Monday, November 26, 2012

Christmas Advent Ideas

This time of year it is so easy to get caught up in the stress of trying to create the "perfect Christmas" that we forget what the season is really all about, spending time with family and friends.  This year make sure to schedule time to do some of the fun things associated with the holidays.  Do up an activity advent calendar for each day from December 1st until the 25th.

Here are some ideas:

- watch a Christmas movie and pop some popcorn
- drive around and look at Christmas lights
- go for a walk in the snow
- bake Christmas cookies
- have hot chocolate by a fire and listen to Christmas music
- decorate the tree
- go skating
- camp out under the Christmas tree
- go caroling
- turn up the Christmas music really loud and have a dance party
- read a book
- make popcorn balls
- check out ABC Family 25 Days of Christmas schedule and pick a night to watch your favourite
- make candy cane milk shakes
- window shop and look at all the Christmas displays
- go see a play or concert
- invite a few friends over for cocktails or mocktails
- make a snowman pizza

- family game night
- bake cupcakes
- take treats to the neighbors
- read the nativity story
- have dinner by candlelight
- call someone long distance
- play "secret Santa" to someone in need

I'm sure you could come up with plenty more!

Here's another great way for little ones to count down to Christmas.  Last year I wrapped up 24 Christmas books individually and gave them to a special little 2 year old in our lives on the last day of November.  Starting December 1st he was able to unwrap one book a day and read it with his Mommy and Daddy until it was finally Christmas.  He loved it!  In fact, he loved it so much that, since his family decided that mornings were the most convenient time for him to open the gifts, he started getting up earlier and earlier just so that he could open his present for that day!

Do you have any special traditions that your family does during the holidays?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

America has 3.1% of the world's children and 40% of the world's toys!

America has 3.1% of the world's children and 40% of the world's toys.  That's a pretty sobering statistic!  Here's a few more.

- Each year America spends $18.8 billion dollars on toys for children.
- Only $0.4 billion of that $18.8 billion is spent on educational toys.
- Barbie Doll manufacturing alone is a $2.5 billion dollar a year industry.
- Clothes for Barbie and friends have consumed more than 105 million yards of fabric, making Mattel on of the world's largest apparel manufacturers.
- If all Barbies and kin sold since 1959 were lined up head-to-toe, they would circle the planet more than seven times.
- Each new child in a household leads to a 30% increase in the family's inventory of possessions during the preschool years alone.

*All above statistics come from the book Life At Home In The Twenty-first Century and are for the mid-2000's.

More than ever before toys are now spilling out of children's regular play areas (bedroom and den) and have made their way into the areas of the home that were intended for more adult activities (living room and kitchen).  All this clutter stresses out the whole family.  Bedroom floors are rarely seen and parents simply don't have the time to deal with the material aftermath of kid's activities.

Before making your list and checking it twice, try to come up with some clutter-free ideas for the children in your life.  Like some of these:

- tickets for a family bowling night
- movie passes
- tickets to the zoo
- tickets to an amusement park
- dance lessons
- musical instrument lessons
- cooking lessons
- if you live far away, make a tape of yourself reading them their favourite books
- a home-made coupon for a day of sledding (or we have tube slides in our area)
- ski passes with ski rental
- concert tickets
- sporting event tickets

The point is to do something with them rather than just buy more stuff that will add to the clutter.  Give them an experience rather than something physical.

Here is another idea that I love to help children ask for less stuff from Santa.  Provide them with this pre-printed list and have them fill in the blanks.

Do you have any other clutter-free gift ideas for children?

Monday, November 19, 2012

To Stuff or Not To Stuff...That Is the Question

Whether or not to stuff the Thanksgiving turkey all depends on preference.  Personally I love the taste of stuffing that has been inside the bird, however, I never stuff my turkey.  My reason for not placing the stuffing inside the turkey is because the stuffing that I make is mostly bread.  The bread soaks up all the juices from the turkey leaving me with dry meat and fabulous tasting stuffing.  But I'm picky and I would like moist meat and fabulous tasting stuffing!  So how can I have it both ways?

Here's my secret (that's not really secret because I would tell anyone who asks).  I stuff my turkey with oranges, onions and fresh herbs (usually sage, thyme and rosemary).  The steam from these keeps my turkey meat moist and juicy.  I usually make the stuffing the day before using boxed stock and a beaten egg to help moisten it (but not too much).  However, here's the trick to great stuffing.  Once your turkey has been roasting for a while, use a turkey baster to pour some of the pan drippings onto your stuffing.  The stuffing now tastes like it's been in the bird but it hasn't taken all the flavour from the meat!

