Friday, November 30, 2018

Lavender Bath Salt

I’m not usually one for making many homemade gifts, other than food, but last year I started experimenting with making bath salts.  I don’t think it gets much more relaxing than a nice long soak in a hot bath after a stressful day.  Lavender oil is known for promoting relaxation and restful sleep, so lavender bath salts can really enhance the experience.

This comes together relatively quickly and easily, and makes for a practical gift.  The recipe I use has Young Living Essential Oil.  If you’re using a different brand you may need to use more or less oil, depending on the strength and quality of the oil.

Lavender Bath Salt:

12 cups Epsom salt
35 drops lavender essential oil

Place the Epsom salt in a large glass or metal mixing bowl.  Don’t use plastic because it can absorb the essential oil.  Break up any chunks of Epsom salt.  Add the essential oil, and mix well.

Spoon into jars, and close them tightly. 

Now you can get as creative as you’d like.  I kept it relatively simple with just a ribbon and printed labels that I hole punched to get the ribbon through.  If you’re more into crafts than I am, I’m sure you can do all kinds of fun things with different ribbons and labels. 

This recipe makes seven pint size jars of bath salts, so it works well if you’re making gifts for multiple people.  The bath salts are really nice, though, so make sure you keep a jar for yourself as well. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Black Bean Soup

As much as I love Thanksgiving, and all of the food that comes with it, it’s nice to change things up a little the week after.  After all of the rich food and dessert last week, something simple is just right this week. 

This also seems to be the time of year when things just keep getting busier, so easy meals are very welcome.  A Crock Pot meal that’s ready and waiting when I get home is perfect. 

I love this recipe for so many reasons.  First of all, it’s delicious.  It’s also very simple to put together in the morning before work, especially if you do the chopping the night before.  The beans don’t have to soak, so that’s one less step.  I think it’s reasonably healthy since it’s vegetarian, and doesn’t have packaged ingredients. 

Black Bean Soup:

16 oz. (1 pound) dried black beans
2 onions, chopped
2 bell peppers, chopped
½ cup firmly packed fresh cilantro leaves
1 Tbsp salt
1 ½ tsp chili powder
1 ½ tsp cumin
½ tsp pepper
4 cloves garlic, pressed
10 cups water

Rinse beans, and place all ingredients in a large slow cooker.  Cover and cook on Low 9 - 10 hours. 

The soup is great on it’s own, but it’s also really good topped with diced onion, avocado, or salsa.  And it pairs well with cornbread. 

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  I hope you’re all spending the day with the people you love the most, and will be enjoying a wonderful meal today. 

Safe travels, happy cooking, and best wishes for a truly wonderful day. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Skipping The Gift Tags

I know it’s still a little early by some people’s standards to be sharing Christmas related posts, but I wanted to go ahead and post this one in anticipation of the Christmas shopping so many people will be doing at the end of the week.

I enjoy wrapping Christmas gifts, but I’m very slow at it, so I’m all for skipping a step when possible.  I tend to have cat “helpers”, too, so it’s nice not to have constantly take the pen for writing names on tags back from them.   Or go get another pen when they take off with the one I was using.

I tried this for the first time last year, and it worked incredibly well, so I’ll be doing it again this year.

Rather than putting tags on the gifts, I just designated a specific wrapping paper for each person we were spending Christmas with.  It was really easy to do since I had found paper that was perfect for each of our recipients.

Nick’s mom, Susan, is an extraordinary baker, so she got the cupcake paper.

Nick’s step-dad, Alan, is very into cars; buying old ones and restoring them, so he got the car paper.

 Everyone else we spent Christmas with had their own specific paper, too, but you get the idea.

It was super convenient not having to look for tags, or worry about them falling off, or the cats taking them off.  And I felt like it made the gift wrapping go a little faster.  It also made it really easy when it was time to open presents since we knew exactly who each of ours was intended for just by looking at the paper.

I think everyone liked having their own kind of personalized wrapping paper, too.  I’d like to think it added an extra little layer of happiness to the day.

Our friend Alex took a similar approach.  She used the same paper for everyone’s gifts, but we each had our own color of ribbon.  All of my gifts had green ribbon, Nick’s had red, etc.  That also worked really well. 

Have you found an easy way to keep track of which gifts are for which person?  Or a way to convince your cats that you don’t need their help wrapping?

