Thursday, December 31, 2015

Cleaning Up After Christmas and Winter Wonderland Party Prep

Bit by bit, I'm removing my Christmas decorations from my house.

Happy New Year's Eve! Today I'm playing a bit of hooky from work - taking my dogs to the park, and then taking down my Christmas decorations. I'll swap out my red tablecloth for a white one, take the red-and-green wreath off my door and replace it with a snowy evergreen one, and make other small alterations to my decor.

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

A dozen organic eggs I'm hard-boiling for salads and egg salad sandwiches in the week ahead

  • Do you have any time off this week? Can you catch up on a few things and get a little bit ahead before your next workweek? Things that will make your life easier when work resumes? I'm cooking a few things to put away and/or freeze to make my January easier.
  • For example, do you have any breads you might bake ahead of time, soups or casseroles you could freeze, hardboiled eggs for your upcoming salads? Desserts to share or gift to neighbors?
  • Have you cleaned up your living room, if you hosted Christmas, of all the extraneous gifts, ribbons, wrapping papers and trash bags?
  • After the festive holiday dinners and parties I attended, I feel a little unhealthy. I'm making extra effort to avoid sugar and fat, and eat some healthy fruit and veggies. Do you have fresh produce in the house?
  • If you traveled for Christmas, are you caught up on your laundry and unpacking?

TODAY'S PROJECT: Cleaning Up Christmas

I housesat this lovely home during the week of Christmas.

I didn't spend Christmas in my own home this year. Instead, I housesat for traveling relatives and spent the holidays with my grandfather. The small town I was in had a generous amount of snow. After my grandfather went to bed every night, friends bundled me up and took me out to bars and festive late night gatherings at their homes.

It was nice to shake up my yearly routine a bit (and nice not to have all the work of hosting a big Christmas dinner for multiple family members). However, my dream will always be to spend Christmas in my own home. That might not always be possible, since I don't have any children of my own to host Christmas for.

I can't really complain about making myself at home in a castle-styled house with an indoor wine cellar, basement movie theater and outdoor hot tub! Also, I'm counting my blessings that I was able to finally have a White Christmas!

I decorated minimally this year - check out my tiny tree!

Now that I'm home, I'm making time today to take down my Christmas tree and decorations. I'm usually very prompt about removing decorations on New Year's Day - pajama clad and aided by my last round of Christmas music, a fire, and a generous mug of bourbon-laced hot cocoa. Normally I've overdecorated my house and am quite glad to have some of the festive Christmas clutter gone!

These silver ball trees will be part of my Winter Wonderland party decorations

This year I'm in an extra special hurry to swap out the festive red and green decorations, anything with a poinsettia or Santa on it, or anything that screams "Christmas." I'm having a "Winter Wonderland" party in a couple weeks and need to get the house staged for that.

These silver ball trees were heavily discounted after Christmas, so I bought several

My decorating theme for that party is a snowy winter woodland with silver and gold accents. I don't normally care for the way silver and gold look together, so decorating for this party has been a bit of a mental challenge for me. But I brought this upon myself!

When I'm done undecorating, vacuuming, and redecorating, I'll have just enough time to eat a quiet hot dinner, then make my way to a friend's house where I am babysitting tonight. They'll come home before midnight so I can safely get off the roads before any dangerous drivers come out. I can look forward to coming home, lighting a fire in the fireplace, pouring a small bit of champagne and spending a quiet New Year's Eve with my pets. This is my first New Year's Eve at home alone and I'm excited I have chosen to celebrate this way this year!

When do you remove your Christmas decorations? Let us know in the comment section below.

LOVELY BLOGS: Champagne & Macarons

I'm surprised this lovely blog doesn't have an About page. I had to dig around a bit to find out the blogger's name: Brenda. (Not stalking her, just curious about the woman behind this blog!) She lives in St. Louis Missouri, and specializes in design & decor, fashion & beauty blogging. I especially enjoy her travel blogging - her photographs are so gorgeous and make me so intrigued to learn more about the places she's been. She also shares beautifully photographed recipes and the occasional cocktail.

Check out her post from September on Inspiring Baths!

http://champagnemacaronsblog.com/

Champagne & Macarons on Facebook

Champagne & Macarons on Twitter

LOVELY MOVIES: Pretty in Pink 30th Anniversary

It makes me feel old that Pretty in Pink will celebrate its 30th anniversary this February (2016). This film meant a lot to me when I saw it as a 17 year old. Like all John Hughes films, it celebrates the smart, nerdy outsiders which I of course identified with heavily.

I also about wore out my Pretty in Pink Soundtrack, which I had on vinyl. So many good songs on that album - "Left of Center" by Suzanne Vega, The Smiths' "Please, Please, Please, Let me Get What I Want," "Bring on the Dancing Horses" by Echo and the Bunnymen, and of course the titular song by The Psychedelic Furs.

I'm so looking forward to hosting a Girls Night Out complete with cocktails, pink dresses, and Duckie fangirling.

Pretty in Pink Showtimes at Fandango.com

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY:

Boozy Adventures and How to Make Homemade Limoncello (Multiculturiosity)

Broccolini and Sausage Pasta (Bonbon Break)

Chickpea Potato Soup with Pesto and Lemon (Eat in My Kitchen)

Chocolate Cherry Scones (Cooking Light)

Cranberry Brie Bites (The Rose Table)

Cranberry, Lemon and Poppy Seed Breakfast Slice (Dolly and Oatmeal)

Five Useful Tips for Off-Season Storage (Vintage Zest)

Gingerbread Layer Cake (Smitten Kitchen)

Kourabiedes - Greek Butter Cookies (Sailus Food)

Lemon Rolls with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting (My Recipe Confessions)

Lemon Ricotta Cookies (Kitchen Nostalgia)

Lemon Truffles (Keep it Sweet Desserts)

Meyer Lemon Tart with Gingersnap Crust (Grits and Pinecones)

