Saturday, October 29, 2011

Pumpkin Time!!

I love Fall. The colors, the chill in the air, the cinnamon-y candles, the apple cider, the hot chocolate, the soups & stews, the sweaters & scarves, Thanksgiving. Fall is my absolute most favorite time of year and we are FINALLY starting to feel it in SoCal. Someday I'll go where the leaves change bright shades of orange and red and yellow; where the air is crisp and scarves and sweaters are necessary, not just a cute fashion statement. For now, I'll have to live with the fact that I had to order fake autumn leaves to spread out at my Fall wedding a few years back and inconsistent weather fluctuating between a frigid 60 degrees and a don't-put-away-the-sweaters-just-yet 75 degrees. High class problems, I guess...

With Fall, naturally, comes pumpkins. I've always been a fan, but for some reason this year I'm really on a pumpkin kick. There's just something about the flavors that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. There are a lot of really yummy pumpkin treats out there, and in following the example of my friend Julie at her blog with her "Things she's lovin'" (or Oprah's favorite things, either way...) Here is a list of my favorite pumpkin goodies:

1. Trader Joe's Pumpkin Cream Cheese

This one is simply AMAZING. I saw it advertised in their monthly ad and I thought, "Hm, I'll have to give it a try." I am so glad I did. While I was there I bought a bag of pretzel sticks to go with the cream cheese. I actually had it sitting in my fridge for a couple of days before I tried it, but when I took that first bite, I was sad I had waited so long. I had to force myself to put it away when I realized I'd eaten almost of the container (in all fairness, it is only an 8oz container). I did eventually finish it off and have since gone back to get more. Three more containers in fact. You could give me a spoon and a tub of this amazingness and I would be a happy girl. I also put some in the middle of those Pillsbury crescent rolls and baked them and they were very yummy! Since this is only a seasonal product, I'm going to have to figure out how to make it myself. It shouldn't be too hard; the ingredients on the side were very simple, it is just a matter of proportions, but I'm willing to do the taste testing along the way to figure it out!

2. Trader Joe's Pumpkin Ice Cream

Here is another yummy container of deliciousness from our friends at Trader Joe's. My friend Valerie kept talking about Pumpkin ice cream, and I've seen it in the regular grocery stores around this time of year. The problem with the Dryer's version was that it costs almost $7 and you get 1/2 gallon. What if I didn't like it? That would be a waste, but I thought for $2.50 at Trader Joe's, why not give it a shot? As soon as I opened the lid, it smelled like Thanksgiving. The rich, creamy ice cream was the perfect texture. The cinnamon was just kicky enough. The nutmeg was a bit heavy at first, but I quickly got used to it. It was like someone froze Thanksgiving and stuck it in my freezer. I will be sad when this is no longer offered at Trader Joe's, but will welcome it back with open arms and spoon in hand whenever Fall rolls around.

3. Eggo's Pumpkin Waffles

I saw these at Target one day and I had to try them. They are pretty good, actually. The smell of nutmeg and cinnamon and pumpkin fill the kitchen while they are toasting. It is heavenly. The taste, however, is not quite as strong as the smell. They are still very tasty though and a nice change of pace for breakfast at the office.

4. Starbucks' Pumpkin Spice Latte

This is the latte people wait all year for. It has pumpkin, it has spice and best of all, it has caffeine!! I worked at Starbucks years ago and that was my first taste of this wonderful latte, and I never looked back. This year they added a Salted Caramel Mocha to their fall drinks and I have to say I was seriously disappointed. It isn't even caramel. It is a Toffee Mocha and I've been making them for years, even before I worked at Starbucks. That's not to say it wasn't good, it just wasn't what they said it was. So I'll stick with my pumpkin spice and savor the way it warms me up from the inside and makes me feel like fall is really and truly arrived.

5. Paula Deen's Pumpkin bars

My mom made these a few years back and now we both make them at least once during the fall season. These cake bars are so wonderfully moist and full of flavor. And the cream cheese frosting on top is to. die. for. I make it for everything I need to frost. I'm not a huge frosting fan usually because, usually, it either tastes like pure sugar or crisco. But cream cheese frosting, takes the cake, so to speak. You must make these bars, but I recommend making two pans because they will go fast.

My sister in law told me that there are pumpkin Pop Tarts out there, but I have yet to see them in the store. I'd love to try those though!!

What's your favorite pumpkin thing?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Home to You

Three years ago today my husband and I got married. At that point, we didn't have a song that was "Our Song." So when it came to picking the music for our first dance, there wasn't an obvious choice.

