Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015 In Review

I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels the years are passing faster. The older I get the more it seems time is zipping by! I'm cognizant that I have more years behind me than ahead of me and feel somewhat desperate that I can't slow things down. I just have to try to concentrate on the "now" and cherish every moment and memory. It's amazing to look back and see all I experienced, accomplished and learned in 2015!


January found us welcoming our fourth grandchild, and only grandson, to our family. I was able to spend almost a week with the new family assisting in any way I could.  A lot of time was spent in the kitchen, including baking these banana cinnamon rolls.
Later that month I hosted my family's 9th annual tea with a "Let It Snow" theme.  Our 10th gathering is coming up soon!


Every February finds me transitioning from being a part-time CPA to working seven days a week. Dinners are minimal, very little sewing or crafting gets done. But I always try to prepare a nice Valentine's dinner for my Hubby, including setting a nice table. I plan ahead and make sure to have small gifts for my grandchildren. It's important to include all my loves for this holiday!


March finds our gardens coming alive and the almond orchards in full bloom.  Vital to all this are honeybees. This cake, resembling a beehive, was fun to bake.

Finally, April 15 arrived and I had free time again!  One of my favorite pastimes is spending time in the kitchen, with my youngest granddaughter, baking family favorites. These cookies never fail to please!

Once again I hosted a Mother's Day luncheon for the women in my family. I used some new linens to set a colorful garden-themed table.


The warm days of June found me in the backyard quite a bit, planting new plants and tending to the old. Animal water troughs became my solution to a root-infested (from the neighbor's trees!) area of our yard.

In July I was able to check off an item on my household projects to-do list; painting a side gate red and curving the top of it.  We get so many compliments on this gate and it was so easy to do!

I had been coveting an old wheelbarrow for a long time. Imagine my surprise when I found out my parents had one in their garage! It now resides in my flower bed!

Late September found me, once again, knee-deep in gingerbread in anticipation of my annual Halloween gingerbread house decorating day with my grandchildren.  I absolutely love this day, the interaction with the girls, observing how their decorating skills improve from the year before.

I love antiques and it's said that the best antiques are old friends.  I so agree!  Three of my high school girlfriends and I were able to gather in San Francisco for a weekend.  While there we attended a gnocchi cooking class.  It was a blast and I've been experimenting with gnocchi ever since.  We are currently planning a 2016 getaway to the Sonoma Valley.

November found me venturing into quilt-making.  It's going slow, I only have four blocks done, but I can tell I am improving with each block that I do. A person is never too old to learn and I'm enjoying the process. 

I finally found an old dresser that I liked for my craft room.  Taking a day off from Christmas preparations I painted it, using chalk paint for the first time. I now have two more projects waiting in the wings!
Thank you for visiting my blog this year and sharing in my crazy domestic ventures. Who knows what's in store for 2016!

Monday, December 28, 2015


We had family celebrations on Christmas Eve and December 26 so Christmas Day found my Hubbers and I alone for dinner.  I cooked a small prime rib and a few sides, a very low-key and easy dinner. I also made a batch of popovers.  I've made them before but it was obviously a while ago because my Hubbers didn't remember ever having them.  Now that he remembers he wants them again, and soon! I think a batch will accompany our soup dinner tonight!
Popovers are a light, hollow roll that "popover" the tops of the pan. A special-purpose popover pan is ideal for these as the sides are straighter and cause the rolls to rise over the top.  Muffin pans can be used, they just won't rise as high. 

They are very easy to make, one bowl and a whisk does the trick.  The key to making good popovers is warming up the pan before putting the batter in.  Then, no opening of the oven while they are baking! Once baked they should immediately be removed from the pan and put on a wire rack so they don't lose their crunch. In addition, poking a small opening in the popover lets the steam escape.
I made plain popovers on this evening, but they can be sweet or savory depending on what you add to them.  Cheese, herbs, chocolate, or small bits of meat or fruit are all great additions.  Of course, butter and jam or jelly always work!


3 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 cups whole milk, room temperature
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/4 teaspoons slat

Put a nonstick popover pan on oven rack in lowest position, preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Combine flour and salt in a small bowl, set aside.

Combine the eggs and milk in a large bowl, whisk together until very frothy, about one minute.  Add the flour mixture and whisk until the batter is the consistency of heavy cream with some small lumps remaining. (Don't be afraid of the air bubbles, they help the popovers to rise!)

Remove heated popover pan from oven and spray with baking spray.  Fill popover cups about three-quarters full with batter. Bake 20 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.  Continue to bake until golden brown and dry to the touch, about 20 minutes.

