Jan 16, 2018

Weekend Wrap Up

I had the best weekend- two of my best friends growing up came in town for our second annual Knoxville girls' weekend.  I have laughed and talked so much that my face just aches.  My head might have ached a little bit Saturday morning as well.

Just us girls went to J.C. Holdway Friday night, for a delicious meal and plentiful cocktails.  I split the hangar steak, on the advice of my brother who happened to be on there on a  date night with his wife (great minds, yada yada).  It was fantastic, as was my starter of grilled broccolini salad.  And my multiple glasses of cava.

Saturday I trudged through a workout to give myself a boost, and to take advantage of the club's childcare.  You know it's not the most effective time when you spend longer eating lunch there than actually exercising. However, 30 minutes of intervals on the treadmill helped combat my six hours of sleep.

Saturday we let the boys come along, and headed to AK and Dixon's house for lasagna and Cards Against Humanity. It was another fantastic, fun, ribald evening. I haven't seen that side of midnight two nights in a row in quite a long time.

We have a new interim minster at church- he is wonderful!  However, I had a bad case of the yawns and was terrified that he would notice!  Ha!

Monday night I recovered a bit of equanimity by making chicken and dumplings featured in this month's Southern Living. I balanced it out with a metric ton of steamed broccoli.
Here's the recipe.  They hit the spot- Dell Harper had about five bowls.  Deeds had some broccoli and crackers because he only wanted tomato soup and "nuttin else!".  Fine, by me little buddy.  More for me!

While Tommy napped and I made dumpling dough, the kids got their Jackson Pollack on with this kit they got for Christmas from Target.
This was a horrible parenting decision on my behalf.  My back porch will never be the same.  They lasted about ten minutes without a vociferous discussion on technique that involved my darling children Jackson Pollacking each other.  And Target?  FYI- make your damn paints washable.  Thanks.

They exchanged art for a good long bubble bath, and I got my dumplings done.  All is well.  Except for my splatter arted porch.  Ahhhh, real life.

Jan 12, 2018

Five on Friday

1) Warm Weather (Albeit Temporary):

Is there anything more lovely than strolling by a creek in the watery, winter sun?
We have made the most of the last two day of warmer temperatures!

Wednesday Dell Harper and I enjoyed taking Buddy for a couple of miles down the greenway.  I jogged/walked and she scootered- the boys stay at school until 4 on Wednesdays so I can have a little girl time with my big kindergartener.

 The kiddos watched their afternoon program on the porch yesterday when the rain forced us off their new zipline.

 You can see it in the upper right corner of this pic.  If you can take your eyes off this cutie in a cardigan.  I struggle with that.  His cuteness is overwhelming at times- my teeth will be grinded to shreds before he makes it to two.

(Side note- why do cute things make us grind our teeth?  Such an odd reaction!)

2) L.L. Bean Mountain Classic Anorak

Per my very specific request, Morgan got me this number for Christmas.  I was BEYOND thrilled.  It's just like the one I had in high school (although missing the Aztec ribbon detail- prob for the best).  Yesterday's rain and mild temps made it perfect attire.  I had a lot of "OOOOOHHHHH! I had one just like that back in the day!"'s at all my various school pickups.  Here's the (non-affiliate) link- it's even more cozy than I remember.  I'm (almost) 5'4" and a 4-6, and mine is a petite small if you need sizing help.

3)  Pop Rocks for the Bath
These are awesome!!  My kids are obsessed- bath time is a par-tay now!  Santa had stuck a couple of packets in their stockings, and this mama had to amazon prime a big box of the packets.  So fun!

4) Dorothy Draper Prep
I nabbed copies of both of Dorothy Draper's books in preparation for an upcoming trip to the Greenbrier (squee!!!).  My attempted reading on the porch was made impossible by a sweet, be-cardiganed baby wanting to cuddle, but it's calling my name!

5) Oral History of Home Alone

This is a bit late, but my kiddos got on the Home Alone train big-time over Christmas break.  I hadn't seen the movie since I was a child honestly, having been quite burnt out by my brother's daily after-school viewings, and use of Macaulay Culkin hand on cheek moves to get out of trouble (he was successful in this).  Having had a 20-odd year break made it fantastic to see again.

I loved reading this oral history of the movie- the background made it even better.  Now, I'm off to wallpaper my entire house in shades of red and green.


Jan 10, 2018

Loving Lately- Books, Audio Books and Podcasts

I've sent Dell Harper off to school, set up Deeds with some breakfast and a little old school Ghostbusters, and now am taking advantage of Tommy sleeping in a little to crawl back into bed with my laptop.  Emptying the dishwasher be damned!  Or delayed by 15 minutes.

