency was all wrong. I’ll have to try again with a different recipe.

Pumpkin Cream Pie

Pumpkin pie is controversial in our house. Some of us love it and some of us can’t stand it. I saw this recipe for Pumpkin Cream Pie and thought it sounded interesting. The comments said that it was a great pie for people who hate pumpkin pie.

Ingredients for pumpkin cream pie.

Ingredients for pumpkin cream pie.

My 6 year old took ownership of making this recipe with me. She thought the filling was delicious and creamy but her favorite was the whipped cream with brown sugar and pumpkin pie spice. I loved the whole thing and even the pumpkin pie haters in the house said that this was delicious! This is a definite keeper for us and very easy too.

The finished pumpkin cream pie.

The finished pumpkin cream pie.

The proud pumpkin pie chef.

The proud pumpkin pie chef.

Rolo Stuffed Pumpkin Spice Pudding Cookies

This recipe has been on my to make list for a while. I missed the small print about how you can substitute the pumpkin spice pudding for vanilla pudding with 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice added so I was desperately searching stores for pumpkin spice pudding. This was as impossible to find as the cranberry Jello! During our Thanksgiving shopping, I just happened to find a box of the pumpkin spice Jello and I grabbed it.

The elusive pumpkin spice Jello pudding.

The elusive pumpkin spice Jello pudding.

My eldest daughter took ownership of this dessert as chocolate chip cookies and Rolos are her favorites!

Ingredients for Rolo Pumpkin Spice Pudding Cookies.

Ingredients for Rolo Pumpkin Spice Pudding Cookies.

The trickiest part, burying the Rolos in the cookie dough.

The trickiest part, burying the Rolos in the cookie dough.

These cookies were very rich and chocolaty fresh out of the oven. They actually tasted better the next day when everything solidified a bit.

The proud cookie chef.

The proud cookie chef.

Our awesome desserts.  Both were fabulous!

Our awesome desserts. Both were fabulous!

Overall, it was a wondrous feast! We have so much to be thankful for this year.

The rest of the weekend, however, went steadily downhill. The next morning, my son awoke with a terrible digestive virus, which then spread throughout the whole family, sparing only my husband. So, despite all this rich eating, I ended up losing a pound and a half!

While I had big plans to get a start on our holiday decorating, I ended up cleaning up terrible messes, washing bedding, disinfecting surfaces, and sleeping in to try to recover myself. Caring for sick children while you are sick yourself is the most exhausting task as a parent. We are all on the mend now and feeling much better but still recovering a bit. I did manage however to get quite a bit of our holiday shopping done online as well as catch up on my knitting. We are starting December a little behind but hope to catch up a bit this week.

Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving! Any great recipes or memories to share?

 Posted by on December 1, 2014 General Tagged with: , , ,
Nov 182014
 
My son, proving Phyllis Diller's famous quote true: "“Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing is like shoveling the sidewalk before it stops snowing.”  He sabotaged my efforts first with baking soda and then maple syrup!

My son, proving Phyllis Diller’s famous quote true: ““Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing is like shoveling the sidewalk before it stops snowing.” He sabotaged my efforts first with baking soda and then maple syrup!

As the holiday season approaches, one of the most dreaded tasks is cleaning your house for hosting guests. There is enough to do with all the cooking and decorating but the cleaning obligations can take over your life!

I have been immersed in a fall deep clean of the house lately to get ready for entertaining. Our home always needs a twice yearly scrub-down, including shampooing carpets, cleaning upholstery, dusting, etc. It could probably use it more often but I can only summon the energy twice a year!

There is no secret to making all this scrubbing for company a bit easier. The current popular aesthetic is not only for things to look clean but also to look brand new. If you have an older house, that is tougher to pull off and requires more scrubbing effort. It is hard, back-breaking work but it does look great when it is done and guests love it.

Through a long process of trial and error cleaning my own home, I have come up with a few cleaning tips that are making a big difference in my house.

A Salad Dressing for Leather Furniture

Olive oil and vinegar for cleaning leather.  Who would have thought?

Olive oil and vinegar for cleaning leather. Who would have thought?

My leather dining chairs were crying out for a good clean. After getting rid of all the crumbs and trinkets that our children have managed to stuff into the crevices in the seats, I needed a nice, moisturizing cleaner to reinvigorate the leather. We didn’t have any leather cleaners in the house so I looked online for a homemade solution. I found this one and tried it out. It smells like salad dressing but the vinegar smell does fade within a few hours. The olive oil absorbs into the leather within about a day or so. My husband even noticed how much better the chairs looked after this treatment!

Sandpaper for Deep Cleaning

Sanding sponges, an essential part of my cleaning arsenal now.

Sanding sponges, an essential part of my cleaning arsenal now.

After I discovered that sandpaper does an amazing job reinvigorating toilet bowls, I wondered if sanding sponges could work in other tough situations. I bought a box of them at Home Depot and keep them in the cleaning supplies cabinet. They are terrific for scrubbing crusted on stains off of laminate counters and (when used with very gentle pressure) on hardwood floors. They removed baked on grit from a glass baking dish. They scrub tubs and countertops in the bathroom beautifully too. This is also the miracle cleaner for my oven. It gets rid of grease and burnt food with just water and some scrubbing. No harsh chemicals needed.

One caution with this method, however. You need to test each surface first as the sandpaper can scratch and ruin certain things. Don’t use it on chrome bathroom fixtures as it will scratch.

My "sanded," sparkling oven.

My “sanded,” sparkling oven.

My Miracle Carpet Cleaning Formula

My new favorite "recipe" for carpet cleaning.

My new favorite “recipe” for carpet cleaning.

When you have older rugs and carpets to clean, it can be tricky. Sometimes when the carpet gets wet from the cleaning it can release smells from all the old stains that have ever penetrated the carpeting. The smells don’t go away until the carpet has dried for several days. I have tried all kinds of carpet soaps, laundry detergents and even bleach and had this same problem.

This year, I really wanted to avoid the smells so I tried a new concoction and it worked beautifully! First, I thoroughly vacuumed the carpeting. If there were any stains on the carpeting, I sprayed some Tuff Stuff cleaner on them. I then put some diluted Lysol cleaner in a spray bottle and sprayed the entire carpet. I then sprayed the carpet with a light coat of Febreeze. In the carpet cleaning machine, I put more diluted Lysol in the soap dispenser and no other soaps or detergents. I tried to rinse each area of the carpet twice with clear water as I went. The carpets came out beautifully clean and didn’t really smell of anything. They dried nicely and quickly as well. I used this on both colored and light colored carpeting and didn’t have any discoloration but, of course, if you are going to try this yourself, test a small patch first.

Hope these tips might help anyone else out there scrubbing away! My sympathies!

 Posted by on November 18, 2014 General Tagged with: , , ,