Meyer Lemon and Thyme Roasted chicken (The Unorthodox Epicure)

Olive Oil Carrot Cake with Mascarpone Frosting (Cuisinovia)

Roasted Lemon Brussels Sprouts with Cranberries and Prosciutto (Little Broken)

Sunny Pie (Milk and Bun)

Twice Baked Mashed Potatoes with Garlic and Mascarpone Cheese (Whidbey Island Girl)


--Copyright 2015 Lovely Living

www.lovely-living.com

Lovely Living on Facebook

www.lovelylivinguniversity.com

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Final Day of Resetting Our Kitchens for Winter Holidays

"Winter's Tale" Oven Mitt, from Michel Design Works, on Amazon

As the days grow colder in autumn and in winter, our appetites and our cooking styles change with the new seasons. Different types of produce become available at grocery stores, and we crave different foods - hot soups, baked potatoes, pot pies, casseroles, chilis, crusty breads, pies, and hearty vegetables.

Those of us who live in colder, rainy. snowy, darker climates might find ourselves going out to restaurants less in the upcoming months. It's cold and can be slippery and dangerous to drive and to walk on icy sidewalks. So we might stay home for quiet meals, or invite a couple of neighbors over for dinner. We might be trying to save money for Christmas shopping by cooking at home.

It's time to start gearing up for holiday cooking, baking, feeding overnight guests, giving food gifts, and any festive entertaining we plan to do. Time to sort and organize our kitchens, take inventory, and stock our pantries with necessities. This is our final night this week of kitchen prep, if you've been following along and participating!

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • Life can't be just about doing housework or homemaking! Go to a movie tonight after today's project is done; get out a book; go out with friends; take a bath; listen to music; or catch up on your backlog of DVR shows.
  • Do any of your family members need hair cuts before Christmas week? Maybe build in enough time for a new haircut to lose its "brand new" look before you take formal holiday photos?
  • Do you need to spend some time this weekend working on writing your Christmas cards?

TODAY'S PROJECT: Winter Kitchen Organization, Part 4

Santa Cookie Jar, on Amazon

This week I've been preparing my kitchen for Christmas in manageable chunks. Tonight I'll put in the last hour of work, which leaves myself plenty of time to relax and enjoy my Saturday evening. (I might watch the new A Very Murray Christmas starring Bill Murray).

Tonight I'll begin by going through my folder of takeout menus from various restaurants. I'll throw away duplicates or out-of-date menus, and organize my collection. I store it near the phone for easy access. There will no doubt be cold nights ahead when we're too tired to cook and don't want to go out. Those menus will come in handy! Get in the habit of grabbing a take-out menu whenever you're at a restaurant you like that offers them. Plan ahead for those cold, rainy, snowy nights. I don't make a habit of ordering takeout (I love cooking and going to restaurants) but you never know!

Holiday Striped Kitchen Towels, from Williams-Sonoma

Next, I'll go through my potholders and kitchen towels, immediately discarding any limp, smelly kitchen towels or crusty, stained potholders. Be firm with yourself - don't give in to the temptation to keep an old towel around "just in case." Transfer old kitchen towels to your Rag pile (I use mine for dusting, cleaning floors and windows, etc.) But then get rid of one of your worst rags for every old kitchen towel you put in the rag pile. It's all about avoiding clutter and weeding out unnecessary items in our lives.

Put new potholders and new kitchen towels on your shopping list, as needed. Don't forget to grab some next time you are at the grocery store. Many stores are actually carrying attractive seasonal towels right now (as opposed to some of the hideous monstrosities I see at other times of the year), so you should easily be able to find something you like. It's a small expense that makes your home cleaner, cozier and prettier. Don't be afraid to skimp somewhere else in your budget in order to afford $6 or $8 worth of new kitchen towels.

On a personal note, I implore you: If you have guests helping you in your kitchen often, please be sure to have plenty of clean, soft, dry towels for people to dry their hands with. I can't tell you how often I end up with red, chapped hands from helping do dishes at someone else's house and not being able to properly dry my hands; or from drying my hands on very rough scratchy towels.

Speaking of towels, let's check our paper towel inventory (if you use those). Be sure you have a good supply for all the upcoming entertaining you'll be doing. How about cocktail napkins?

Let's take a look around our kitchens and see what else needs to be done to make our kitchens clean, usable, enjoyable, lovely and efficient. Can you declutter items off the counters? Any appliances you don't use every week that you can store elsewhere? Any odd oils, vinegars or spices that can go into a cupboard or pantry instead of sitting on the counter? You won't want to be sorting and organizing in a dirty kitchen. So today is the day to empty and fill the dishwasher, scrub the sink and counters, wipe down all the cabinet doors, and mop the floor. Empty the trash can and take out the recycling. Wash windows as needed. Sort through fruit bowls and get rid of anything rotting. Wash fruit bowls and replace back on the counter, preferably with fresh fruit you'll pick up at the store today.

Done with your preparations and ready for any baking projects you might enjoy undertaking this weekend? Get yourself in the holiday cooking mood, if you at all enjoy cooking magazines, by treating yourself to reading one or two today. Pick up Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Martha Stewart Living, Rachael Ray's magazine, or even just the holiday Williams-Sonoma catalog. Pour a glass of wine, or have a nice cup of coffee or tea. Indulge in something to munch on as you browse - looking at beautifully photographed food makes me so hungry! Visit fun food, cooking and home-decor webpages tonight during your nightly Internet browsing time. Drool over kitchen gadgets you don't need and can't afford, impractically beautiful expensive dishes, and horrifically expensive mail-order pastries. Get on your TIVO and look for cooking shows that are coming up to record, if you like such a thing.

