Crafts ~ Recipes ~ Our New House ~ Book Reviews

December 29, 2011

Hungry for More - Book Review

I just finished the first book in The Hunger Games trilogy. How did I not know that I should have been reading this a long time ago?! Seriously.  It took me 4 hours to finish the book. There were several things that made this a page turner for me. The concept was totally new. It’s not vampire or spell bound or historical fiction, it’s simply a new idea that truly intrigued me. I loved it. I went on Barnesand Noble’s site last night and ordered the whole trilogy. Nerd, I know.
 I can’t wait to get my hands on the next two books. I have already warned my husband that I will be unavailable for conversation for a few days once they come. Possibly unavailable for laundry and meals as well. He’ll deal with it, he knew what he was getting when he married me. But in all seriousness, did anyone else love this book as much as I did? Anyone else wish that it had been longer and contained more details (not blood and gore details, just more information)? Anyone else fall head over heels in love with a book and read it front to back until you are done?
Maybe I am just an oddball. Probably, actually. Anyway, I loved it. Go. Read it. Come back and tell me all about it.

December 28, 2011

A Day on the Ice

We went on our first ice fishing excursion of the year yesterday. It was an absolutely beautiful day to be out on the lake. A little windy, but a high of about 41 degrees. We love to fish and we go whenever possible. There is already over eight inches of ice on most lakes, for those of you concerned about our safety. Yes, mom, that means you.
Ice fishing can be an exciting activity for just about anyone. Sometimes it is nice to go alone or bring the whole family. This time it was myself, my husband, my father, and my sister and her boyfriend. And of course, we never go anywhere in this family without at least one dog so my sister had her black lab puppy with us as well. We had a great day on the ice. We set 8 tip ups and caught one bass and one northern. We also jigged and caught several bluegills and a few crappies. Successful day for sure.
I love to be on the ice. Being outdoors in the winter is always so peaceful. The lake that we fished on was very secluded, no drive in access and no homes or buildings on it. These types of lakes are my favorite lakes. We saw a ton of wildlife and of course, I left my camera in the truck. Since it was a llloooonnnnnggg walk back I decided not to retrieve it. However, I will tell you that we did see a family of otter’s playing in the open water where the river emptied into the lake, a bald eagle, and a turkey.
I managed to get a few pictures of the river as we were driving out. So beautiful. I wish I could spend every day out here.

I owe you otters. Hope everyone is having a happy holiday season and getting in some family time.

December 23, 2011

Last Minute Gift Basket

Happy Holidays! Here is a quick gift idea for any of you procrastinators out there!

I created this very simple and cute gift basket for my sister in law and her husband. They love to ski and often go on weekend long ski trips. I thought something to help them warm up from the cold was in order!

I apologize for the not so great photos, we are not operating with a whole lot of day light right now!
I picked up all kinds of fun stuff for this basket. I got the tub at the dollar store and added two mugs also from Dollartree. I threw in some Vanilla Vodka Whipped Cream and a bottle of Cappucino Cream Vodka. I added popcorn, hot chocolate, peppermint marshmallows, Twizzlers and a Pot of Gold. Easy Peasy.

Total Cost: $35.00

But all that yummy goodness would not be complete without cute wrapping. I added a couple snowflake ornaments and a gift tag to a basket bag (also from Dollartree). Super cute, super easy.

That's all for today. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas!

December 19, 2011

Christmas Cut Outs

I love to bake. I wouldn't say that I am a great baker by any means, but I enjoy it. Every year I find myself looking for the perfect cut out cookie recipe. I dislike puffy cut out cookies, I don't like overly soft ones, I prefer them to not be thin and crunchy. I have tried recipes that use sour cream, no eggs, powdered sugar, and a multitude of other odd ball ingredients. Every year I try something new. Until next year.

I finally found a recipe I love and I will never ever ever ever make any other sugar cookies again. Ever. Swear. I got this recipe from here, thank you Pioneer woman. I modified it somewhat by removing the citrus zest. I did not make the glaze for these, but rather opted for a different glaze recipe that I basically made up on my own. I'll fill you in below. Did I mention how amazing these are? I don't even like sugar cookies as a rule and I ate a whole bunch of these. Even better, this recipe makes about 1 dozen, which is perfect since there are just two of us. 

Creamed the shortening, sugar and vanilla....

Add milk...

Add dry ingredients and mix well....

Ball the dough and wrap it in wax paper...

Pop in the freezer, watch a half hour of Chopped, take out and roll.......

Then comes the fun part...use your cookie cutters (I have over 100 thanks to my sister, great gift ;))...


While your cookies are cooling, make frosting. I wanted to try something new this year so I made an icing, which I have never really done before. Here is the recipe I used, 
1 cup of powdered sugar, 2 TBSP of milk, 2 TBSP of corn syrup, 1/2 tsp almond extract. I mixed the powdered sugar and milk together, then added the corn syrup and almost. Finally, I divided it into separate bowls and added food coloring. 