I’ll leave you with Julie Andrews and My Favorite Things, since it references packages.  I know it’s often played as a Christmas song, but I don’t consider it to be.  What about you?  Do you think of it as a Christmas song?

Monday, November 19, 2018

Music Monday: Mary Chapin Carpenter - Thanksgiving Song

I think we’ve definitely established that Thanksgiving is absolutely my favorite holiday.  I also think Thanksgiving doesn’t get nearly the love it deserves.  This is the only Thanksgiving song I’ve been able to find.  Fortunately, I love this song!  I love the lyrics, and I think Mary Chapin Carpenter has an incredible voice.  If my favorite holiday only gets one song, I’m glad it’s this one.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do, and I hope things are coming together for you to have a wonderful Thanksgiving. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Cinnamon Sugar Butter

Flavored butters really add an extra something to a meal.  They’re super easy to make, as long as you remember to take the butter out in plenty of time to soften.  They have a big impact, and are a great way to add a little something special and extra.

Some people say that you should use unsalted butter if you’re making a sweet flavored butter.  I disagree.  I tend to view unsalted butter as the anti-butter.  It rarely makes its way into our house.  Most of the time I use salted butter, even if a recipe calls for unsalted butter.  I do not enjoy unsalted butter, and I don’t like having it sitting around in the refrigerator.  Salt helps to enhance flavor, and I really don’t think the butter tastes salty if you use salted butter for this.

Cinnamon Sugar Butter
4 oz. butter, softened
1 packed Tbsp light brown sugar
½ tsp cinnamon

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl, and mix well.


Monday, November 12, 2018

Music Monday: Jewel - Hands

I’ve been a fan of Jewel ever since her first album came out.  One of my favorite songs of hers, though, is Hands. I think she has an incredible voice, and I absolutely love the lyrics. 

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Throw Back Thursday - Nutmeg Graters

Like the teapots from a few weeks ago, these are pictures from last year’s visit to The Charleston Museum.

It’s always interesting to me to learn about what was popular to serve guests during certain time periods.  Apparently nutmeg graters were quite the thing back then.  

I can’t help wondering how much nutmeg they were adding to their food.  Nutmeg certainly enhances some recipes, but a little goes a long way.  

It kind of makes you wonder what people might have to say about avocado toast in about 200 years.  

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Thanksgiving Menu Ideas

You may have noticed by now that I love Thanksgiving, and get really excited about it.  It’s a holiday all about cooking for and spending time with the people you love.  What’s not to love about it?

Sometimes, though, searching for good recipes can be a little overwhelming, so I thought I’d share links for some of my favorites.  Some of them are my recipes, and some are from other places. 

Obviously, the turkey is the main part of the traditional meal, so here’s my turkey recipe: 

Practically Fool-Proof Turkey

And you can read about my various misadventures with turkey here, in case you’d like a guide for what not to do. 

Some might argue that the side dishes are the most important part of the meal.  Here are a few of our favorites:

Green Bean Casserole.  I can’t stand this one, but Nick loves it, and I think it’s one that most people have come to expect at Thanksgiving.

Creamy Slow Cooker Macaroni & Cheese.  It’s creamy, delicious, and incredibly easy to make.  It’s also very helpful that it’s made in the Crock Pot since that frees up more oven space. 

Heavenly Mashed Potatoes.  This link is actually to The New Southern Garden Cookbook by Sheri Castle.  I don’t feel right posting a recipe if the author hasn’t made it available online.  I highly recommend this cookbook.  It has lots of great recipes, but it’s worth having for the mashed potatoes alone.  I didn’t think I liked mashed potatoes very much until I tried this recipe.  They are out of this world good, which I suppose is why she named the recipe Heavenly Mashed Potatoes.

Kale Salad With Red Grapes.  Don’t let the fact that this sounds fairly healthy turn you off.  It’s delicious! 

Watergate Salad.  I think is technically a dessert, but it does have salad in the name, so classify it however you want.  No judgment here.

Speaking of desserts, it just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without them.

Pumpkin Pie.  It’s probably the most traditional Thanksgiving dessert.  It’s also one of my favorites.

Cherry Crunch.  This was a surprisingly big hit last year at Thanksgiving, so I’ll be making it again. 