LOVELY BLOGS: Roasted Root

Here's an interesting blog By Julia. She mostly features recipes for vegetables and meat, but occasionally gluten-free things as well. Her blog also has sections for Kombucha, vegetarian, and paleo recipes. Check out her recent posts on grain-free snickerdoodles, vegetable spaghetti squash marinara, and vegan butternut squash bisque.

http://www.theroastedroot.net/

LOVELY BOOKS: All Cakes Considered

I'm not sure how it's possible that this book is now offered online for free, but how fabulous! You can download it in your choice of a PDF, etext, Kindle, torrent, or your favorite ebook format. Chronicle Books published this Melissa Gray book, subtitled "A Year's Worth of Weekly Recipes Tasted, Tested and Approved by the Staff of NPR's 'All Things Considered.' Chapters include Easy Cakes for Early Enthusiasts; Bring Me Bundts and Bring Me More Spice and Vice; Break from Cakes; Layer Cakes and Angel Cakes; and more. All readable for free!

All Cakes Considered, at Archive.org

LOVELY FOOD: Jaz Baking Mixes

If you're a longtime reader of Lovely Living, you know that I rarely bake from scratch and I'm sort of addicted to trying out new boxed baking mixes. I bake for family and neighbors and while I don't exactly advertise that my baked goods gifts aren't homemade, I'm honest if asked. Everybody seems to gobble up what I make for them, anyway! I'm becoming a huge fan of these Jaz baking mixes, which you can find at Cost Plus World Market. They make a nice small loaf - not too much. A small loaf like this can be sliced 6 or 7 times, perfect for four people to enjoy at teatime and then two or three people to have a slice with breakfast the next morning.

I love their unusual flavor combinations, but I'm probably not ready to foist Rosemary Raising Pecan Muffin Mix off on someone quite yet. Still, their Cherry Chocolate Cake mix has been a hit with the neighbors, and the Spinach Parmesan Muffin mix has been nice for a couple dinner parties. I'm eager to try out the Hazelnut Vanilla Fig Cake next!

Jaz Baking Mixes, at Cost Plus World Market

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY:

Caramelizing White Chocolate (Bon Appetit)

Cherry Orange White Chocolate 7 Layer Bars (Hot Dinner Happy Home)

Christmas Pom Pom Wreath (Tater Tots and Jello)

Christmas Tree Cheese Platter (Around My Family Table)

Cranberry White Chocolate Cookies (The Pink Wings)

Danish Dream Cake (Adore Foods)

Dark Chocolate Espresso Brownies with Peppermint Chips (Baking Bites)

Easy Cinnamon Applesauce Ornaments (Baked by Rachel)

Handle With Care: How to Ship Cookies and Other Sweet Treats (In Jennie's Kitchen)

Holiday Red Cranberry Punch (Wishes N Dishes)

How to Get Your Bathroom Ready for Houseguests (PureWow)

Nutella Roll (Sugar Love Spices)

Red Velvet Biscuits (I Heart Recipes)

Red Velvet Peppermint Thumbprints (Fake Ginger)

Red Velvet White Chocolate Trifle (Living on Cloud Nine)

Tabletop Ideas for Holiday Dinner Parties (Decor8)

The Ten Best Books for Your Home Bar (Cool Material)

35 Period Dramas to Watch on Acorn TV or Find on DVD (Silver Petticoat Review)

Three Holiday Cocktails for Bourbon Lovers (She's Cookin)

White Chocolate Cherry Almond Bars (Hoosier Homemade)

White Chocolate Peppermint Cookie Balls (Simply Being Mommy)

The White House Goes Dark Chocolate for the Holidays (WTKR.com)


--Copyright 2015 Lovely Living

www.lovely-living.com

Friday, December 04, 2015

Winter Kitchen Reset Part 4: The Pantry

Stacking Pantry Basket, from The Container Store

Tonight is another push to organize our kitchens for the upcoming holiday month. I plan to work on my pantry tonight, but I suspect it's a bigger project than I anticipated. I'm hoping to get it done in under two hours so I can relax with television or a book later.

I plan to have a pen and paper ready to inventory my foods before I put them back in the pantry. This sounds a little OCD or anal retentive, but with the busy holiday season coming up, I want to be very prepared. I don't want to waste money at the store buying supplies I already have enough of at home, too. Nor do I want to neglect to buy something important, like white sugar or a gingerbread mix.

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

Duff Elf Prints Cookies, on Amazon

  • Need to spend any time grooming pets tonight? All three of mine need to be brushed. They're shedding like crazy, which confuses me since it's getting colder. You'd think they'd need to keep as much fur around as possible!
  • Do you use felt pads on the legs of your chairs or barstools? If so, do you need to wipe them to get rid of hair? Mine tend to collect lots of dust and pet hair every week.
  • Need to do any Christmas shopping or wrapping this weekend? I try not to fall behind in the wrapping.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Pantry

Kitchen Wrap Organizer, on Amazon

Time to get our pantries organized, food sorted and grocery lists created!

LABELS:

I don't want to be too obsessive/compulsive about my pantry, but I've fallen into the habit of using labels and stickers on some of my canned, canistered and boxed foods. Most food should already come labeled with an expiration date, but some things don't. It's also easier for my poor aging eyes to see the dates on the stickers than the little tiny Best By date on some products.

PANTRY SORTING:

Black and White Kitchen Shelf Paper, on Amazon

Remove everything from your pantry and also take any food out of your other cupboards. Wash down the cupboards, and put in new fresh shelf paper if needed. Wipe dust off of cans with a dust rag.

Let's examine our cans for "Best By" dates. Discard any food you know you won't eat, or anything that's too old. (Throw them away, don't donate nasty or old food to food banks!)

If you can, try to consolidate foods. I somehow have two storage canisters, each half full, of jasmine rice. Time to pour the rice from one into the other, then rinse, dry and use the second tub for something else.

Arrange the food back into the pantry the way you prefer it. Quickly write down the food and quantity as you put each item back into the pantry and cupboards. You'll use this info as you stock up your pantry for the upcoming holidays, festivals and house guests.