Above is the before photo of my Thanksgiving turkey.  This is what I did.

Quarter 2 onions and 2 oranges and place them into the cavity along with some some fresh herbs (sage, thyme and rosemary). Place a few pieces of orange, onion and herb into the extra skin at the neck too.  Combine 1/2 pound of softened butter with chopped fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme and sage), salt and pepper.  Using the handle of a wooden spoon create a pocket between the skin and the breast meat.  Place 1/3 of the butter mixture into the pocket and smear it between the skin and the white meat.  Repeat this for the other side of the breast.  This will baste the bird as it cooks.  Smear the remaining butter over the outside of the bird.  Drizzle with olive oil and a little more salt and pepper.

Place some largely chopped celery, onions and carrots in the bottom of the roasting pan.  Add a few unpeeled cloves of garlic, the giblets and the neck and any bits of herbs leftover including the stems from the rosemary.  Pour a couple of cups of white wine into the bottom of the pan (or just use water).  Place turkey on top and roast at 350 for 15 minutes per pound.  Don't let the bottom of the pan get dry.  Add more water if needed.

While your turkey is resting on the cutting board, place the roasting pan on a burner and add some more water  (or wine) to make gravy.  Use a potato masher to mash up all the vegetables in the bottom of the pan to get more flavour out of them.  Thicken the gravy with a couple of heaping tablespoons of cornstarch mixed with 1/4 cup of cold water.  When gravy is thicken, pour it through a sieve to strain out the vegetables.  Salt and pepper to taste. Sometimes I strain the gravy into another pot before I thicken it.  Whatever works for you.  By the way, you could add a tablespoon or two of cranberry sauce to your gravy while it boils.  It give your gravy that extra little something that will make your guests go hmmmm.

Here's how my turkey looked when it was done.

Now for my recipe for crumble topping for pies and crisps.  This is the fastest crumble topping you will ever make!

1/4 of melted butter

Add in 6 packages of Maple and Brown Sugar Instant Oatmeal (or Apple and Cinnamon)

That's it!  I spread it over chopped apples to make apple crisp.

And this is what it looks like after it's baked.

Now if even that easy recipe seems like it's too much to handle for Thanksgiving dinner (or any holiday dinner for that matter) then try doing what these ladies did.

It doesn't get easier than that!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Cooking The Holiday Meal

For my family and I the holidays are all about the food!  Sometimes I will start planning what I am making Christmas day during the summer.

Now, here in Canada we celebrated our Thanksgiving in early October.  I honestly have no idea how those of you who are American can manage two holidays back to back.  Do you wait to decorate for Christmas until after Thanksgiving?  Do you also wait to start your holiday shopping?  Here in Canada we have the entire month of November and December to get ready for Christmas.  Much easier!  In fact, this week I am busy decorating the house getting it ready for a Santa Claus Parade party.  The parade goes by the front of our house and every year we host an open house where we serve hot chocolate and Christmas cookies to anyone who drops by.  Last year we even put out a patio heater to keep our party goers warm!

Now back to the food!  I love hosting parties at the house and have had as many as 50 people over for dinner.  Having many things done in advance is the secret to not going crazy on the day of the party.  For instance, I have set the table as much as a week in advance.  I simply throw a sheet over the whole thing to keep the dust off so that on the day of the party all I have to do is lift the sheet and the table is ready!

I also do up as much food as I can in advance.  If I am hosting a party for more than 8 people I will even do up the turkey the day before.  I slice it up and pour a little gravy over it to keep it moist and then re-heat it the next day.  No one has ever been able to tell that I did it earlier.  Another secret is that I use a tinfoil pan to reheat it in so that there are fewer dishes on the day of the party.

There are other dishes that you can make the day before so that you can get out of the kitchen and enjoy your own party.

Here's a recipe for simple mashed potatoes that my cousin gave me.  Make them the day before and re-heat them the day of your party.

Susie's Mashed Potatoes

1 large pot of potatoes, peeled and cooked
1 - 8oz pkg. of cream cheese
2 cups of sour cream
1/4 cup of butter
salt and pepper to taste

Beat all ingredients until fluffy and pour into a greased casserole dish.  Re-heat in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.