Apple Crisp.  This is delicious and easy.  Perfect for a day when there’s already a lot of cooking and baking going on.

Fresh Apple Cake.  This cake is amazingly delicious, and just seems like the ultimate dessert for Fall.  The link mentions cream cheese frosting, but don’t do that.  You’ll want to use the Browned Butter Frosting.  Trust me!

Browned Butter Frosting.  This is the end all, be all of frosting.  If you’ve never had browned butter frosting, do yourself a favor, and make it.  Right now!  It’s amazingly good!  It’s rich, creamy, decadent, has a slightly nutty flavor, and pairs perfectly with the apple cake.  

Hershey’s Perfectly Chocolate Cake & Frosting.  I can’t personally vouch for this one, since I don’t like chocolate.  I can tell you, however, that everyone seems to love it.  I make this cake (or the cupcakes) several times a year, and it’s always very popular.  

Apple Cake & Browned Butter Frosting on Back Left

Banana Pound Cake.  It may not be a very traditional Thanksgiving dessert, but it’s still delicious, and always a crowd pleaser.

So what about you?  What are your favorite Thanksgiving recipes?  Is there a certain dish that’s always on your Thanksgiving menu? 

Monday, November 5, 2018

The Cookbook Winner

I’m sorry I didn’t get the cookbook winner posted earlier.  You’d think falling back and “gaining” the extra hour would have made it easier to get things done yesterday.  It didn’t.  If anything it seemed to have the opposite result.  But, that’s not what this post is about. 

To help make up for being late in announcing a winner, I decided to choose two.

And the winners are:

Betty from A Bench With a View

Jeanie from The Marmalade Gypsy

Betty and Jeanie, please send me your addresses at so I can get your cookbooks in the mail. 

Congratulations Betty and Jeanie!  And thanks to everyone else who entered and commented.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Thanksgiving Questions & Answers

I think we’ve established by now that I will never pass up an opportunity to talk about Thanksgiving.  I’m sorry, I just love it.

I also love America’s Test Kitchen.  It’s one of my all time favorite cooking shows.  This month the test kitchen experts are sharing their Thanksgiving favorites and traditions.  It’s a nice little peak into your favorite test kitchen expert’s celebrations. 

I thought it might be fun to borrow their questions for a blog post.  I hope you’ll answer at least some of them too.  If you don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, feel free to use Christmas or any other food centric holiday.

Home or away?

Home.  Until last year traveling for Thanksgiving wasn’t an option for us due to Nick’s work schedule.  Now that he’s off for Thanksgiving we enjoy taking the meal to the hospice house for lunch, and then hosting at home for dinner. 

When do your festivities kick off?

Really only on Thanksgiving Day.  I take off work the day before, and spend the day in the kitchen.  I enjoy it, but I doubt most people would call it festive.

Any special diets to consider?

Not really.  Pretty much everyone we invite is very low maintenance when it comes to food.  I try to make a wide variety of dishes so even if someone can’t or won’t eat a few things they still have plenty of choices. 

What’s your favorite recipe?

For me it’s probably a tie between the pumpkin pie and the sweet potato casserole.  And I really love the turkey.  It’s really hard to choose, though.  Other than the green bean casserole, I love all of the traditional Thanksgiving foods.  That’s one of the reasons it’s my favorite holiday.

What’s your family’s consensus pick recipe?

We don’t actually end up celebrating with either of our families.  My parents don’t celebrate.  My sister lives three hours away, and doesn’t get the day after off of work.  Nick’s mom and step-dad are six hours away, and come to NC for Christmas.  Nick’s favorites are the green bean casserole, macaroni & cheese, and sweet potato casserole.  Last year the mashed potatoes were a big hit with most of our guests, and so was the ham.  Our neighbors are coming again this year, and have mentioned the ham from last year, so that was probably the most popular dish last year.

Any new recipes this year?

Nope.  I’m really not sure Thanksgiving Day is the time to test out a new recipe.  I am all about trying new recipes, and experimenting in the kitchen.  But I also believe in keeping the cooking low stress.  I cook two separate meals on Thanksgiving, which means the timing is pretty tight.  I don’t think that’s the time to try out something unknown.  It always takes me much longer the very first time I make something, and I just don’t have that extra time, or the extra attention to devote to a new recipe.  It’s not unusual for me to have a full oven, all four burners on the stove in use, a slow cooker or two going, and the roaster.  I’m not sure I’d have the mental space to devote to keeping track of something new.  Also, it’s always a little bit of a gamble to try out a new recipe.  You just don’t know if it’s going to turn out right, or if you’re going to like it.  There’s something to be said for sticking with the tried and true on Thanksgiving.