I just picked up two absolutely fantastic books from the library:

Trophy Son follows the professional tennis career of a young man as he navigates his domineering and emotional abusive father (a retired hedge-funder and former Olympian) and his ascending career. It's fast, smart, and a fascinating glimpse into the world of professional tennis and performance drug use.  I've ordered his previous two books based on my enjoyment of this one.

Random fact- the author is Megan Kelly's husband.

I am torn between reading this slowly because I don't want it to end, and ripping through it because I am dying to know what happens.  An elegant, elderly, blue-blood, private investigator (minus any cartooniness), travels from NYC to Yellowstone to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a professional photographer at the behest of his daughter.  It's utterly original, compelling and simply brilliant.

I just finished listening to A Case of Redemption by Adam Mitzner.  It's a legal thriller about Legally Dead, a rapper accused of murdering his pop singer girlfriend.  It's fast, with plenty of twists and turns.  An excellent way to divert oneself while washing dishes or trudging on a treadmill.

Now for a couple of podcasts:

Do y'all listen to The Daily for the New York Times?

Host Michael Barbaro explores topics in the daily news with empathy and curiosity- usually encompassing a quick daily roundup  and a deep dive into people affected by whatever news event is occurring.  A fascinating (although frequently depressing) way to begin one's day.  20 minutes of current event education every morning.

In a completely different vein, I really like Ballard Designs' How to Decorate Podcast.  Each week, the hosts interview a well known designer, stylist, magazine editor or the like.  It's fun, chatty and inspires me to get my house just so!

So that's what I'm escaping with right now.  And little voices are calling me, so my brush with escapism and my cozy bed has come to an abrupt halt.  Hope you enjoy these as much as I do!

Jan 5, 2018

Five on Friday- Cocktail Party Menu and Recipes for a Crowd

We had a wonderful and much needed Boxing Day party Tuesday evening.  As much as I adore my darling children, it's just fabulous to take a break from battery insertion and refereeing disputes.

There's a touch of confusion as to what Boxing Day consists of- there's no fight (other than my children).  Instead, it's a British bank holiday that's the day after Christmas.  My  knowledge comes form extensive reading of classic British literature (or, ahem, watching Bridget Jones Diary on repeat in college, whatevs).

For us, it's just a great excuse to have a party.  Our shindig began at 8, in order to allow me to frantically clean shards of wrapping paper, and get my children in their beds with dreams of sugar plums in their head.

(Note, none of these pictures are mine, as I was running around like mad trying to get everything ready, and forgot to take a single picture before my guests arrived).

We had about fifty to sixty guests popping in and out- along with the following I also prepared a massive charcuterie and cheese board.  The party didn't begin till eight, so most people ate dinner before.  However, I always like a good quantity of food on hand, especially if people are imbibing!

1.  Mulled Wine:

I'd never had mulled wine before.  This is a grave omission on my behalf.  I was a bit leery about warm wine, so a friend who arrived a bit early helped me taste.  We decided to drink the entire pot after a single sip.

It's amazing!  Warm, comforting, and incredibly delicious.

This recipe is adapted from Ina Garten.


4 cups apple cider1 (750-ml) bottle red wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon
1/4 cup honey
4 cinnamon sticks
2 oranges, zested and juiced
4 whole cloves

Combine the first four ingredients in a big pot, and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, and add in your wine.  Simmer for 10 minutes.

Pour into mugs and try to share.

2.  Roasted Chickpeas:

An excellent alternative to roasted nuts, roasted chickpeas offer the same munchability factor.  I like to scatter bowls of them around- especially by the bar.  An added bonus?  A can of chickpeas is a hell of a lot cheaper than the same amount of pecans or cashews.

4 cans chickpeas
1/4 cup olive oil
2 T seasoned salt
2T smoked paprika

Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Pour olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet and place in oven until oil is hot, 3 minutes. In a medium bowl, combine chickpeas, cayenne pepper, and cumin seed. Season with salt and toss to combine. Place chickpea mixture on hot baking sheet and spread in a single layer. Bake until chickpeas are crisp, 10 to 12 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels and let cool slightly. 

3.  Fig Gorgonzola Bites

I hadn't made this old favorite in quite a while- the sweetness balanced the charcuterie platter and all the other savories perfectly.

1 box of puff pastry
1 jar fig jam or spread
8 ounces of crumbled gorgonzola
4 ounces butter (melted)

Take two sheets of thawed puff pastry
Lay in on a lightly floured surface, and brush with melted butter
Cut the puff pastry into squares
Spread with a fig jam or spread (if you nuke the jar for about 20 seconds it makes it far easier to spread)
Top the square with Gorgonzola crumbles
Bake at 350 for about 20- 30 minutes, until puffed and toasty.