Immediately remove popovers to wire rack and poke a small opening in the side of each with a paring knife.  Serve right away.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Merry Christmas!

The shopping and wrapping are done, as is the decorating, the groceries have been shopped for.  Now it's time to cook, bake and cherish the moments spent with our family! I've been enjoying our home the last few days; the glow of the Christmas tree lights, my favorite ornaments hanging on the tree, the Nutcrackers standing at attention on our mantle, the Nativity set reminding me of what Christmas is all about.  Christmas music has been on every minute we're home (and in the car, too!) In a few days everything will be packed away for another year, I'm trying to enjoy every minute of the Christmas frivolity that I can.
We all have our favorite Christmas mementos, songs, and decorations, most of which revolve around special memories.  Such is the case with these little cardboard gnomes and figurines.  My Mom bought a set of these gnomes (she thinks at J C Penney) in the 1960's.  They are made of cardboard, and decorated with glitter, chenille, tinsel and small decorations. Little Santas, angels, gnomes, snowmen, they are only about 3 inches high. Every year she would make a house out of Rice Krispies, similar to a gingerbread house.  These little gnomes would surround the house.  I remember playing with them on so many occasions.  A few years ago Mom gave them to me.  She wasn't sure if I would want them or not, many are tattered and broke. A few are missing their base and have to be displayed in a glass. I jumped at the chance to have them! They, of all the Christmas decorations I have, remind me the most of my childhood. 

 They are too fragile to be kept on a tabletop so I display them each year in my china cabinet. Each time I see them I recall Mom making the little cereal houses and how we would help to decorate them. I remember very few gifts I received during my childhood but the memories of these little gnomes have stayed with me. Thanks, Mom, not only for gifting me these little guys, but for all the wonderful Christmas memories you helped to make for your family!
For the next three days we will have family in and out of our home, ranging in age from almost a year to 85. There will be good food, lots of calories, wrapping paper strewn everywhere and more memories made.  We will love every moment! It truly is the most wonderful time of the year.  Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Winter Trip to the Napa Valley!

My Hubbers and I no longer buy each other Christmas gifts.  We prefer to spend the money, time (and shopping stress!) on our children and grandchildren. After almost 34 years of marriage we don't need anything and, if we do, we usually buy it ourselves.  So we do little getaways instead.  It's a great way to reconnect, to get a day away from home.  A few weeks ago found us in Las Vegas seeing a concert.  We love to go to the Napa Valley so yesterday we made the two-hour trek to that area.
We have never been there so late in the year.  The vineyards, of course, are bare of leaves and fruit. Every now and then we would spy a persimmon tree, the orange globes very visible. All the wineries and shops were decked out in their finest holiday adornments.  Surprisingly, there was little traffic and few crowds.  Quite a contrast from the summer months! It rained the night before but we had blue skies, lots of sun, and just needed a lightweight jacket in order to stay warm. I think this may now be our favorite time of year to visit!

Christmas lights in persimmon trees; so pretty!
We did a little browsing along the main street of St. Helena, visited a few wineries, had a wonderful late lunch at Bottega. The scenery and the company were fantastic! Merry Christmas, Hubbers!

A lighted Christmas tree in one of the wine caves!


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Gnocchi with Pomodoro Sauce

I'm pretty good at storing food in the freezer.  In fact, just last night, I pureed a bag of persimmons and put 1-cup portions into freezer bags.  Where I go awry is using said frozen food before it's too late. It's almost as if the freezer has a magic hole that stuff disappears to, only to return when freezer burn has taken over!  I try to keep an inventory but, along the way, it all falls apart. It seems I'm always disposing of something I froze. So it probably should not have surprised me that I found some homemade gnocchi, that I had made in October, in the freezer while looking for the walnuts.  I worked hard to make those gnocchi, I'm amazed I forgot I froze some! Old age taking over? Anyway, I grabbed the bag of gnocchi and rearranged my dinner menu to include them.
 This is just a simple tomato sauce, simmered a while for the sauce to reduce and thicken and the herbs to add some subtle flavor. In fact, Pomodoro sauce basically means tomato sauce, it just sounds fancier!  I always have San Marzano tomatoes in my pantry, a can is the foundation of many a quick meal around here. Other brands can be used,  I think San Marzano tomatoes make superior tomato sauces.

Of course, homemade gnocchi is not required here.  There are wonderful packages of gnocchi in most grocery stores these days.  A package of gnocchi works well with hectic weeknight dinner schedules.