As you begin pulling things out of your pantry to sort, grab something you KNOW you've had around a few months, and bake it for your family. We shouldn't pig out on desserts all the time, but the occasional mid-week treat as a surprise is delightful. Perhaps you have a scone mix you haven't made time to bake yet, or a box of brownies, or in my case a box of apple caramel cupcake mix. It will only take you a few minutes to get the mix stirred and the oven preheated, and you can enjoy smelling the goodies bake while you finish the pantry.

SPICES:

Wall Mountable Spice Rack, on Amazon

Let's pay special attention to our spice collections. Spices do get old, but not super quickly. Still, it's good to use fresh herbs and spices whenever possible for maximum flavor. Chefs would tell us to not use herbs out of jars, but sometimes we have to. Let's discard spices we bought once to make just one particular recipe, spices we bought on impulse but didn't actually cook with, and spices looking old and discolored. Open and smell and taste them if it helps you decide which to keep and which to get rid of. What about your paprika - did you buy a huge container, only to find out you only use it for deviled eggs, and you only make those twice a year?

If you've gotten rid of any extremely important spices that you know you'll use frequently, put them on your grocery list for this week. If you are brave enough, toss out ALL your spices and start over with fresh ones. You can get newer, fresher spices at Trader Joe's for just $1.50 a jar (usually). It's affordable enough you should be able to budget that in twice a year.

Don't forget to inventory your salt and pepper, too. Do you have kosher salt and sea salt as well as regular iodized salt?

HOT DRINKS:

Ghiradelli Hot Cocoa Mix, on Amazon

Let's be sure to familiarize ourselves with the teas, coffees and hot chocolate mixes we might have on hand. Maybe you also stock hot cider mix? We'll all be drinking lots of hot beverages in the upcoming months, I imagine, and we'll need them to serve to guests as well. I don't personally drink coffee, but I have both regular and decaf on hand for my guests.

If your pantry or beverage storage area is crowded, you'll want to get rid of old drink mixes and any weird teas or coffees that you don't ever actually end up using or serving. Also, we might consolidate down from several boxes, cans or packages into one box whenever possible.

Holiday Tea, from Harney & Sons, on Amazon

Coffees and teas also get less tasty with age, so be firm with yourself and throw out packages you know you've had a long time where nobody ever chooses to imbibe them. I am going to throw out a cranberry green tea that nobody here ever drinks.

If you actually find you don't have very much tea, coffee and hot chocolate, add these to your grocery list for the week.

EMERGENCY FOODS:

Kraft Mac and Cheese, on Amazon

I always try to keep some "emergency" type kid-friendly and comfort food items in the house. You never quite know when someone is going to drop off a niece or nephew, or a teenage neighbor locks themself out of the house after school (it's happened soo many times, giggle!) I always want to have a way to make a quick and easy pasta or soup in case I'm out of bread for sandwiches.

Let's look over our canned and boxed soups, boxed mac and cheese mixes, and other "emergency" easy-to-make type foods. We should be thoughtful and careful while we take inventory of these. I was thinking about the very real possibility that I could end up having soup a few nights in a row this cold winter. Sometimes I don't feel like going out, and though I work at home at a computer, I can be too exhausted to cook at the end of the day. Just having two or three cans on hand probably won't do it. Consider stocking chili for heartier meals, and have plenty of pasta and rice on hand.

Do you have foods you can make if the power goes out? Do you have food on hand when guests unexpectedly arrive late at night and you need to cook supper in half an hour? Make sure you have at least one box of Kraft macaroni and cheese - great comfort food for kids and sick people. <>BAKING SUPPLIES:

Krusteaz Sugar Cookie Mix, on Amazon

If you are a baking enthusiast or dessert maker, check over your supplies of flour, sugars, shortening, cake mixes, muffin mixes, scone mixes, brownie mixes, bread machine mixes, raisins, chocolate chips, oatmeal, etc. (If you bake from scratch more than from mixes, you'll adjust your shopping list accordingly!) Be sure you have enough supplies for the upcoming month - dinner parties, festivities, gifts, etc.

FINISHING UP:

After replacing your foods in your cabinets, sit down with something yummy you just baked and a delicious hot drink. Look over your inventory list. Use this to plan your grocery shopping for the next week. If you need too many items to pay for in one week, make a list for next paycheck too and split the groceries between them.

If you've read through any cooking magazines or cookbooks this weekend, you might have an idea of the kinds of foods you'll be serving over the next month. Pick your recipes and figure out which ingredients for them you'll need to add to your grocery list.

I expect my pantry cleaning to take just under two hours. Afterwards, I'll do a little baking and cook my household a (hopefully) nice dinner.

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY:

Brown Butter Hazelnut Doughnuts (Tutti Dolci)

Chai Spice Bundt Cake (Bake or Break)

Chicken Spinach Meatball Soup with Broth and Rice (Joy the Baker)

Eggnog and Almond Scones (Hungry Girl Por Vida)

Roly Poly Santa Cake (Hungry Happenings)


--Copyright 2015 Lovely Living

www.lovely-living.com

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Thursday, December 03, 2015

Winter Kitchen Reset Part 3: Refrigerator, Drawers and Cupboards

Cute Christmas Kitchen Towel, from Incredibly Charmed on Etsy

I'm doing another kitchen organization project today. It's something I can fit in after I get back from going out to dinner. I'll have time to work on the kitchen, and a bit of time to read a book in bed before my 9:30 bedtime.