Two things with the food coloring. First, I did not realize how much less food coloring would be necessary for icing vs. frosting. I always dislike the washed out colors that you get when you color frosting, so I added a lot of color to the icing. As you will see, it was plenty. My blue is blue. Like, navy blue. So, be aware. Second, I got to the red and realized I had only like four drops of red. I even cut the bottle open and squeezed every last little bitty fleck of red out, but my icing was just a dull pink. Yuck. Mixing all my beautiful bright colors with a pepto-pink red frosting would not have been good. 

Time for a brainstorm. Brace yourselves people. After scrounging through my baking cabinet I decided to use red kool aid for color. It worked magically. Ten points for me. I added about half the packet of cherry flavored kool aid to the icing and mixed it in. I got a great red color. The catch, as you may have guessed, is that my red frosting has a distinct tart cherry flavor to it. Oh well, the price we pay for beauty. 

I think they look super. Even better, they taste super. Like I said, I will not be experimenting with a cookie recipe any more. These were as close to perfect as I could have asked for. Maybe I will play around with the frosting/icing next year instead. 

I'm so glad my cookie baking is almost over. I'll be back again this week with one more recipe for holiday baking. 

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December 18, 2011

My Bathroom is Begging for Help

I have been postponing writing this post for awhile. Primarily because I assumed that once I write it, I will have to begin working on it. Motivation to succeed.
Anyway, since the holidays aren’t hectic enough, I thought I would throw this on my to do list for the month of January. As I have mentioned before, we are planning to build our house from scratch beginning (hopefully) in the spring of 2013. I am so excited/nervous/anxious/thrilled/dreading it, but that is another post for another day.
In order to build our house and actually move into it, we will have to sell or rent our current abode. Sounds simple right? Buy land, sell current house, buy new house….if only. Our current house has been very good to us. We bought it as a fixer upper so that we would be able to add value through DIYing updates and then resell it at a later date. Fortunately, that has always been the plan. Unfortunately, we tend to get sidetracked. With my husband being a Technology Education instructor and a carpenter on the side, it seems that he is always working on other peoples projects and our big projects are hard to fit in. It’s a good problem, I know, but it does tend to mess with the timeline.
So, we have already updated many many many many things in our current house, and I’ll try to rewind and update you on some of those in the future, however, the elephant in the house is and has been for awhile, our bathroom. When we first moved in it was painted white and badly in need of a paint job. I painted it a great Asparagus green (sorry I have no idea what brand or what the exact color was). We then started refinishing the doors and cabinets. We sanded, Doug stained, and we refinished the majority of the woodwork. We then began adding new trim, but got stalled after trimming out the doors.
We have since decided, after living in an untrimmed, green bathroom with cracked tile, an unframed mirror, and a yucky open light bulb just hanging from the ceiling, that this room needs more help than paint and trim.
I’ve got big plans. I absolutely.cannot.wait. for an updated bathroom. Did I mention that we have only one bathroom? I absolutely can wait, and have been for several months, for the mess and the work that comes with projects of this size. Suck it up Erin, is what you should be thinking right now. I feel like the girl in the Halls cough drop commercial, I could use a pep talk! 

So, onto the plans. We intend to take out the cracked tiles and if possible replace them without having to retile the entire bathroom. Is this my favorite tile in the world? Absolutely not, however, keep in mind we are updating to sell, not creating my forever home. Side note: when faced with decisions about materials/time/money for our current home, I will always choose cheap. It’s just in my blood, I can’t help it. Don’t judge me. Doug, on the other hand, let’s just call him “Mr. Pefection”. He is a firm believer in doing things right with quality materials, spending more to ensure a lasting and quality product, if you can’t do it right don’t do it at all…yadayadayada. So, for this house, I would say that most often we meet somewhere in the middle. Hence, we are not going to start out with the intention of replacing the tile (because Erin says it’s too expensive), but if we cannot execute the extraction/implantation of the cracked tiles well, Mr. Perfection says we will have to get all new. A happy compromise. 
Next we will paint the bathroom this shade of off white. I’m giving this new Valspar paint and primer in one a try. I have never used the paint and primer, so I will give you my review as projects become completed. I fully intend to do one coat of just primer over the lovely green first, and then hopefully just one coat of the Valspar. We shall see. I chose this paint color because it is very neutral, neutral sells, as all you HDTV’ers must know. Also, the bathroom is large, but because it is the only one in the house, I want it to seem very large and open.
Finally, I want to somehow fix my tub/shower. It is stained and has a porous finish on it that makes it really hard to clean. I have heard about refinishing a fiberglass shower shell, however, more research is in order to see if that is a feasible option for us.
There are a few additional items on my list, in no particular order, here it is:
·         Fix tiles
·         Paint
·         Trim
·         Add shelves above toilet
·         Frame mirror, my inspiration is Bower Power’s awesome mirror redo found here, and add a new light fixture
·         Shower/tub help
I am also thinking that I will need to come up with a nice way to highlight the window. It’s a very high window, so shades/blinds are not necessary, and I love the natural light it gives, however, it needs….something. Any suggestions? I might have to fall in to the black hole of Pinterest for a few nights for ideas.

All in all, it seems so overwhelming, but I know that breaking it down little by little is the key. I just have to keep in mind that we are moving toward the ultimate goal of building and every little bit is a step forward.
So, now that I have a plan…’s about time to get moving. I wish everyone a happy and healthy holiday season and a very Merry Christmas!