Together we sat down, I opened up our iTunes and started playing some songs for him to choose from. My husband is not a country fan at all, so I didn't even play any country songs at first. I played a lot of Frank Sinatra. I played Chantal Kreviazuk. We listened to a lot of music. He wasn't feeling any of it. So then I pulled out my favorite: The Country music. Those cowboys really know how to tell a story to music and express real feelings like love. I could go on and on about love for this genre, but that's a whole 'nuther blog post.

Anyway, I played John Michael Montgomery "Home to You" and Gary looked at me and said "That's it. That's the one." I was shocked--very happy--but shocked that he agreed to a song that could be played on "twin fiddles and a steel guitar" (as George Strait would say). It isn't even a new song. It came in 1999 almost 10 years before we got married. (In all fairness, it was probably new to the hubby!)

The lyrics, though, were perfect, and still are (probably even more so). "I get up and battle the day / Things don't always go my way / It might rain but that's okay / I get to come home to you / Sometimes life may get me down / And I get tired of getting kicked around / I feel lost in this maddening crowd / But I get to come home to you." No matter what happens during the day, we come home to each other at night. No matter what storms come our way, we face them together, and that's what marriage is all about.

The company I work for puts out press releases for other companies. Recently was monitoring a release for a company called The company described itself as "the world's premiere extramarital dating website" and "an adult playground where people can openly enter new relationships without sacrificing their current partners." I was dismayed by this. What the...? was all I could think of. I told Gary about it when I got home and we went on the website. They claim to have more than 1 million members. Then we went to another site called Ashley (or something like that) and they are also proudly advertising themselves as a place for married men and women to go and find people to cheat with. They even use the phrase "openly cheat." They claim a few million members on their site.

This made me sad. Why get married if you want to date other people? My mind doesn't understand this concept at all. Companies like this cheapen the idea of marriage, shrinking it down to nothing but a business arrangement between two people.

More so, it made me so extremely thankful that I have the husband I have, that I met an amazing man who loves me the way a man should love his wife. I found a true partner in this life and I feel God has really blessed me with someone I love coming home to everyday.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Mini Shadow Box

My brother just got married and the theme of their wedding was what inspired this little craft. You can do whatever theme you want, though.

They had a "Tiffany's" themed wedding from the iconic blue to diamonds on the table. They even had their flowers in Tiffany's boxes as the centerpieces.  My son was the ring bearer and he carried a little Tiffany's box when he walked down the aisle (he actually RAN down the aisle, but it was cute anyway :0)) That is the box I used to make this project.  It is a quick craft too; I completed it while my son took his afternoon nap.

Gather your supplies:
You'll need glue and/or Mod Podge (my love affair with M.P. continues), hot glue and whatever you are going to put in your shadow box. I used the Tiffany's box, the fake diamonds from the table and the wedding invitation.

It is easiest to do one side of the box at a time then put the two halves together. I started out by cutting out the numbers for the date they got married to put  on the front edge of the box. I put a light layer of M.P. on the box then put the numbers on top, so they stick. Then I brushed on another layer of M.P. over the numbers. The M.P. goes on white, but don't worry, it will dry clear. I did the same thing in the inside of the lid, except with the letters "J & C."
I wanted the inside of the box to have the same pattern as the invitation, so I used the fluff piece inside the box to measure my paper piece. If you are using a box that doesn't have the fluff piece, you can just measure the inside of the box with a ruler and cut the paper out.

Then, spread hot glue on the fluff piece. I opted to keep mine in the box because I liked the lift it gave, but you can not use it if you want. Put the paper you cut out on top of that.
I printed out a picture of the bride and groom and lined it up on the wedding invitation. I glued it down and cut it out. This made it stable, like cardstock. I also M.P.'d over the image to make it even sturdier.

The picture was lined up so you could see their names from the invite on the back.

Then I lined up the photo on the paper that is attached to the fluff piece that goes in the bottom of the box. I used an exacto knife to cut a small slit the length of the photo.

Now you can add hot glue to the bottom of the box and put in the fluff piece. Put the photo into the slit you just created. I added a small line of hot glue just behind the photo too, to help keep it upright. Then I put the hot glue randomly in the space left and placed the diamonds all around. I suggest dry fitting anything like before gluing, just to make sure you are happy with the layout.

Now you can work on the top lid of the box. Find the center and poke a hole with your scissors. I started the whole with my scissors, but finished it off with the screwdriver so the whole was nice and round. Another option would be to see if you have an electric drill with a drill bit the size you want and carefully drill a hole. I was going to have my husband do this, but he was working and had the drill with him.