4.  Sweet Potato Biscuits with Country Ham:

I check out a bunch of Southern Living Christmas cookbooks from the library, for some ideas and inspiration for the party.  Nothing really caught my eye, until I landed on there little nuggets.  We are lucky enough to have Benton's ham at the grocery store here, so country ham had me ready to go!

To be honest, I was a bit intimidated to make them for the party- there's a lot that can go wrong with baking, especially trying out a recipe for the first time.  However, I threw caution to the wind, and got out my flour at 7 o'clock the morning of the party.  These biscuits were SO GOOD!  I had to restrain myself from eating all 36 before my guests arrived.  Next time I will double the recipe, as they disappeared in a flash.

Although a bit tedious to stuff each biscuit with the ham and apple butter, I prepared them hours in advance, refrigerated, then kept covered in a warm oven.  They did not suffer for it!

2 3/4 all-purpose flour
1 T sugar
1 T baking powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup cold butter, cut into pieces
1 cups (4 oz), freshly shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
1 cooked cooked, mashed sweet potatoes
1/3 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
parchment paper
2 T butter, melted
1 lb thinly sliced country ham 
apple butter

1.  Preheat oven to 375.  Stir together the first 5 ingredients in large bowl; cut in 1/4 butter with a pastry blender or couple of forks, until mixture resembles small peas and the dough is crumbly. Stir in cheese and chives
2.  Stir together sweet potatoes, buttermilk, and eggs.  Add to the flour mixture, stirring just until he dry ingredients are moistened.
3.  Turn dough out until a lightly floured surface.  Pat dough into a 1 inch thick circle.   Cut dough witth a well-floured 1 1/2 inch round cutter, retooling scraps as needed.
4.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; place biscuits, with sides touching on baking sheet.  Brush tops with 2 T of melted butter.
5.  Bake at 375 for 25 minutes or until golden brown.
6.  Cook ham in large nonstick skillet over medium high heat for 6 minutes, turning once.  Split biscuit, lightly spread with smidge of apple butter, fill with ham.

5.  Baked Fontina

I remembered this recipe, which I served at a NYE party a number of years ago- cluster of people huddled around a hot cast iron skillet filled with gooey melted cheese.  Fantastic!

From on the fabulous Ina Garten recipe- (just cheese altered to make it a bit more fiscally minded)

Preheat the broiler and position the oven rack 5 inches from the heat.
Distribute the cubes of Fontina evenly in a 12-inch cast-iron pan. Drizzle on the olive oil. Combine the garlic, thyme, and rosemary and sprinkle it over the cheese and olive oil. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper and place the pan under the broiler for 6 minutes, until the cheese is melted and bubbling and starts to brown.
Serve the baked Fontina family-style-right out of the oven in the cast-iron pan with crusty chunks of bread for everyone to dip.

Jan 4, 2018

Veggie Beef Soup (Good Luck and Lots of Cash) and Cheesy Biscuit Bread

Or, how to get those peas and greens in for wonderful New Year.  This is a tasty old fashioned vegetable beef soup that's easily adaptable for whatever you have on hand.   It's also perfect for when it's unrelentingly cold outside.  The soup requires very little prep and is full of favor.

1 T olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 carrots chopped
1 bunch of celery chopped with leaves
1 small head of cabbage, coarsely shredded
2 lbs ground beef
4-6 cups chicken or beef broth
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 quart tomato juice
1 12 oz bag of frozen filed peas with snaps
4 cups of shredded fresh collard greens

In a large stock pot sauce the onion on medium heat for a couple of minutes, then add the celery and carrots.  Sauté for another five minutes, then add the cabbage, ground beef, salt and pepper.  Add enough broth to cover.   Add the tomato juice.  Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer.  While simmering add the bag of field peas and green and cook for at least an hour.  Stir occasionally to break up the meat.

It's even more delicious the next day!

Perfect to pair with the soup?  Cheesy Biscuit Bread.  See the chunk missing?  That was how much Tommy ate while his soup was cooling.

I devoured another considerable chunk during the first half of the nail-biter of a game for the Dawgs (and another few chunks during the TWO overtimes).  Side note- GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO DAAAAWWWGGGGSSS!

2 cups Bisquick
2/3 cup milk
2 eggs, beaten
6 green onions, chopped
2 T olive oil
1 T Dijon mustard
2 cups shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese (I used white cheddar), divided in half
3 T butter, melted

Combine Bisquick, milk, eggs, onion, oil, mustard and 1 cup cheese in a medium bowl, stir well.
Pour batter into a greased 10-inch pie pan, and drizzle melted butter on top.
Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes
Top with remaining cheese and bake an additional five minutes.
Cut into wedges and serve!

I credit a bowl of this every day this week to helping me survive this cold snap!