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • Need to process some mail today? Declutter your mail table or inbox where you keep incoming paperwork? Scoop papers off a desk in your kitchen and actually get them sorted? Let's recycle our junk mail and finish paying any first-of-the-month bills that are due.
  • How is your doormat looking? Time to shake it out, vacuum or sweep it? While you're examining it, need to sweep your front porch, patio or steps?
  • Take inventory of pet food - do you need to make a trip to the pet store? I am almost running out of dog food - that's not good!
  • Check up on any houseplants - I neglected some herbs in a windowsill and I feel terrible. I'm being extra careful to check on my indoor dwarf citrus trees and any houseplants I keep in bathrooms or on other windowsills.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Winter Kitchen Organization Part 2 - Refrigerator and Cupboards

Snowman Refrigerator Magnet Set, on Amazon

Tonight, I plan to tackle my two refrigerators (I keep one in the garage for drinks, in addition to the kitchen fridge) and my cupboards. Because I keep up with my weekly fridge and freezer maintenance, this part won't take me much time tonight. I haven't restocked very many foods in my fridges and freezers after a recent power outage made me have to throw nearly everything away.

I'll take just a few minutes to sterilize, sanitize and dry my fridges and freezers. Then after I get back from dinner, I can tackle my cupboards.

Let's make this fun! Put on music in your kitchen - do you have a portable boom box, MP3 player dock, or radio you can drag in? A speaker you can set your iPhone on? Or do you prefer a television? I don't personally keep a television in my kitchen anymore but it would be nice to watch a holiday themed cooking show while I clean. Put on Food Network, The Cooking Channel, a favorite DVD movie, or TV Land for fun (you might catch some I Love Lucy, Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie reruns).

Spiced Currant Candle, from Sur la Table

Light a fragrant candle, make coffee or tea, or pour yourself a glass of wine. Try to make it fun and the time might just zoom by.

FRIDGE AND FREEZER:

I plan to clean out both of my refrigerators and freezers. If you have been keeping up with doing it one shelf at a time on weekends, this should go quickly. Toss old food, wipe and scrub shelves, dry them off, etc. Quickly take inventory of what's left on a notepad you'll carry in your purse, so you can plan what to replace. If you think of something you need, immediately add it to your grocery list.

Thoroughly clean the outside of your refrigerator too. Now is a good time to have someone in your household come help you move it to clean and vacuum under it and behind it. Wash the wall behind it and on the sides of it too, if you can get to it. There's bound to be a lot of accumulated dust and grime there.

Make some time to think about must-have items for your freezer. For me, I don't let myself run out of vanilla and chocolate ice cream, frozen edamame and frozen corn, hash browns, and frozen stir fry veggies. I also stock puff pastry and some sort of frozen berry in case I need to whip up a quick puff pastry dessert. Also, I'm never, ever without one or two frozen appetizers like Nancy's frozen quiches and Trader Joe's mushroom turnovers or spanakopeta for impromptu cocktail parties.

Cupboards

Festive Red and White Shelf Paper, on Amazon

Remove all your dishes (yes, every one of them!) and wipe down your shelves, especially if they have contact paper. If your contact paper needs to be replaced, add it to your shopping list and make this a priority for next weekend. Examine your dishes for dust. If you're like me you have some goblets around for entertaining that don't get used very often. Those can get quite dusty at the back of the shelf in between being used. Clean any dishes that need it, then replace in cupboards. Reorganize if necessary, or find new homes for things like paper plates, plastic cups, and paper napkins. I store mine out in the garage in a Sterilite box specially marked for that purpose, so I have more room in my cupboards for my glass and china. I haven't bought paper napkins in a few years, and we're steadily working our way through using them up.

If applicable, examine baby utensils, Sippy cups and baby dishes for wear and tear. Discard and replace if necessary. Or get rid of them entirely if your kids are grown and you don't often have little kids visiting at mealtimes.

Examine your pans, utensils and cooking gadgets. Toss anything that looks broken, and clean anything dirty. If you can possibly admit to yourself you have a kitchen gadget you will NEVER use, now is a really good time to own up to that and come up with a plan for disposal of that gadget. (Sell on Ebay, put in your Yard Sale box you save in the garage for the spring, give to a friend, donate to charity, or simply throw it out).

Wilton Reindeer Cookie Cutter Set, on Amazon

COOKIE CUTTERS:

Do you have an overwhelming amount of cookie cutters that you rarely use? I sure as heck do - I definitely have a shopaholic problem at cooking and baking stores. Sort and take inventory of your cutters. Consider storing them in some sort of Ziplock bag or plastic box or container to make them easier to find. It might be helpful to store them along with your cake and cookie decorating sugars and related items. Perhaps that will help us actually use them more often. As always, see if you can get rid of unneeded or duplicate cookie cutters. It's not a sin to throw a $1.75 cheapo, old, rarely used cookie cutter in the trash.

OVERALL KITCHEN:

Add to your shopping list if you notice anything you are majorly missing that you absolutely need and definitely will use. You probably have all the pans and dishes you need, but how are you doing on plastic storage containers, kitchen sponges, cleaning supplies, dishwashing detergent, kitchen hand soap, kitchen towels, etc?

GADGETS:

Over this next week I'd like to challenge you to get out one kitchen gadget you haven't used in over three months and actually use it. Try a different one every day. Get that breadmaker out, clean it off and actually use it to bake bread. Find your tortilla or quesadilla maker and enjoy piping hot, cheesy quesadillas for a snack (or get rid of it and make quesadillas in the microwave or on the stovetop). Use your totally unnecessary heart-shaped muffin pans to make muffins today, instead of the normal round-shaped muffin tin you normally use. Use your Cuisinart to actually make fresh salsa, or see if you can get your hand mixer to mix up a nice batch of mousse. Get out your creme brulee ramekins and your blowtorch and actually make Creme brulee and caramelize the top. Why do we have all these gadgets if we aren't going to use them to make our lives even more lovely?

Tonight, after we are finished, let's reward ourselves for our efforts with some sort of favorite activity that won't bring us near a kitchen. Take a long bath, watch a movie, read a book, flip through magazines, or goof off on the Web. After you've spent time fixing up your kitchen, make someone else cook for you tonight!

