Friday, November 30, 2012

Friday Funday

Since I missed last week, I thought I'd give you an extra long post of my favorite pins over the past two weeks.  

Of course, I have to start with some bookish ones.
I don't watch this show, but I love this line...

So true...

For realz.

This needs to go on my "need to make NOW" list.
Source: via Crystal on Pinterest

A Couple Christmas Pins!

I'm going to try and start this tomorrow on my Instagram account...


And to motivate me (and maybe you too) to remember to exercise after and through the tasty food of the holiday season...

Happy Friday and last day of November everyone!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Next Best Thing

I have to say that Jennifer Weiner has become a favorite author of mine in the past couple of years.  After starting out with her Good In Bed a while back, I was hooked (for that review, click here).  It's so nice to have someone write about real women with real body and emotional issues.  Every protagonist in her books is the kind of underdog you want to root for. 

I've recently noticed that she's only written 10 books...and I've read six of them to-date.  I think I might have to just round it out and finish up this smallish number, I already own two of the others I haven't read yet...that leaves only two more. 

The Next Best Thing is Weiner's newest book, released in July of this year.  Interesting note, after finishing this book, I read some other reviews and found out that this book is semi-autobiographical.  Also, if (like me) you've read The Guy Not Taken, this book is a continuation of one of those short stories.  Yay, I was super excited about that!

The main character, Ruth, is an aspiring sitcom writer whose pilot script, The Next Best Thing, gets picked up.  Ruth lives with her sweet grandmother, who coddles her a bit since Ruth was the victim of a childhood car accident where she was physically (and emotionally) scarred for life AND lost her parents.

This book follows Ruth's struggle to make her Golden Girls-style sitcom dream a reality, all the while dealing with executives, annoying television actors, a huge crush on her old boss and all the other types of politics surrounding Hollywood. 

For me, this book was a solid 3 out of 5 stars.  It didn't wow me like Good In Bed and I felt the ending was left a little open.  I would have appreciated more of a definitive closing, but I think Weiner might have been making a point with it.  It ends with the message that Ruth is happy with how things have turned out and that while things might change tomorrow, she'll be happy with what she has today.  It's a nice idea, but I think that I (along with other readers, judging from other reviews) would have liked a bit more closure.  I definitely recommend this book, like I would recommend just about any Jennifer Weiner book.  In fact, it might be a good stocking stuffer for someone you know (or you could just slide it under the tree for yourself)!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

I hope everyone had a fantastic, long Thanksgiving holiday weekend.  We certainly did, even though we spent about 9 hours on the road throughout the weekend...we still managed to see all our loved ones and that's what's important. 

I love this time of year because you're reminded of what's really important in your life, family and friends.  Though, from time to time I might get a little choked up because certain items remind me of certain people that might not be here anymore.  For example, I was in the grocery store on Monday afternoon and saw my first fruitcake of the year.  My grandfather, who we lost a few years back, is the only person I've ever known who actually liked (and actually LOVED) fruitcake.  It made me a little sad, but I had to smile at the same time.

Monday and Tuesday I predominantly spent decorating our home.  I really had fun this year because this was the first year I felt I could really go all out.  Last year, we had just moved and it was more of a rush to get everything up so that we didn't miss the chance to enjoy our decorations. 

This year, I decided to buy some garland for our staircase and David managed to get it hung last night...I think it looks fantastic.  I never even thought to do this last year, but it will definitely be a requirement every year from here on out.

Also, my great-great Aunt Naomia gifted us with this family heirloom nativity set back when we moved her into a senior living community this past summer.  I've had to wait since then before I could display it on our mantle...but, I think the wait was totally worth it.

Back to getting choked up around this time of year, this little guy did it to me as well.  My mom bought me this cheap, little, singing, light-up, stuffed Rudolph back when I was still in college.  He was always a part of my work station decorations.  During my last job, it always really felt like Christmas once he was displayed.  Part of that was because my then-boss and best guy friend, Tom, HATED this particular Rudolph.  He even strung him up at one point to make it look like Rudolph "committed suicide."  The Tom I'm referring to also happens to be the friend that lost his life earlier this year.  While unpacking and placing Rudolph amongst other Christmas-y stuffed animals, it made me smile wistfully while remembering better times with my friend.