Gnocchi with Pomodoro Sauce

1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper, to taste
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1/4 cup heavy cream
16 ounces potato gnocchi
8 ounces mozzarella
Freshly grated parmesan cheese

Heat olive oil in 10-inch ovenproof pan over medium heat.  Add the onion and garlic, lowering the heat if needed so the onions don't brown.  Cook until the onions are transparent, about 5-7 minutes.

Crush the tomatoes with your hand (or blender) and add to the pan, along with the juice.  Season with salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, and red pepper flakes.  Simmer for 30-40 minutes, until the sauce reduces and thickens.  It should be thick enough to coat the gnocchi.  Stir in the heavy cream and remove from the heat.

Meanwhile, cook the gnocchi in a pan of salted boiling water. The gnocchi are done when they rise to the top.  Drain and place the gnocchi into the cooked sauce. Top with mozzarella (shredded or halved mozzarella balls) and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Broil for 5-8 minutes, until the cheese melts and the tops become crispy. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Chalk Painting For The Craft Room!

Ever since I put together my craft room I've had an empty corner.  Originally I thought I wanted a nice, comfy upholstered chair there, a place to hand stitch or read a book. While I love spending time in here I find I do need to spend some time in the same room as my husband, so I went away from getting a chair.  For the last few months I've been on a mission to find an old dresser, small enough to fit in the space.  I finally found one in an antique store and have spent the weekend painting it.  I love how it turned out and I think it fills up the corner so nice.  The dresser also gives me more storage (I seem to keep accumulating stuff!) and another work top.  I think it will be a useful addition to my room!
Harley rarely lets me out of his sight!
Chalk painting has been around for a while but I've been rather intimidated by it.  A few years ago I painted the stools under my cutting table but kept telling myself they were just stools, I didn't think I could do a piece of furniture.  A few weeks ago I chalk painted the frame for my design board so my confidence grew a little.  Yesterday I jumped in and it wasn't so bad! 
 Chalk paint leaves a matte finish, a very soft look, that blends in well with the urban farmhouse vibe in my home.  There is very little prep involved; no stripping of old paint, sanding, etc.  It's basically a matter of making sure the piece is clean and then just painting. Once painted there is a waxing process, very similar to painting, whereby the wax is brushed onto the piece and wiped off.  It leaves a nice smooth finish.  I did a little distressing on the edges of this dresser, knowing it's going to get used a lot and will get distressed over time anyway. I used Annie Sloan chalk paint.  They have a pink paint in their color line but it was more muted than I wanted so I mixed pure white with a little of red, to make a bubblegum pink color.  I have a lot of bright colors in my room and this adds to it!
The dining area turned into a painting studio for a day!
My husband was apprehensive at first as he knows I'm not a big fan of painting. I managed to impress him.  Now he thinks I should paint my beloved armoire as it's the only non-colored piece in my room.  I'm thinking about it now! Maybe blue?

Sunday, December 6, 2015


My love affair with Nutcrackers began in 1989, when I took my then 4-year old daughter to see the ballet performance.  She fell in love with the ballet production and dance; she danced until high school graduation and danced in a few local Nutcracker productions. I began buying Nutcrackers and Nutcracker-related items and cross stitched quite a few pieces. Our Christmas tree has many glass Nutcracker ornaments on it.  My favorite Nutcrackers decorate our mantel each year.
Last year, our grandson was due to arrive around Christmas so I did very minimal decorating. As we had to travel four hours for the delivery and I was going to stay with the new family to assist, I didn't want to have to take down a lot of Christmas decorations.  So my collection stayed packed away.  It was so much fun opening up their boxes this year, it was like meeting old friends!

Some of my Nutcrackers were brought home by friends and family on trips to Germany. My newest one from Germany arrived this summer.  My nephew was stationed in Germany during his stint in the U.S. Army.  I asked (ok, I begged!) him to bring home a Nutcracker and he didn't let me down.
The center Nutcracker arrived from Germany this summer!
The Nutcracker ballet begins its annual Christmas showing this weekend in our town.  My 10-year old granddaughter is participating in her fifth Nutcracker. She longs to play the role of Clara and we are so proud of her! Even though I've seen the ballet many, many times we will attend to watch her. And my love affair with Nutcrackers will continue!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Black Bottom Banana Cream Pie

It is the custom in our family that the birthday person gets the dessert of their choosing for their special day.  Recently we celebrated my son's 33rd birthday (how can I possibly have a child that old?)  I asked him what he wanted and he said "something with chocolate and bananas".  Hmmmm....what to make? I decided to do my version of a black bottom pie.  A black bottom pie is basically a cream pie with a layer of chocolate.  I added a layer of sliced bananas between the chocolate and the vanilla cream layer. The vanilla cream is a variation of the recipe my Mom has been making all her married life.  She uses milk, I use half & half. Eating this pie was like eating a chocolate covered banana with a bonus of pudding!  Oh, my, it was yummy! I made two pies; there was enough for all of us to have a piece and enough for the birthday boy to take the leftovers home.