Thread your ribbon through the hole you just made. (Yes you will see that I already attached the two halves. Do as I do and not as I say. I promise it will make your life much easier :0)

I had set aside two little diamonds and used them to adorn the top of the box. just hot glue those down. It is at this point that you should be safe to attach the two halves of your box.

My finished product:

Now they can hang it up (Christmas tree, perhaps) or it can just be on display on a table or dresser. And using the elements from their wedding, they can enjoy the nostalgic factor as well.

I hope they like it and I hope you do too.

Can't wait to see your shadow boxes.

Happy Crafting!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Mexican Lasagna

This recipe came from Eva Longoria's cookbook Eva's Kitchen. I am a big fan of this tiny little person, so when the book came out and she had a signing at William-Sonoma, JJ and I trekked down to South Coast Plaza to meet her, and yes, she is teeny tiny. Like, pocket size. But she is just as beautiful as you would imagine and she was super nice. She was very sweet with my son, too, and as you can see, he was a bit smitten himself :0)

Anyway, as I waited in line for the signing I had a chance to flip through the book and there are so many yummy looking recipes in here. Eva (I call her Eva because, in my head, we are friends) is from Corpus Christie, Texas so there is a heavy Tex-Mex influence in her recipes, but there is so much more too. I have a feeling I will end up trying all the recipes at one point or another.
This particular recipe seemed very simple, and it was, but it was also delicious. My husband LOVED it. And the best of all, it is a great make ahead meal and it also freezes very well. I actually divided the recipe up into two pans and froze one. I think it would work very well as a meal to take to a potluck or to a friend's house if you are bringing them dinners for some reason. When I was pregnant with my son, I made a bunch of freezer meals so I wouldn't really have to cook after he was born. This recipe would be perfect for that.
  • Cooking spray for the cake pans and foil
  • 2 pounds ground beef or turkey
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup Chicken Broth (page 51) or store-bought low-sodium chicken broth
  • 10 flour tortillas
  • 1 16-ounce jar Pace Picante Sauce or other store-bought or homemade saucy salsa (Eva's tip: don't use pico de gallo because it is too chunky
  • 1 16-ounce package shredded Mexican cheese (you can shred your own if you want, but there is something to be said for the convenience of the Mexican cheese blend, usually Cheddar, Monterey Jack, queso quesadilla, and asadero. Even my friend Eva uses it.)
  • 1 8-ounce container sour cream
  • 2 4.5-ounce cans chopped green chiles

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Coat two 8-inch cake pans with cooking spray. [Abby's tip: I originally used two square pans, but quickly switched to round because the tortillas fit so nicely in the round ones.]

2 In a large skillet over medium heat, cook the beef, stirring and breaking it up with a spoon, until browned. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

3 Pour the chicken broth in a large shallow dish and add the tortillas. Soak about 5 minutes; you want them soft but not mushy. Set aside 1/2 cup salsa and 1 cup cheese.

4 Place one tortilla on the bottom of each cake pan. In each pan, layer as follows: spread about 2 tablespoons of sour cream on top of the tortilla. Sprinkle about 2 tablespoons chiles over the sour cream, followed by about 1/2 cup of the browned meat, 2 tablespoons salsa, and 1/3 cup shredded cheese. Top with a tortilla. Repeat to make 3 more layers of filling. Finish with a tortilla on top. (You'll have a stack of 5 tortillas and 4 layers of filling.) Divide the reserved salsa and cheese between the two pans, spreading the salsa to cover the tortilla and sprinkling the cheese to cover the salsa.

5 Spray one side of 2 sheets of aluminum foil with cooking spray and place them oiled-side down over the pans. [Abby's tip: This is where I stuck one in the freezer, but feel free to bake both, I promise it won't go to waste.] Bake for 30 minutes, until hot and bubbling around the edges. Serve hot.

Each pan makes 6 to 8 servings.
The bonus to a recipe like this is that is really adjustable too. I used ground beef because that's what I had, but you could easily substitute ground chicken or turkey. You could change up the cheeses or the salsa, add more of something or less of something, whatever you want.  This also passes the "Leftovers Test" with flying colors.
Try it out and let me know what you think.
Happy Cooking!!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Halloween Wreath

As I said before, I'm pretty much obsessed with yarn wreathes now.  So here is another one that I just put up for Halloween!

 1. Wrap, wrap, wrap! This is the long part, once you get past this part, you are in the clear!
 2. I spaced out the orange yarn, but the wrapping was more or less the same process. I had the hubby hold the wreath for me while I did it and that made it much easier. The little felt ghost was something I bought premade, but you can EASILY make one yourself. I would have if this cute little guy hadn't been on sale for practically nothing.
 3. Paint your letters!!
 4. Hang it up! And get ready for the season!

Happy Crafting!!