Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Blessings

Merry Christmas to all of you! 

I never get tired of watching and listening to this -


Looks like we may or may not be getting snow in my area  this year. Anybody's guess. Snow is always at the top of my Christmas list. If it turns out there's only rain I guess I will just have to rely on my snowy Christmas memories from years past . . . . 

Have yourselves a Merry little Christmas! May hope and peace be with you all for the New Year.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Holiday Food and Joy

Today's the day I start shopping and planning for the meals we're having for Christmas this year. We have our traditions and I wanted to share some of them with you. Nothing fancy, it's not a cooking blog. 

My Christmas Lasagna is one of our favorite traditions and it always seems to go well with whatever else we're having, believe it or not. Probably ham this year.

This lasagna tradition began one year when I decided to include on the holiday menu a few international dishes like Swedish Meatballs, Pierogis, Sweet and Sour Cabbage, Baklava (bakery bought). I can't remember the Asian dish I included but I think it may have been eggrolls as an appetizer. It was a lot of fun to do this and the one tradition that really stuck was the lasagna. It now makes an appearance every Christmas. When my daughter was a vegetarian I began making it with spinach instead of meat and now that has become our Christmas lasagna  (red and green). The family probably wouldn't miss ham or turkey but they'd cry if I didn't make lasagna every year. 

Easy recipe - Sauce, cooked lasagna noodles, a bag of frozen spinach sauteed with garlic, shredded mozzarella cheese, ricotta cheese mixed with a beaten egg and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Place a bit of sauce in bottom of lasagna pan. Then layer one at a time - noodles, spinach, ricotta cheese, mozzarella, sauce. Layer each twice, except for noodles - end with a layer of noodles on top. Then top with mozzarella cheese and more sauce. Yes, I find that Prego is just as good as the sauce I used to make from scratch for years. I often spice it up if I feel like it. With everything else I have to do or worry about, the last thing I need to do is make my own sauce. Bake 350 degrees for 1 hour. 

Appetizers are also HUGE at my house around the holidays. Every year I  like to add a new one to the mix. I've already shared these with some of you.

For Thanksgiving this year I made Bacon-wrapped Apples Slices, Zucchini Pizza Rounds and also a Spinach Artichoke Dip. Thumbs up to all three. 

I found the Bacon-wrapped Apples appetizer online that was scrumptious.
  • Peel and cut apple slices. Wrap in 1/2 piece of bacon. Place on oven tray (or cookie sheet with sides)
  • Dust with cinnamon & sugar and bake at 400 for 10 min or so.
The recipe said to turn and bake another 10 min. My bacon did not cook very fast so I turned the oven to broil and that worked better for me. You might want to try it first to see how long it takes for your bacon to cook. I used the toaster oven because the regular oven was full so maybe that's why. Also, don't cut the apple slices too thin.


The other appetizer that went over well was Zucchini pizzas.

  • Slice zucchini into thin rounds. Place on oiled cookie sheet
  • Top with pizza sauce (or tomato sauce mixed with garlic powder and oregano) and shredded cheese and bake at 350 until cheese is bubbly.  

                                   Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip

A few years ago I made these Black Forest Ham Rollups. Also good.


Some years I make a broccoli-red pepper dip, one of my favorite quick standbys.

Mix a container of Greek yogurt (or sour cream if you prefer) with finely chopped broccoli and half a red pepper. Add garlic powder and salt (or a bit of Ranch dressing mix) and you're done. Do not blend the yogurt in blender; it gets runny. Ask me how I know . . . . Fold the vegetables into the yogurt or sour cream.  The sad thing is I cannot find these crackers anywhere anymore. The perfect crispness. This year I will probably serve it with Pretzel Thins.

Speaking of Pretzel Thins - Since I can no longer find these peppermint candy-coated chips at Trader Joes I decided to make my own with melted white chocolate chips mixed with crushed peppermint candies. Dip the pretzel thins into the warmed chocolate mixture and cool on wax paper.

This year I'm trying this Cranberry-Brie appetizer.