Have you got your house and/or work station decorated for the holidays yet?  Or do you wait until closer to the big day?  David didn't actually want to decorate until December 1st, but I managed to persuade him.  His parents will actually wait until closer to Christmas because they always buy a real tree, which wouldn't last that long if purchased and decorated now.  I've never had a real tree and wouldn't even know how to care for it!

What items/foods/decorations make you feel nostalgic this time of year?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

Wishing you and yours a very happy Thanksgiving! 

And because every family watches some football either on Thanksgiving or another day on this holiday weekend: a little funny for you...

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Beautiful Brownie Indulgence

As we head into the holiday season, on this very special week where we focus on giving thanks, I thought I'd share a couple of indulgent recipes I've recently tried out.  Because in this household, we're thankful for chocolate.  Like, a lot.  This first recipe experiment stemmed more from the fact that I felt we were drowning in leftover Halloween candy.  I saw this pin and decided that it looked incredibly tasty...and a good freezable entity. 

Of the two brownie recipes you'll see in this post, this first one is David's favorite.  Both are a chocolately, ooey, gooey, cookie/brownie, tasty goodness...this one was just lucky enough to win out with him.  Here's the recipe:

Ultimate Pretzel Crusted Peanut Butter Cookie Candy Brownie Bars
From Baby Gizmo's blog

2 ½ cups crushed butter pretzels (one 9 oz. package)
1 cup melted butter
5 tbsp sugar
Betty Crocker Peanut Butter Cookie Mix (and all the ingredients the mix calls for)
Brownie Mix (and all the ingredients the mix calls for)
Snack Size Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (20-24)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Crush the pretzels in a food processor, but leave some small pieces for don't want just dust.  Mix with the melted butter and sugar.

Press into a lightly greased 13x9 pan.  Mix the cookie dough according the package instructions.

Lightly press the cookie dough over the pretzel layer.  You'll need to do this gingerly, as the pretzels will want to stick to the cookie dough. 

Unwrap the peanut butter cups and begin distributing them evenly over the cookie dough layer.  The original recipe called for 24 cups, but I only had 20.  This was still plenty for this recipe...and don't worry if they're a little beat up (like mine) because they still taste the same and melt beautifully in the final product.

Prepare the brownie mix according to the package instructions, then pour that over the peanut butter cup layer.

Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes.

Let cool and then cut into bars...and enjoy!!

These are dangerous...because they're so dang delicious!  Because they're so heavy and decadent and wonderful and filling, I didn't want us to eat the whole pan all at once.  Or even within a few days.  So, I separated the brownies into plastic-wrapped packages of two.  Then, I froze them.

These freeze beautifully and taste just as good after you've let them thaw.  What I've been doing, because of David's impatience is this...when I bake something in the oven (which I do at almost every meal), when I'm done I'll turn the oven off.  Then, I'll put a frozen brownie (or 2) in a glass baking pan and place it in the still-warm oven for about 10 minutes.  Ta da!  Warm and gooey brownie(s) in minutes...and a fully satisfied and satiated husband.  Mission: complete.

This next recipe is also another Pinterest find that I decided to try out.  David's favorite dessert anything is "cookies and cream."  Ice cream, shakes, candy, etc.  He loves it.  So, when I saw this pin, I knew I had a winner.

This is, yet another, super easy and delicious brownie recipe.  And this one comes from a blogland favorite, Picky Palate.

Gooey Cookies and Cream Chocolate Cake Bars
from Picky Palate

1 Devils Food Cake Mix
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
14 Oreo Cookies, broken into bite size pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a 9×13 inch baking pan with tin foil sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.

Place cake mix, butter and egg into a large bowl, mixing to combine.

I have to admit that I tried using that wooden spoon first, but she's right...use your hands, it works much quicker.  Press into prepared baking pan.

Top with broken pieces of cookies (I used 20 cookies instead of the 14 the recipe calls for...I didn't want to accidentally eat the 6 leftover cookies, lol!).

Pour sweetened condensed milk over cookies and top with chocolate chips.

At this point, I think this post qualifies as food porn, am I right?  Because this looks completely delectable to me...

Bake for 23-25 minutes, until cooked through. Remove from oven.

After 5 minutes of cooling, run a plastic knife around edges to loosen, this makes it much easier to remove from foil.  Let cool completely, remove foil from pan, then cut into squares.