Black Bottom Banana Cream Pie

9" baked pie shell

1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup heavy (whipping) cream

2 bananas, peeled and sliced

2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2/3 cup sugar
2 cups half & half
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon butter

Bring whipping cream to boil (on stovetop or microwave).  Pour over chocolate chips and let sit for 2 minutes.  Stir until thoroughly combined.  Pour on bottom of baked pie shell.  Top with a layer of sliced bananas.

In a medium pan, combine flour, salt, cornstarch and sugar.  Stir in half & half until combined.  Bring to boil over low heat.  Cook until thickened, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.  Combine the three egg yolks and one cup of the hot pudding, lightly beating until combined.  Add egg/pudding mixture back to remaining pudding in pan. Cook over low heat for two minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla and butter.

Pour pudding over chocolate and banana layers.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap, pressing wrap onto the pudding (this is so you don't get a "crust").  Refrigerate at least 4 hours.

Top pie with sweetened whipped cream or meringue.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving 2015

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Family, friends, football, and FOOD. What's not to like about that? It's a day we pause to give thanks for all we are blessed with. I think if we spent more days being thankful the world would be a gentler place. Even in bad times there is always something to be thankful for.

We are expecting 18 today. It bothers me when people are alone on the holidays so we have a hodge-podge mix of family and friends arriving for our early evening meal. It makes for a lively time.
It feels like I've been planning, prepping, baking, and cooking for days! Thanksgiving dinner is one of those occasions where you try to include everyone's favorite food, even if it's not the cook's favorite. My Hubbers will get his canned cranberry sauce, green bean casserole and pumpkin pie. Mom will bring her cornbread dressing, which is what I always look forward to.  There will be a bowl of olives for the kids, some of which inevitably end up on the end of fingers! The menu doesn't change much from year-to-year, people expect the traditional items. We all look forward to the meal, then complain afterwards about how full we are!  Our menu:

Roast turkey (dry-brined)
Dressing (cornbread and sourdough)
Sweet potato soufflé
Green bean casserole
Mashed potatoes & gravy
Orange-glazed carrots
Cranberry sauce (homemade & canned)
Strawberry pretzel jello salad
Yeast rolls (homemade)

My family prefers pies so I've tried to make everyone's favorites such as pumpkin pie, Dutch apple pie and chocolate cream. The dessert station is ready for all the sugary goodness!
I went with a natural look on my tables this year; fresh fruits, pumpkins, squash, a few candles. I didn't have enough transferware plates for the crowd so splurged and bought some Spode Woodland turkey plates.  They blend in well with my existing dishes.

Thank you for visiting my little blog. Your comments always brighten my day!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Kraft Paper Wrapping

I don't like a lot of clutter.  That applies in my decorating and in my storage arrangements. One place I've eliminated clutter is with wrapping paper and supplies. It used to be I was always buying wrapping paper or bags for each kind of gift.  That gets expensive (gift bags aren't cheap!), I'm running to the store at the last minute, and then I'm stuck with half a roll of paper that I may never use again.  Now I apply my Christmas wrapping philosophy to every occasion of gift wrapping. The only kind of wrapping paper I keep on hand is basic brown kraft paper.   Probably 99% of my gifts are wrapped in plain kraft paper or in kraft bags.  I personalize them for the specific occasion with various ribbons, doilies, and other add-ons.  This method saves me space in the closet as I'm only storing a few things and makes wrapping a no-brainer process.  It works for me!

Pinterest (don't you just love Pinterest?) has a lot of gift wrapping ideas for inspiration. I found the idea for this gift there.  I always have paper doilies on hand, both for gifts and for baking presentation.  Folding the doily, adding a sprig of rosemary, and a small stamped-label makes for a cute gift.

This gift was for a 5-year old celebrating her birthday.  Again, a simple doily and a basic pink ribbon and you instantly know the present is for a girl. Using a doily stamp makes for a cute tag and eliminates having to buy a card.

Adding a football ribbon gives a masculine touch to this gift.
I keep a supply of ribbon and twine on this wall organizer, but rolls of ribbon are easily stored in plastic boxes.  I usually stock up when I find a sale.
I'm linking up to Inspire Me Tuesday.