                                                  Cranberry Brie Bites

Sounds like all I do is eat around the holidays but I really love to cook and, anyway, shopping in the cold weather really works up an appetite, you know  : )

Have a fun time as you celebrate and remember what I wrote in my last post. I know a lot of us (yes, myself included) can get dragged down around the holidays for various reasons. If you start to feel gloomy around this time of year, make a conscious decision to be as joyful as you can, choose to do some things that focus on the goodness and beauty of the season (or focus on others), visit with family or friends and see if you can't turn that attitude around. Put some Christmas music on and make cookies. It's difficult to stay depressed for very long if you're making cookies. Everything is a choice - I really believe we're only as happy as we choose to be. Whether your holiday is happy ultimately depends upon you and how you treat and relate to others. Hope it's a good one! 

"When you CHOOSE JOY you feel good & when you feel good, you do good & when you do good it reminds others of what joy feels like & it just might inspire them to do the same."   |  Homegrown Hospitality

Saturday, December 13, 2014

It's Coming on Christmas . . . .

"It's coming on Christmas. They're cutting down trees. They're putting up reindeer and singing songs of joy and peace."

I love Christmas and have a hard time understanding why so many people are so cranky at this time of the year, saying they dread the holidays. I read somewhere that more than 20% of Americans find the holidays more stressful than enjoyable. According to surveys, Christmas is right up there at the top of the list of things that cause us stress. It's not difficult to understand stress that's caused by the loss of a job or a loved one, or health issues. But stress just because it's Christmas? What gives? I know that the holidays can be a difficult time for many people. It's hard to avoid feeling full of stress or even sadness during the Christmas season. I still always miss my mother around this time of year.

I'm not nearly done decorating yet - I always struggle with this. There's still so much to do to get ready to celebrate and I scramble to get it all finished. Making attempts to create the "perfect" holiday for my family while avoiding the rampant commercialism all around us.

Don't get me wrong - I love Christmas. I still love all the craziness, the shopping, the decorating, the cooking, the snow - if we're lucky.  If I choose to, I can make all of that stressful. But I won't and long ago decided that what I love most of all about Christmas is feeling blessed to be with family and having good friends to share it with. And, as I get older, that's what I know I need to focus on, not worrying about buying gazillions of presents. 


When I was very young I knew that, once it began to snow, Christmas couldn't be too far away, and I haven't forgotten that magical feeling. I've always tried hard to recreate it for my children. And I now truly appreciate all of the work my mom did to make Christmas magical and special for me and my four sisters, despite any hardships she may have faced. We always had a wonderful Christmas because it was so full of love and laughter. (And there was always a special doll under the tree too, of course. That always helped, LOL. )


For the past few years I've been doing better as far as rolling with things instead of feeling anxious about everything I have to do to. If certain things don't get done, then - oh well. It's also easier because my kids are grown. I don't have to wait in line at Toy R Us anymore. I made a plan and now try harder to focus on the things that are truly important - working less, spending less, loving more, giving more, doing more things with the people I love to keep them closer. Trying really really hard to do things that make celebrating the holidays pleasant, not stressful and exhausting. Buying cookies if I run out of  time to make them. If I am busy most afternoons and evenings next week, serving takeout for dinner if I need to. Chinese food and Sub sandwiches look great on Christmas plates and we'll have plenty of great homemade food at Christmas. Not worrying if the gift I bought was "perfect" or if it cost enough. Listening more to those who matter, being "present" for the people I love and embracing the spirit of Christmas (as cliched as that sounds) when I relate to them. 

My advice to those who complain about Christmas stress? Do less. Slow down and let go of some things. See if a change of attitude doesn't help ease some of your stress. Make a point to enjoy the season. Like life, it goes by too fast. I can usually get into the spirit by making time for music, reading an inspirational book, attending church services, a concert or watching my favorite Christmas movies. (Maybe dream about buying a puppy . . . . We did that one year. If I could figure out how to do it now without losing my husband for good I'd try it again.) Make a decision to not let stress and irritability get the better of you. Stay away from the Scrooges. I say, let's bring back Christmas as that "most wonderful time of the year." And please please please Santa, bring me some snow. 