Tomorrow will bring another kitchen project. It'll be the perfect mini project for a weeknight - just enough time you get things done, but not so much you're exhausted or struggling to finish before bedtime.

LOVELY BLOGS: The 1940s Experiment

I'm fairly certain you're already familiar with this blog. Just in case, I wanted to point it out here. I've long been fascinated with wartime rationing history, recipes and techniques. The thought of someone attempting to lose weight by restricting their diet World War 2 rationing style is really intriguing to me! Carolyn has become quite a World War II history expert in the meantime.

I'm enjoying her recent posts on a Sheffield tea room review; her visit to St. Nicholas Church to see giant floating poppies; and her post about completing a marathon.

https://1940sexperiment.wordpress.com/

LOVELY BOOKS: A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband

To our modern ears, this title sounds rather nauseating. But this is a vintage book published in 1917, when few women at all worked outside the home. We can still enjoy "Bettina's best recipes." This enchanting book is actually written in the form of fiction, with recipes sprinkled throughout. The illustrations are darling. It's free to read online, and I thought you might enjoy paging through it. My favorite chapter is "A Christmas Breakfast," which starts on page 325.

A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband, at The Internet Archive

LOVELY FASHION: Mrs. Pomeranz

This delightful Moscow and UK-based clothing line was created by two sisters. Their charming vintage style dresses have been worn by The Puppini Sisters. I love browsing the clothing here. It looks well made, not stuffy, and suitable for both work and dinner out.

My favorite dress here is the "Ella."

http://www.mrs-pomeranz.com/

Mrs. Pomeranz on Facebook

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY:

Boozy Caramel Gingerbread Ice Cream Sandwich Cookies (Sticky Spatula)

Caramel Apple Smoked Gouda Galette (Joanne Eats Well With Others)

Chocolate Caramel Pretzel Bites (The House of Smiths)

Chocolate Peanut Butter Caramel Mousse Pie (Handle the Heat)

Crispy Bacon and Tomato Scrolls (The Pink Whisk)

Crispy Burnt Garlic Veggie Noodles (Savory Bites Recipes)

Crispy Potatoes with Garlic Lemon Avocado Aioli (I Love Vegan)

Layered Potato Cake (The Kitchen Prep Blog)

Gingerbread Caramel Popcorn (The Girl Who Ate Everything)

Mushroom Fontina Flatbread with Crispy Sage (Two Peas and Their Pod)

Peanut Butter and Caramel Bark Recipe (Ella Claire Inspired)

Sea Salt Caramel Hot Cocoa (Thrifty and Thriving)

White Chocolate Cheesecake Naan (Eazy Peazy Meals)


--Copyright 2015 Lovely Living

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Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Winter Kitchen Reset Part 2: Kitchen Appliances

Disney's Frozen "Olaf" Waffle Maker, on Amazon

Today is our second day of kitchen organization. After this week, we'll be ready to throw holiday parties, bake yummy holiday treats, cook comfort foods, and entertain guests. From here on out, we just have to maintain our kitchens in good condition, consistently put items away where they go, keep ahead of messes and clutters, and keep our sinks and counters wiped down and dishwashers emptied.

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • Has it been cold enough at your house to use throw blankets at night, perhaps while you are cozying up on your couch? If so, do you need to launder any? I'm washing a fluffy red throw tonight, as it has an accumulation of dog hair and smells a bit doggy and dusty.
  • Do you have orange juice in the house? Milk? Bread? Eggs? Butter? I want to make sure I have all these things in case I throw a brunch this weekend.
  • Take 5 minutes to sweep or vacuum any floors that need it.
  • Need to use a mud mask or moisturizing treatment on your face tonight? I do!
  • Do any mid-week laundry so you're caught up by the weekend. I don't want to fall behind and then spend my weekend doing laundry!

TODAY'S PROJECT: Kitchen Appliances

Lenox's "Spicy Santa" Pepper Mill, on Amazon

Today let's thoroughly clean the appliances in our kitchens inside and out. We'll start with the big ones (oven, stove, dishwasher). Then we'll move onto smaller appliances (coffeemaker, espresso machine, deep fryer, panini grill, waffle maker, stand mixer, crockpot, rice cooker, Cuisinart, bread maker, juicer, ice cream maker, etc). Hopefully this won't take too very long - if we put our appliances away clean after using them each and every time.

Besides cleaning the appliances on our countertops, let's not forget to take appliances out of our cupboards, pantry and closets too. Don't assume something is clean just because it's been in a cupboard. It may have gotten dusty, or not been cleaned thoroughly before being put away.

SAFETY CHECK:

Before cleaning and disinfecting your appliances, check for wear and tear on electric cords.

CLEANING:

Ginger and Yuzu All Purpose Cleanser, from Method, via Amazon

Run the self-clean cycle on your oven. Run a load of white vinegar through your coffee maker and then another load of plain hot water through it to clean it out. Run a load of white vinegar through your dishwasher, too. Clean your dishwasher filter. Freshen your garbage disposal by grinding half a lemon through it. (Use the other cut half of the lemon to flavor your water or tea today). Clean the vents at the bottom of your refrigerator.

ALMOST DONE:

Winter Forest Cleaning Kit, from Williams-Sonoma

Let's wipe down our counters again and put the appliances back where they go. See if you can clear off your kitchen counters a bit more - can you find new homes for appliances that sit on the counter but don't get used every day? (Right now I have a rice cooker taking up room on my counter. I tend to think we use it every day, but it hasn't been used in about a week).

Put some thought into getting rid of appliances you honestly don't use. (Tortilla maker? Electric iced tea maker? Ice cream maker? An old Beaba Babycook you no longer use now that your toddler grew up?) You might have a friend or relative who would like to try out the bread machine you've only used twice, your ice cream maker that you don't seem to make time to use, or your espresso machine now that you quit drinking coffee.