December 13, 2011

Loveable Labs

They are just absolutely adorable. I can't help myself.

I can't stop lovin' on them. They are almost ready to leave us, only a few more days until they go to their forever homes. As much as I am dreading that, they are so ready to go. They need lots of love and attention now so I know it is time. 
So that's what I have been up to, hope everyone is having fun getting ready for the holidays! Take some time to relax and enjoy them as well!


December 11, 2011

Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls

 Love these. L.O.V.E. Seriously. And guess what, they have one major similarity with everything else I have been doing lately, they are super easy. No kidding. People who think that I am being super lazy this holiday season should redirect to this post J .
So, what do you need?
1 cup peanut butter
½ cup marshmallow fluff
2/3 cup rice krispies
1 ½ cups chocolate chips
2 TBSP shortening

To begin, mix the peanut butter, marshmallow fluff, and rice krispies. Yum. Try not to stick your fingers in there too many times.

 Next, melt the chocolate chips and shortening in the microwave.

 Stir frequently. Melted chocolate should be relatively thin for this recipe so that it coats the peanut butter balls fairly easily.

Finally, roll the peanut butter mixture into 1” balls between your palms. Be careful, the most important part of this recipe is keeping the balls bite sized. No need to waste energy on multiple bites. Dip the balls into the chocolate until thoroughly coated.

Place on wax paper on a cookie sheet and refrigerate until chocolate has hardened. These may be frozen until you are ready to use them. If there are any left to freeze.

Total time it took me to make these…less than it took to write this post. Seriously, about 20 minutes, start to finish. Go, run, make your own!

December 10, 2011

Super Easy Christmas Candy

This candy is SO EASY to make, I am almost embarrassed to blog about it. However, it has become a Holiday staple for me, so I feel it should be included. I make this start to finish in about an hour. There are so many different options for it, you really can be creative and do whatever you like.
First, I melt 6 – 8 oz of candy. For demonstration purposes, I started with ivory bark. I add 1 TBSP of shortening and melt it in the microwave, stirring frequently.

 To that, I added ¼ cup of chopped ( I used my food processor) oreos.

 Stir well. I then spread the mixture on to a wax paper covered jelly roll pan. I sprinkle  a few remaining oreo crumbs on top and refrigerate until firm.

As I mentioned above, there are a ton of options for this. I also make a version with mint extract and candy canes, and with mint extract, green food coloring, and chopped Andes mints on the top. 

It really doesn’t get any easier than this! When the candy is firm, I take it out, break it into shards and freeze it in Ziploc bags until I need it.
I’m on a roll today, so I’m off to continue my candy making madness.

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December 7, 2011

Easy Chicken Dumpling Soup

I know that we are all in the Christmas spirit and chicken dumpling soup sounds strangely out of place with all that holiday cheer, however, I have had a sick husband the past couple of days so I quickly (as quickly as you can make chicken soup) stirred up a pot for myself and the Grinch. Not to mention that I don’t need much of an excuse to make this soup, it’s one of our favorites.

Soup Ingredients:

1 whole chicken

2lbs carrots - chopped

3 large celery stalks -chopped

1 onion, diced

Chicken stock


To start out, I thawed a 4lb chicken in cold water in the sink. After removing the innards (please don’t forget to do this! If my sister Olivia is reading this, this advice is for you) I placed the chicken into a stock pot 2/3 full of boiling water. I added a TBSP of Herbs de Provence to the pot and boiled the chicken for 30 minutes.

When the chicken had cooked, I removed it from the pot with tongs and placed it on a platter. I added the carrots, onions, and celery. Next I added 3 TBSP chicken stock and a healthy dose of garlic salt.

I proceeded to boil the veggies in the stock while picking the chicken clean. After I had added all of the chicken to the pot, I boiled the soup until the carrots had begun to soften. Nobody likes mushy carrots, so I try to catch them before they get to that point. When the soup is theoretically done, you will want to check the seasoning. You may need to add more garlic salt or chicken stock to taste.

Into all this yummy goodness, we must add dumplings. No chicken soup is complete without them. My husband is totally the dumpling maker in our family, but as I mentioned, he was sick so it was up to me. I persuaded him to give up the recipe and I must say, I think I got it right the first time. Ten points for me.

Dumpling Ingredients:

1 egg

1 cup all purpose flour

¼ cup cold water

First I added the flour to the egg and stirred it together with a fork (apparently using a fork is important because I started out with a whisk and got told). Then add the water and mix it all together. When it is the consistency of oatmeal, maybe a little thicker, drop it by the forkful into the pot of boiling soup (soup should be brought to a rolling boil prior to dropping in dumplings). Add a lid to the pot and let them cook for 10 minutes or so. I will confess that I had to double the batch of dumplings…there are just never enough to go around!

So, I am off now to enjoy this wonderful soup du jour, alone, on my couch, while my husband is quarantined. How about you guys? Made any delicious soups lately? Battling any gross bugs? Any good ideas for disinfecting? Let me know, I’d love to hear from you!