P.S.:  Thank you for all of the applique tips! I will try many of them after the holidays and let you know. See my Facebook page for a link to a really cute and quick Christmas gift idea -  lovely, simple hot pads or pot holders made from pretty fabric. I can't make a quilt for everyone so I'm working on some mug rugs. Not as grand as a quilt, but still nice. Works for me. 

"It's coming on Christmas, I'm cutting up trees . . . "

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Secret to Hand Applique

Don't go looking for it here! I'm hoping some of you can help ME. Many of you out there are great at hand applique and I really want to get better. I'm not bad and I've already improved a great deal over time. I posted a query on Facebook this morning about why my DJ blocks look good when I first prep them for applique but after I stitch the pieces down they always turn out a little quirky. I'm often disappointed. What exactly goes wrong? Is it because these blocks are so darned small? I had an inking that this was worthy of a blog post because I know some of you struggle as well.

Looking good right now . . . but I never know what will happen. Check back tomorrow.

I'm much more patient that I used to be and using the no-melt Mylar templates and starch method has helped me tremendously (Thanks, Shirley!).  But my applique is not consistent and I would like to improve. 

 There are actually times when my applique turns out pretty good - 

(Janiacs -  Yes, I know, I did not get these hearts as close together as they should have been and that makes me mad. Arrgh!  But I am NOT doing this one over.)

Sometimes I get it absolutely right.

Other times, not so much. Why do the points flare and squirm around as I sew? I use basting glue and pins and the shapes still move. I have learned to live with the flawed ones but the perfectionist in me still wishes they were better and I would like to conquer this.

So, what are your secrets?  Thread? Needles? Pins? Technique? Please tell me what works best for you and what has made a difference in YOUR applique. Especially when working with teeny tiny DJ pieces.

After struggling with regular needleturn, here's what I'm doing now - When I prep a piece for applique, I trace the shape and make a template from a heat-resistant plastic (DO not try this with plain old template plastic, it WILL melt.). I place my template on the wrong side of my fabric, trace, and cut out, leaving about a 1/4 inch all around.  Then, I place the Mylar template back onto the wrong side of the cut-out shape, paint a line of liquid starch along one edge and press. Hold the iron down for a few seconds.

Turn and paint the other edge with starch and press again, flipping the points. When it dries and cools, lift the template out and stitch the applique onto your background fabric.

They still come out a little quirky and the points are smushed. Keep in mind these are very small peels.

There are many good tutorials for this method on You Tube or elsewhere on the internet. I even bought the Karen Kay Buckley DVD that takes you through it step by step. 

I am going to work on this as I stitch a DJ block today. Maybe two if I'm lucky enough to be uninterrupted for awhile. Then, on Saturday, we're getting the Christmas tree, the boxes will rise out of the basement, the decorating will begin and everything else will be on hold until the holidays are over and I have more time to myself.  Have a good weekend! And thanks in advance for your tips.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Wool Applique Patterns

For quite a few weeks now, I've been working hard to get some new patterns out for wool applique. And also learn HOW to do applique with wool at the same time. It's pretty simple. For weeks my house was a total mess, however. Tiny pieces of wool, pins and thread everywhere. I'm usually neater when I work on things. Can't explain it other than  - there was the excitement of learning a new hobby and becoming totally distracted by that new hobby. I wanted to Create, not clean up, and just kept going going going until I became too tired. My husband became tired of finding needles everywhere he stepped. 


What he should have said . . . 

I carried my projects from room to room as I worked on them. When one surface became overcrowded I moved all my stuff to the next room, LOL. After I lost two of my paper pattern drafts (I KNOW they're still somewhere in the house) and had to spend extra time to redo them, I was afraid to clean anything up in case I inadvertently threw something valuable away. I became frantic to get the projects finished before Thanksgiving so I could finally clean the house for company. Thanks to some great help, I was able to make the deadline. The patterns are finished and the house is now clean, clean, clean.  

There's some scrumptious wool out there. If you're new to wool, as I was, you'll have a lot of fun playing around with some of these projects and getting the hang of it. The patterns are all relatively simple and the directions pretty clear. I find working with wool to be very relaxing.  (It's writing [and losing] the patterns that stresses me out!) 

Hope you like them. You can see more and order them here

Have a great week! Go buy some wool and get started.