What’s your must-have gadget for Thanksgiving cooking?

The ZYLISS Lock N Lift can opener.  Last year and the year before cans were my nemesis.  In 2016, I very nearly lost it trying to open cans of green beans (using the electric can opener) for green bean casserole.  Last year I ended up going next door to ask our wonderful neighbors for help in opening the cans of pumpkin and evaporated milk for the pumpkin pies.  Their 10 year old opened the cans for me!  I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I struggle with electric can openers, and the regular manual ones.  A friend of ours gave me this one for Christmas last year, so I wouldn’t have to enlist the kids next door to help me with cans.  It has been a real game changer!  I highly recommend it if you’re looking for an easy to use can opener

What’s your pie preference?

Pumpkin!  I’m not sure it would be Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie!  I do make sure to have other desserts, though, to keep everyone happy.  Usually we have something chocolate, and at least one other dessert that’s not chocolate or pumpkin.

When will the first turkey sandwich get made?

Friday morning.  I LOVE Thanksgiving leftovers, and eat them for breakfast on Friday morning.  My Friday morning breakfast is usually a turkey sandwich made on a dinner roll, pumpkin pie, and cranberry sauce.  We kind of graze on the leftovers for most of the weekend.

Will anyone be watching football?

Nope.  Nick and I aren’t football fans at all.  We usually don’t even turn the TV on since we’re pretty busy that day.  We may try to break out a board game after dinner this year, but we’ll see what everyone wants to do.

Now it’s your turn.  Feel free to answer any and all of the questions.  I’d love to hear about your celebrations. 

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Thrifty Thursday - Thanksgiving Dinner On A Budget

I’m always very happy whenever November 1st rolls around.  That seems to be when it becomes socially acceptable to start talking about Thanksgiving.  It’s my favorite holiday, so I start talking about it, and planning it, long before now, but at least as of today it seems to be alright with everyone else.

We’ll be hosting an evening Thanksgiving meal at our house again this year.  I’m still absolutely loving the fact that Nick doesn’t have to work the holidays anymore.  We’ll also be taking Thanksgiving dinner to the local hospice house for lunch.  I’ve been in touch with them, and they’ve said they’re happy for us to bring the meal.  I’m always a little nervous that they’re going to say no, so I’m pretty excited that they said yes.  They never really offer any feedback as to anything they especially liked or didn’t like, so I’m planning to stick with essentially the same menu and setup as the last two years.  I’m assuming it isn’t broken, so I’m not going to try to fix it. 

Occasionally someone will mention the costs associated with feeding a crowd, or with cooking two separate Thanksgiving dinners, so I thought that would be a good topic for a Thrifty Thursday post.  I’ll just go ahead and get a few things out of the way. 

First, I’m not breaking anything down by specific prices or numbers.  This is mostly because I hate math.  I mean, I really, really, really hate math.  I enjoy blogging, so I’m not about to mix math in with it.  It’s also because it’s just not accurate.  A good price for something for me may be a terrible price on the same item for someone who lives in a different place, and an impossibly low, never going to find it priced like that for yet another person living in yet another place.  I think general guidelines are probably just easier for everyone.  And they don’t involve math! 

Second, I know a lot of grocery stores are regional, so I realize you may not have the same ones in your area that I do.  Again, it’s just meant to be a general idea of what works for me.  I’m only naming specific stores in case any of you have the same ones available.  I love Aldi.  If you haven’t shopped at Aldi, give them a try, even if you’re not hosting Thanksgiving.

Lastly, if you’re hosting Thanksgiving, do what works for you and your guests.  You may very well have different priorities.  Don’t get caught up in trying to make it look like someone else’s ideal Thanksgiving. 

All of that being said, here’s what we do to host Thanksgiving without going broke.

Start early.  This is the time of year when grocery stores start putting the things you need for the holidays on sale.  Pay attention to the sale ads, and get the things you need ahead of time, while they’re on a good sale.  You probably won’t find butter cheaper than you will during the next few weeks.  It’s also a great time to stock up on flour, sugar, nuts, and other baking essentials. 