SCENT YOUR HOME:

Winter Forest Candle, from Williams-Sonoma

Spritz your kitchen with your favorite home spray. Perhaps you left a fragrant candle burning this whole time while you were cleaning. Or you can boil a pot of cinnamon, water and citrus peels to make the kitchen smell nice. (I love buying inexpensive cinnamon at Trader Joe's. It makes filling your home with cinnamon scents very affordable!)

LOVELY BLOGS: Fiction Food Cafe

Here's a darling blog with a novel premise (heh, get it?) The recipes here are inspired by books, movies, video games and television shows. Some fun, inventive recent posts include a Caramel Apple Hocus Latte based on "Ever After High"; some Sour Cherry Scones based on a novel called "Carry On;" cabbage rolls based on a video game called "Fantasy Life;" and some Alice in Wonderland themed Mushroom Scones. How fun!

http://www.fiction-food.com/

LOVELY BOOKS: The Hands-On Home

I'm not personally a very DIY, crafty type person, but I do love books that encourage us to cook seasonally and live with the seasons. This book just came out this fall. I'm thinking it might be a really nice Christmas gift for a couple of friends who are more likely than me to be interested in natural homekeeping, preserving and canning, etc.

The chapter for each season includes recipes for cooking; recipes for natural bath and body and homekeeping supplies, and preserves.

The Hands-On Home, on Amazon

LOVELY PARTIES: The Bookish Banquet

I absolutely adore this idea! Chantal throws "Bookish Banquet" themed dinner parties, describing them as "literary pop-up dinners." I'm enjoying browsing her archive of past events and their menus, which included a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy dinner, a Sherlock Holmes dinner, and a Nights at the Circus dinner. I'm so inspired to start something like this in my city, but I realistically know I don't have the skillset it would take to pull this off.

Chantal is running a Kickstarter to fund her Bookish Banquets cookbook.

http://www.bookishbanquet.com/

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY:

Banana Coconut Saffron Muffins (Just Homemade)

Brown Sugar Bourbon Loaf (Cookie Madness)

Christmas Morning Brioche and Tomato Bake (A Bountiful Kitchen)

Danish Salted Butter Cookies (Rise and Render)

Hotels That Go All Out for Christmas (Fox59)

How and Why to Throw a Gentleman's Dinner (The Art of Manliness)

Jolly Holly Cocktail (Grain Changer)

Packed Lunch: Avocado Rice Bowl (The Usual Saucepans)

Peppermint Texas Sheet Cake (Recipe Girl)

Swedish Saffron Braided Bread with Vanilla Cream (Del's Cooking Twist)


--Copyright 2015 Lovely Living

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Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Resetting Our Kitchens for Festive Holiday Cooking and Baking

Christmas Apron, from Amazon

This week I want to get my kitchen, baking tools, supplies, and decorations ready for the holiday baking I'm eagerly anticipating. I usually do a "Fall kitchen reset" in early October, but this year was a little different. I threw a huge catered sit-down dinner party for around 20 people, and had to completely clean out my kitchen and empty both fridges and freezers for the caterers. It was a fun challenge - eat up all my foods from my fridge and freezer and not go grocery shopping for a month! Also, I decluttered my kitchen majorly, way more than normal.

Now I'm ready to get out some of the kitchen clutter again - it's ok to have my KitchenAid stand mixer on the counter if I'm using it every weekend, and I probably need to keep out a box of edible decorations for cakes and candies.

This week I'll break my kitchen organization into manageable bits - less than an hour per evening. Follow along and see if you get any inspiration or come up with any better ideas for your own kitchen!

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • Need to sweep leaves off your front porch? I was worried about my mail carrier slipping on my porch today!
  • Does your entryway or front hall need sweeping or vacuuming? Mine does - dog hair and leaves!
  • Any Netflix or Redbox movies to return this week? Any library books to be dropped off? I like to do errands like this while I'm already "out and about."
  • Is there fresh fruit in a bowl in your kitchen or on your dining table, waiting to be sliced and eaten? I have some pears that I'd better eat up tonight as I suspect they won't be so tasty tomorrow.
  • Do you have tissues in your purse, car and coat pockets? They'll come in handy during your walks or errands this cold, frosty week.
  • The month is winding down. In fact, it's over tonight. Anything you wanted to get done this month, any place you wanted to go, any remaining projects to finish up? Bills to pay by tomorrow?

TODAY'S PROJECT: Kitchen Reset Part 1

Tonight I won't have a lot of time after I get back from taking my nephew to karate and going to Family Dinner Night. I'll likely be tired and want to lounge around watching an hour of TV while I fold laundry read in bed a bit.

"Orange Clove" Candle Tin, at Target.com

So I'll begin to prepare my kitchen quite simply tonight, by scrubbing the wood fronts of my cupboards, mopping the floor, and wiping the front of my refrigerator. I've already cleaned the stove and counters off today as part of my regular daily housekeeping duties. I'll take out trash and recycling, light the new Orange Clove candle I got for my kitchen, then make a cup of decaf English Breakfast tea to take down to the TV room with me.

If you were to choose to take on your kitchen this week, what project might you prioritize for this evening?

LOVELY BEVERAGES: Par Avion Tea

I love the streamlined, mid-century modern look of these tea tins. I also like their atypical flavor offerings: They sell dessert teas, maple sugar tea, Belgian Chocolate Chai, Chocolate Mint Rooibos, Caramel Popcorn Tea, Toasted Almond Cookie, Chocolate Ginger Bourbon, Watermelon Lime, and Golden Apricot, among others. If I'm gifting any teas this Christmas, it will be teas from this intriguing line.

Par Avion Tea.com

Par Avion Tea, on Amazon

LOVELY BOOKS: The Housekeeper's Week

Here's another one of the housekeeping how-to manuals I love perusing when I'm about to embark on a big cleaning project. (Or after I'm lounging around recovering from one!)