And enjoy!!

I did the exact same thing with these brownies that I did with the others; I wrapped them up in packages of two and froze the delectables.

These freeze perfectly as well.  And I do the same oven-warming trick with them.  Honestly, these are my favorite of the two...they aren't quite as rich, which I like.  Of course, they're not 3 inches thick either!

I would highly recommend both recipes (new Dave's Faves, both of them) and I would highly recommend freezing them both.  The good thing about freezing (and this is more important at this time of year than even in other seasons) is that you have to put some effort into thawing and preparing them for consumption.  You can't just walk over to the pantry and stick your hand in a bag and boom=instant gratification.  When you eat these after thawing them, you've really made yourself a treat and will truly enjoy them without (hopefully) a nagging feeling of guilt in the background.

I hope you're having a fantastic Tuesday, leading up to the most thankful holiday of the year! 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Divergent Trilogy

I hope everyone had a fantastic weekend.  Mine was excellent, complete with book club Friday night, an evening of spoiling my now 70-year-old step-dad on Saturday and watching the conclusion of the Twilight saga on Sunday (which is fabulous, BTW). 

This week marks the beginning of my favorite holiday of the year, Thanksgiving.  David and I have had a hard time deciding where we're going this year, but I think we've finally figured it out...with only three days to spare.  I might be just a tad bit of a procrastinator...

On this fine Monday afternoon, I wanted to share with you the newest trilogy sweeping my book club: the Divergent series.  The first two have been out for a little while and the third (and final) installment is scheduled to be released some time in 2013...that's as specific a date as you can get from the author and publishers.  I did look at Roth's blog the other day and she stated that she's finished the first draft and is going through her first edit.  So, at least the publishers aren't just sitting on it and letting us readers snarl in anticipation...that's always a plus.

OK, so you want to know what these books are about, right?  This is a young adult series with characters focusing on the teenage demographic of 16-18 in the book.  The setting takes place in a dystopian future and your heroine is 16-year-old Beatrice (Tris, for short).  There are five factions within society (Abnegation, Dauntless, Amity, Erudite and Candor) and each faction provides a certain purpose to the community as a whole.  For example: government, security, technology...etc.

Children are brought up within the faction of their parents (adults can only marry within their faction) and at the age of 16 are "tested" to see which faction best suits them and their abilities.  However, at their "choosing" ceremony they're allowed to pick their faction...most of the time they pick the faction that their test indicates.  If they choose a faction they did not grow up in, they are no longer allowed to live with their families and are told to begin severing ties...the big motto is "faction before blood."

Tris tests Divergent...which, is a big deal.  It means that you are equally suited for more than one faction.  This is where the "dum de dum dum DUM" sound might strum in a movie or on television.  It's highly, highly, highly frowned upon in society to be Divergent.  It actually scares most, most Divergent keep it a secret.  Even from their family and very best friends.  Usually Divergents just pick whichever faction they've tested for that they feel best suits them...and go from there.

The first book focuses on Tris and how she deals with this, what faction she chooses, how she keeps her Divergent status under wraps...oh yea, and her love interest starts to blossom.  Gotta love that last part.  The second book focuses on the fact that there's a growing revolution within the community and, of course, Tris (and her love interest) participate with this in a big way.  There are a few bombs dropped in the second book and the ending...big ol' cliffhanger.  But, it wasn't a cliffhanger I was completely and totally irritated with, like some series.  I'm thankful for that.

When I finished the first book, I'll admit that I really liked it, but thought the similarities with the Hunger Games series were pretty monstrous.  Dystopian future, strong female lead, there's quite a bit of violence and there's a revolution beginning that said female lead partakes in.  Hmmm...sound familiar?  But, the circumstances and storyline are very different and get their own more distinctive twist in the second book.  I still say that if you liked the Hunger Games series, you'll love this series.  But, I also say that if you're into this type of storyline in general, you'll really enjoy this series.  I really liked it and can't wait for the final installment to be released in 2013...hopefully it won't be December of 2013 though...cross your fingers with me!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Friday Funday

Today is awesome because Fridays are always awesome.  But, it's also awesome because tonight is my book club's monthly meeting and Saturday we're celebrating my step-dad's 70th birthday!  I'm not sure 31 should be old enough to have a parent that age, but it's true and I'm excited to celebrate the birth of this wonderful man in my life. 