Shop around.  If you’re fortunate enough to have a few different grocery stores near you, check everyone’s sale ads, even if you usually only shop at one.  There’s likely going to be some competition among them to get you in the door, so if time and distance allow, consider buying the best priced items at each store.  I typically shop at three different grocery stores every week to get the best prices on what we need. 

Remember the main parts of Thanksgiving Dinner are relatively inexpensive.  Fortunately for those of us who love Thanksgiving, the traditional dishes aren’t typically very expensive.  Most grocery stores will price their turkeys very low this time of year, especially if you spend a certain amount in a single transaction.  Potatoes and sweet potatoes are typically inexpensive anyway, and likely to be priced even lower leading up to Thanksgiving. 

Buy store brands, or shop at Aldi.  I typically never buy name brand flour or sugar, unless it happens to be on a great sale that makes it cheaper than the store brands or buying it at Aldi.  I think there’s some difference if you’re buying something already prepared (salsa, cookies, etc),but when it comes to ingredients, the finished dish seems to come out the same, whether you’ve used name brand ingredients or not.  I’ve been using Aldi brand cheese, evaporated milk, and pasta in my macaroni and cheese for years.  The same goes for their canned pumpkin in my pumpkin pie

I will say, though, that in my experience, Aldi isn’t the cheapest place to buy the turkey.  Overall, I haven’t been terribly impressed with their meat prices.  Here, Harris Teeter or Ingles typically have the best prices on turkeys. 

Look into the price matching policy at the store(s) you regularly shop.  Some stores have a policy that they’ll take competitor’s coupons, or meet or beat competitor’s prices.  Read the fine print, but that may be a way for you to get the best prices, and still be able to shop at your regular grocery store.

Be on the lookout for coupons.  Look for coupons in the weekly sale ads or papers, and pay attention to the fliers the grocery stores mail you.  Take note of the expiration dates, and any minimum purchase requirements so you can plan your lists accordingly.  A Publix recently opened near us, and they seem to be in serious competition with Harris Teeter, so we’re getting coupons in the mail from both stores.  My trick for remembering to actually use the coupons is to fold them around my debit card. 

Don’t serve appetizers.  I realize this one isn’t going to work for everyone, but it does for us.  Our style of entertaining is very informal; it’s what we’re comfortable with, and it’s what works well with our house.  We have a fairly small kitchen, and eating area as well, so we end up serving Thanksgiving (and most meals we host) buffet style, and we usually eat fairly quickly after guests start arriving.  If we say 6:30, people are usually eating by 6:45.  Buffet style makes it easier to get started if you’re still waiting for a few people to show up, so you don’t have hungry guests waiting around.  There’s so much food already, and since we’re not sitting around waiting, it works for us. 

Don’t serve alcohol.  Again, I realize this choice isn’t for everyone, but it works for us.  Cocktails, or even wine and beer, can get expensive quickly, so sticking with nonalcoholic beverages (tea, coffee, soda, etc) is an easy way to reduce spending.   

Plan your menu carefully.  I tend to go a little bit overboard when it comes to the Thanksgiving menu.  In all honesty, not serving appetizers is about the only scaling down I’ve done when it comes to the menu now that we’re actually able to host Thanksgiving. Obviously, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, but some things to keep in mind when deciding what and how much to prepare are the eating habits of your guests, whether or not you want leftovers, and whether or not you’re planning to send leftovers home with guests. 

If most of your guests are vegetarians you probably don’t need 20 pounds of turkey.  If most of your guests prefer desserts other than pumpkin pie, you probably don’t need multiple pumpkin pies.  Don’t feel like you have to make something no one loves just because it’s Thanksgiving, or that you can’t make something everyone loves because it’s not a traditional Thanksgiving dish.  The important thing is that everyone is happy, able to spend time together, and enjoys a good meal.

If you’re the type to go overboard with cooking, and know you’re likely going to have enough leftovers to feed your entire neighborhood for a week, ask your guests to bring containers with them so they can take leftovers home.  And know that you probably won’t be cooking for the rest of the weekend. 

So what about you?  What are your tips for hosting Thanksgiving on a budget?  What are the must have parts for you?  What are you willing to skip?