If you want fancier mashed potatoes then try this recipe from Six Sisters - Twice Baked Potato Casserole

Another one that I do up in advance is squash.  Baking a squash the day of the dinner takes up a lot of oven space.  Cut a large butternut squash in half and rub it with butter, cinnamon and a little brown sugar.  Bake at 350 until very tender.  When cooled slightly, scoop squash out of the shell and put it into a bowl.  Add salt, pepper, butter and brown sugar to taste.  Beat until smooth and pour into a greased casserole dish.  Re-heat the day of the dinner at 350 until warm.

What's nice about both these recipes is that I can cover both bowls with tinfoil and place them on a rack in the oven.  I can then set the large tinfoil pan that the turkey is in right on top of the bowls.  By simply re-heating I can stack dishes and not worry about things not cooking properly.

Be sure to utilize crock pots on the day of the party too.  I always cook my stuffing in the crock pot and the potato or squash recipe above could easily be heated in a crock pot to save room in your oven.

Come back on Monday when I will share with you my recipe for a delicious and moist turkey.  I'll also explain why I never stuff my turkey with traditional stuffing and I will share the easiest crumble recipe ever!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

How Much Do You Hate Polishing Silver?!

I absolutely hate to polish silver!  There is so much work involved what with smearing on an awful smelling paste and  rubbing each piece until my fingers ached.  There are fancy dips that I have used but, besides not being very good for your silver,  also requires a gas mask just to stand the fumes!  So when I saw one of those Pinterest tricks for polishing silver I pinned it immediately.  In fact, I pinned it twice!  A few months ago I gave it a try and I could not believe how easy it was!

Line a sink with tin foil.

Add a 1/2 cup of baking soda.

Then add a 1/2 cup of salt.

Fill the sink with warm water.

Now the instructions said to let silver soak in the sink for 30 minutes but I can tell you that it really doesn't take that long at all.  Each piece that I did only soaked for 10 minutes or less.

Here is a cream and sugar set that I found in a small china cabinet.  They are being donated to charity since I never used them but I decided to clean them up before I donated them.  I don't think they have ever been polished before.

I soaked the creamer first for about 5 minutes and this is what it looked like after!

It's hard to see the difference in this picture but here is one with both of them done.

Give everything a really good rinse after finishing because a salt film on the silver can be very corrosive.

I have to say that I will never use another way to polish silver again!

Here is the original link for the Pintrest post.

PS I absolutely love the quote at the top of the link.

If your house is really a mess and a stranger comes to the door, greet her with, “who could have done this? We have no enemies.”  - Phyllis Diller

Monday, November 12, 2012

Is Your Dining Room Table Ready?

When you went shopping for your dining room table (or kitchen table if you do not have a dining room),  what picture did you have in mind of how this table was going to be used?

Was it something like this?

Or did you envision your dining room table to look like this?

Did you really picture your lovely dining room table being used for mail, unfinished craft projects, a dead plant and a couple of empty vases?  More likely you were already looking forward to all the wonderful memories you would create by entertaining friends and family around your beautifully set table.

The holidays are nearly upon us so lets get the table cleared off and looking like we envisioned it when we bought it.

This way you can enjoy a holiday that looks more like this.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Our Local Holiday Home Tour

Last weekend Mr. P and I had to opportunity to go on our local Holiday Home Tour.  We enjoy going every year and our own home has been featured on the tour a couple of times.  This year I decided to bring my camera to give you some ideas for decorating your own homes this holiday season.  Enjoy!

House #1 - This was actually a "Covered Wagon Bed and Breakfast" at a local ranch.  This is the dining hall.

House #2

House #3 - Season's - A local assisted living facility.

House #4

House #5

House #6 - I saved the best for last!  Don't get me wrong, the others were beautiful but House #6 is actually a log cabin built in the 1850's and restored.  With my passion for historical homes, I absolutely loved it!

The owners of the cabin had it moved to their backyard.  They restored it and have furnished it as closely as possible to what it would have looked like during the 1800's.  One thing that they added was this wood stove from the turn of the century.  Ladies in costume were cooking a wonderful smelling soup on it while we were there.  They explained that the owners held Christmas out in the cabin last year and the lady of the house even cooked her Christmas turkey in the wood oven.

The cabin is a single room with a sleeping loft above.

After leaving the cabin we went to another building on the property that housed a War of 1812 display. It was also decorated for Christmas.

And last, but certainly not least, is one of the most unique trees I've seen in a long time.  It is decorated with antique, local post cards and long ago discarded objects that had been unearthed in the area.

And this concludes our tour.

Did you find any inspiration in these photos?