Aaaaand without further ado: my favorite pins of the week!

Can we say Boomer Sooner bars?

For realz...

Soft Snickerdoodle Brownies

Getting in the holiday spirit

You want me to go where?


And my personal favorite for the whole week...

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Orange Overload

A couple weeks ago David brought home an entire bag of fresh Louisiana oranges.  There were some guys from his work that had been down around the bayou for a work trip and picked up a bunch of bags for the office.  David brought these in on a Thursday or Friday, I can't remember which, and I waited until Monday to start makin' something with these the interim we noticed that the house had a weird metallic/paint smell.  We searched high and low for this smell, but it wasn't until Monday that I realized what was the culprit...these suckers were RIPE.

Gag!  Who knew that foul oranges could give off such an odor!  After disposing of the...ahem...ripest variety, I washed off the "still edible and beautifully ripe" ones and began deciding on what to make.  Obviously, I needed to work fast if I wanted to keep the rest from going to waste.  Here's what I had to work with.

I ended up choosing a variety of recipes that I've never made before, simply because I don't make orange-flavored items very often.  And because I had to perform a mass baking project that day, most of the items ended up going into our freezer.  Therefore, I can't tell you how well some of them taste because...we haven't tried them yet. 

I will start out this orange-themed series of posts with this scone recipe, which I have eaten.  It's a Barefoot Contessa, so how can you really go wrong?  I liked them pretty well and the dough turns out beautifully, even if at the end of the mixing process it does get a mind of it's own and tries to jump out of the bowl...seriously, it clumps and starts to rise up out of the mixing bowl. 

Click here for the link to the printable recipe...enjoy!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Cheese Soup with Red Pepper and Bacon

Jeez, sometimes I don't realize how long it can take for me to try out a recipe...I printed off this recipe back when this blog published it and I just noticed that was back in 2009.  Yikes.

The prompt for finally trying out this recipe is that there was a freeze here recently, our first one.  And David ran out to our bell pepper plant to rescue all the peppers on the vine pre-freeze.  So, I was in need of utilizing these babies before they wrinkled up into nasty rot-ness.

So, I hunted through my recipe books in search of something scrumptious that called for red bell  I changed this recipe up a bit, but not much.

Cheese Soup with Red Pepper and Bacon
adapted from How Sweet It Is

1/2 sweet onion, chopped
1/2 red pepper, chopped (or 3 small home-grown red peppers)
3 slices bacon
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 cup grated yellow sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup grated colby cheese

Cook the bacon in a medium sauce pan until crisp.  Remove from pan, place on paper-towel-lined cutting board.  When drained, chop finely.

Retain the bacon grease in the pan, if there's a whole lot then you can remove some.  You only want a teaspoon or two's worth, which is what about three bacon strips will give you.  Throw in the chopped onion and saute until translucent.  Be sure to scrape up all those crusty bits on the bottom of the pan leftover from the bacon...mmmm...that's the flavor right there.

Add flour and butter, whisking constantly to create a roux.

Reduce to medium heat, and add heavy cream and chicken stock. Add cheeses in increments, stirring constantly so cheese does not stick to the bottom of the pan.  [I would recommend using a roux or flat whisk (like this) or a gravy or sauce whisk like I'm using in the picture below.]

Reduce to low-medium heat, and let simmer for 15 minutes, or until thick. Stir occasionally.

You can add salt and pepper to taste, if needed. I found that the bacon grease adds plenty of flavor, making the need for such seasonings obsolete.  If soup is not as thick as you would like, add flour by the tablespoon, stirring until it thickens.

Add the chopped red pepper and bacon to soup, stirring to mix.  You may save some extra of each for garnish, if that floats your boat.

Let simmer for 5 more minutes.

Serve in soups bowls. And prepare to swoon.

I l-o-v-e-d this soup.  It was rich and creamy and perfect for a cold winter night when you just want to curl up on the couch in your sweats n' fuzzy socks and watch some chick flick like Bridget Jones, Princess Bride or 16 Candles.

Needless to say, this was not a manly man soup.  It has girly written all over it simply because the meat to cheese/veggie ratio isn't nearly high enough.  I'll definitely be making this for myself again in the near future...but as a meal for both David and I?  Not so much.


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