Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Finally Finished

I finished Gone with mixed feelings.  I thought the second half of the book was very exciting.  The book took so long to get going though, and I really thought the kids were portrayed as being very "stupid."  All the adults are gone, and it takes them four or five days to think about checking the houses for infants that might be helpless???  The entire first third of the book is about finding Astrid's autistic brother, and it doesn't occur to them that there may be others that need assistance.  Also, how long would it take most 12 to 15-year-olds to try to drive a car?  Most teenagers I know would have been hopping in all those cars within hours, not fearfully, after days of contemplation.  I just thought that the teenagers behaved, especially at the beginning of the book, like seven-year-olds.

I'm getting ready to start The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.  This one has been on my list for a long time, and my daughter just finished it and said, "Mom, you have to read this, you will really like it!"  So, I will.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Bean soup last night

I made North Woods Bean Soup last night from my Cooking Light cookbook.  None of my family liked it much except me.  I think it was the spinach -- maybe a bit too much.  I got to use one of my new Christmas presents -- an immersion blender -- to partially puree the soup.  What a great tool!  My kids are excited to make smoothies with it.  I served the soup with a simple salad -- grape tomatoes, cucumber, green pepper, and parmesan cheese with a balsamic vinaigrette dressing.  Tried the asiago cheese bread from Walmart -- very yummy, but probably not very healthy.  Everyone said it was the best part of the meal.  Thanks a bunch for that. Oh well, you win some, you lose some.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A festive drink

I know I usually talk about what we cooked, but the other night we were wishing for a festive after-dinner drink.  I made these B52s and thought they turned out pretty good.  I need some practice getting the liquids to stay separate.  They are made with Kahlua, Baileys, and Grand Marnier and tasted good! (These are SHOT glasses even though they look bigger in the picture.)

I'm also including a family Christmas picture -- BF included (after over 5 years, he is pretty much family!)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Dinner and a Gingerbread Competition

My daughter made Rachel Ray's You Won't Be Single for Long Pasta last night for dinner.  This is another recipe that we make over and over.  Everyone loves it, except my husband, who eats it, but it's not his favorite.  There's vodka in the sauce, and even though people say it doesn't have much flavor, it does something wonderful to the tomato sauce.

I'm not posting a picture of the pasta, because after dinner the kids and their "significant others" had a gingerbread house decorating competition.  It was a lot of fun.  I was the judge -- but my daughter and her boyfriend pretty much capitulated to her brother and his girlfriend when they became so detail oriented that they were making shutters for the windows.  Both houses turned out really cute, and both had very creative detailing.  The best part was all the laughter coming from that room . . .

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Caramel Roll Tradition

My annual holiday specialty is Caramel Rolls.  I have made them for several years from a recipe I adapted from a couple of cookbooks.  I make them in the bread machine and I use this same dough for dinner rolls and even pizza crust (we like thick and chewy pizza crust like Papa Del's in Champaign!)  I freely share the recipe with everyone, but all my family and friends still wait for me to make them and give them away.  I did change the recipe a bit this year -- I use part whole wheat flour now, and I use 1/4 cup of Splenda Blend instead of 1/2 cup of sugar.  I still wouldn't call this a "healthy" recipe, but I do what I can.

Carmel rolls in the bread machine

This is for the big size bread machine. Cut in half if you have a small machine. This makes 2 dozen rolls.

2 tsp (scant) yeast powder
2 1/2 cups white flour
2 cups wheat flour
1/2 cup sugar (or 1/4 cup Splenda Blend)
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup shortening (I use butter flavor crisco)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup milk (I warm the water and milk a little in the microwave)

Set bread machine for dough mode - you don't want it to bake.

When dough is ready (I let it rise in the bread machine), make the caramel sauce.  In a saucepan combine:

1/2 cup margarine or butter (DON’T use crisco this time!)
1 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp dark Karo Syrup

Bring to boil for about 1 minute.
Pour into two layer cake pans or pie pans. Sprinkle with pecans.

Split dough in half. Roll into rectangle. Spread with margarine, and sprinkle with LOTS of sugar and cinnamon. Roll up and slice into 12 pieces. Place on top of sauce in the pan. Let rise in warm place.

Bake until brown (for about 17 minutes) in a 350 degree oven. Let cool a little. Turn out onto plate.


Sunday, December 20, 2009

My latest creation

I made these candy cane ornaments for my friends and family.  I think they turned out really cute and were fun to make.  Pattern from Embroidery Library that I bought a couple of years ago and never stitched out.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

New Book

I finished Airhead.  It was OK, but kind of crazy, in a Freaky Friday sort of way.  Also, leaves a lot of loose ends for the sequal to resolve.  I really don't appreciate that.  Not nearly as good as the Princess Diaries.

The next book is  Gone by Michael Grant.  No adults, no technology.  Just children are left.  What's gonna happen?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Another repeat recipe . . .

Last night I made Rachel Ray's Linguini with White Clam Sauce, a recipe I have made many times.  It's quick and easy and I really like it.  I use whole wheat pasta of course, and prefer the angel hair.  It is a juicy sauce, not thick and creamy and it's healthy!  It isn't my husband's favorite (he wants a more saucy pasta) but he eats it.  I always keep these ingredients on hand, so I can make this any time I'm in a rush.  I omit the lemon juice -- I know that is "classic" with seafood, but I don't like the tang it gives (which is what everyone else likes, I guess.)  Also, even if you don't like anchovies, DON'T leave them out -- they add great flavor, and they melt into the sauce, so it's not like you have chunks of anchovies.  Trust me.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

This Year's Christmas Tree

We always have a real Christmas Tree.  My family owns a Christmas Tree farm, so I would meet resistance if I didn't.  Which makes every tree look different, even if I use the same decorations.  I've got to tell you from YEARS of experience -- any tree will look GREAT if you put enough lights on it.  This tree, which stands around 9 feet tall, and is pretty sparse, has 10 strings of lights on it.  It's hard to tell from the picture, but it is positively AGLOW.  It takes a long time to put the lights on it, because I try to wrap each branch from the inside out. 

The past several years, I've chosen a pre-cut tree (not grown on our farm because balsams don't grow this far south.)  This year, I went back to a freshly cut tree.  I was all by myself -- kids too busy for this anymore -- and my husband cut it down for me (and of course, Mollie the dog was there.)  It's a special tree for several reasons -- my father-in-law trimmed this tree at some point -- probably more than once.  My husband sprayed and mowed around this tree every year.  My sister-in-law helped bail it and she and I carried it to the truck.  I put it up ALL BY MYSELF.  So it is truly a family tree.  Also, it's really TWO trees!  It has a nice shape, but the trunk splits about a foot from the bottom, so it has two trunks.  It is a tree that probably no one would have purchased, so I "rescued" a tree from eventually becoming a wreath or some other horrible destiny!

It's fun to flip back through the pictures of past Christmases, and see all the different trees.  No one can ever decide which one is the prettiest, because they are all beautiful, even though they are different.

A New Book - Already!

Part-Time Indian was a very quick read.  Actually finished it Friday, but haven't had time to post.  It's an entertaining story about an American Indian who leaves the rez to go to an all-white school, so he can better himself.  A quick look at life on the reservation and the hardships that are faced.  The main character actually is eventually accepted by the kids at the white school, so that sends a hopeful message, in this day when we hear so much about how pervasive bullying is in schools.

Now I'm on to Airhead by Meg Cabot.  I understand that this book has a far-fetched plot (brain transplants) by I trust Meg Cabot to make it work.  The awkward, unattractive, unpopular girl ends up in the body of a supermodel.  This book is also the "first in a series," so that always makes me worry.  As long as there is an ENDING to this book that's OK.  I don't like one book, one plot, that is chopped into three pieces.  I read so much and try to choose a variety, that I very rarely read past the first book in a series.  Exceptions:  Harry Potter, Twilight, and Luxe.  I'll let you know what I think of this one.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

New Book

I'm now reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie.  I know it's not a new book, but it has taken me a while to get to it. It was a National Book Award winner, so it's been popular.

I really liked The Season.  I would recommend it to fans of the Luxe series, but others also.  This book has more of a mystery associated with it, although it takes a while for the mystery part to get going.

Christmas Sewing

I purchased this pattern from Embroidery Library.  It's called "embossed embroidery."  I've always been a fan of tone-on-tone embroidery, and I really like this.  The pattern suggests that you embroider on fleece or terry cloth.  I think sweatshirts would look good too.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Illini Football

Had a great time yesterday at the Illini Football game.  It was COLD -- around 30 degrees -- but it was sunny, and that helped a lot.  We witnessed the highest scoring game ever played at Memorial Stadium -- Illini lost 53 to 52.  It was the most unusual and exciting ending to a game I've ever seen.  You should read about it, if you are interested.

I made some snacks for after the game.  I made chocolate chip banana bread and Mary Alice's (from Ace of Cakes) Hoagie Dip.  We all liked this recipe a lot, even my son who is kind of a meat and potatoes kid.  Said he doesn't like some of the stuff that was in there, but liked the combination.  He's always willing to try new things, which I give him credit for, and because of that he's beginning to expand his tastes a bit.

I served the dip with slices of french bread.  I don't like to put dip in bread bowls, because then if you have leftovers you pretty much have to throw them away.

Began a new book

I really liked The Lost Symbol. I thought it was very exciting -- a page turner.  I just didn't care for the last 50 pages, after the climax of the book, that seemed to go on and on.  I thought it was kind of preachy.  As with all of Dan Brown's books, now I want to visit the setting (in this case Washington D.C., where I've been probably 8 times) and go to all of the places he talks about.

I've started The Season, by Sarah MacLean.  I thought it sounded like the Luxe series, which I loved.  Takes place in the 1850s and is about three girls who are experiencing their "coming out" season.  I'll let you know.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Spaghetti Soup!!

You probably have discovered my interest in soup.  Well, last night I made what I call Spaghetti Soup.  Basically, I made spaghetti sauce and thinned it with beef broth and added some pasta.  Yummy!  Here's the recipe:

Saute 1 onion, 2 carrots, 2 stalks celery in olive oil until tender.  Add 4 oz. mushrooms.  After the mushrooms are tender, add one pound hamburger and cook until browned. Add one can petite diced tomatoes, and one jar of spaghetti sauce.  (I used garlic spaghetti sauce, otherwise I would have sauted some garlic with the other veggies.)  I like to add a tablespoon of sugar.  Add 3 cups of beef broth and bring to a boil.  About 15 minutes before you are ready to serve, add two cups of pasta (I used tri-color rotini, because I didn't have any whole wheat pasta on hand.)  Serve with parmesan cheese.  You can adjust the amount of broth according to how soupy you want your soup!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Christmas Ornaments

I stitched out these ornaments, from a package from Embroidery Library, this weekend.  Not sure I'm happy with them -- they stitched nicely, but I can't get them to stay spread apart.  They are stitched in three pieces and then slid together.  It takes 1 1/2 hours to stitch each one, so it's rather time-consuming too.  Looking for something to make for gifts and I'm not sure this is it, but they do look pretty.