The author of this one is a stern looking Marion Harland (see her photo on the first page). She instructs us on putting and keeping our houses in order, budgeting the household expenses, and keeping our family happy with an attractive home. She has the week's chores and duties split up day by day. Monday is Wash Day, with five chapters devoted to that teaching us how to accomplish the tasks for that day. Tuesday is Ironing Day; Wednesday is Baking Day; and Friday is devoted entirely to ridding one's home of pests and vermin!

I'm especially enjoying the chapter called "According to the season"

The Housekeeper's Week, at The Internet Archive

LOVELY FRAGRANCE: Cocktail Scented Candles from Bath & Body Works

These cocktail and champagne themed candles might be nice to burn at a cocktail party, or gift to your friend who enjoys imbibing. The line includes Champagne Toast, Pomegranate Prosecco Punch, Spiced Apple Toddy, and Cheers Mulled Wine.

LOVELY SHOPS: Cecil & Clyde

This shop sells the most darling and unique cottage home decor pillows. They're so adorable! They also sell some sweet felt Christmas ornaments, heart-shaped pillows, and pillows in animal shapes.

My favorite item here is this camper caravan Tooth Fairy pillow.

www.etsy.com/shop/CecilClyde

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY:

Argentinian Dulce du Leche Cookies (Curious Cuisiniere)

Bacon Blue Cheese Mashed Potato Waffles (How Sweet it Is)

Bacon and Leek Flat Bread (Home to Heather)

Chocolate Peppermint Sandwich Cookies (Celebrating Sweets)

Create an Enchanted Forest With This DIY Shadow Box (PopSugar)

DIY Snow Covered Pinecones (Ella Claire Inspired)

Dreamy Winter Hot Cocoa Stand Party (Hostess With the Mostess)

Edible Christmas Gifts in Jars (Half Baked Harvest)

Finnish Cinnamon Rolls (My Dear Kitchen in Helsinki)

Hummus With Pomegranate Molasses (La Cuisine Helene)

Maple Mustard Roasted Rainbow Carrots (Sugar Love Spices)

Mulled Cranberry Wine (Crafty Cooking Mama)

The Norwegian Secret to Enjoying a Long Winter (Fast Company)

Roasted Root Vegetables (Gimme Some Oven)

Springerle Joy Christmas Cookies (The Bearfoot Baker)


--Copyright 2015 Lovely Living

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Friday, November 27, 2015

De-Autumning My House

The glass pumpkin I am tempted to buy and put away for next year's autumn decoration

Generally throughout the years I have abstained from putting up any Christmas decorations until December 1st. I've never been one of those people who rush to decorate the tree the morning after Thanksgiving. It's important to me to enjoy each season in its own time and not rush the next. (Also, on the day after Thanksgiving I'm usually busy cleaning up, reheating leftovers, watching movies by the fire in my pajamas, etc).

This year, however, I find myself eager to at least take down my autumn decorations immediately, if not put up my Christmas ones. In October I had a very large formal "magical autumn woodlands" dinner party. I decorated my house for autumn far more than is normal for me to do. Right now I'm definitely tired of the clutter, the orange-and-brown garlands festooned in so many places, the pumpkins tucked into various nooks. I'm tired of smelling pumpkin spice candles, and glad I'm burning up the last of them this morning.

My project today is to de-autumn my house! Follow along with me - I bet more than a few of you Lovely Living readers are decorating for Christmas today too!

QUICK THINGS TO DO TODAY:

  • Am I the only person who needs to sort out their Tupperware/Reusable Container cupboard after yesterday's feast?
  • I'm bundling up to take my dogs for a walk today. It's pretty cold, but I want to take advantage of our rare November sunshine.
  • Anybody you forgot to call yesterday to wish a happy Thanksgiving? Make some time for catch up phone calls tonight.
  • Need to do any laundry after yesterday's feast? Kitchen towels, tablecloth, napkins, aprons, your clothing you wore to someone's turkey-scented home?
  • Time to pull out warm socks, mittens and gloves so you have them ready for impromptu winter walks.

TODAY'S PROJECT: Removing Autumn Decorations

Autumn Door Wreath, from Simple by Brooke on Etsy

Want to take a peek at my To Do list for today's UnDecorating project?

  • Remove garlands and lights from both fireplace mantels
  • Put edible pumpkins (strewn throughout house) in yard compost bin
  • Find and remove all the non-edible decorative pumpkins from inside the house, front steps, and back porch
  • Remove faux branches and leaves from windowsills, tops of curio cabinets, and tops of bookshelves
  • Pack up and put away any orange, teal, or brown vases, glass home decor objects, etc. as well as any autumn themed or pumpkin type items.
  • Remove orange berry wreath from front door and replace with Christmas wreath.
  • Remove autumn wreaths from both fireplaces; from kitchen; and from living room walls; replace with Christmas ones.
  • Swap out Christmasy red picture frames for the orange and brown ones I've been using currently - update family photos with any newer ones received in the mail recently.
  • Swap out the tablerunners, beaded mats and placemats I use on my coffee tables and end tables for Christmas ones.
  • Exchange fall and autumn brown, green, and orange pillows on sofas, side chairs and couches for Christmas themed ones I have stored under my staircase.
  • Febreze couches and pillows with Christmas scents.
  • Change brown and teal tablecloth out for a festive red one.
  • Burn up the last of the orange and pumpkin candles; set out Christmas scented candles and anything red or green.
  • Swap out brown mosaic glass oil home fragrance warmer for my Christmas one.
  • Lastly - this is the big one - remove all my Halloween and autumn "Christmas" lights from my trees and bushes outdoors. Brr.

What's on your To Do list today?

LOVELY BATH & BODY: Frosted Plum

Frosted Plum is one of The Body Shop's so-called "bridge" scents. It's designed to be a fun fragrance for in between autumn's ever-present pumpkin scents and Christmas's peppermint and cranberry fragrances. The line includes home fragrance oil, lotion and body butter, shower gel, hand cream, and a candle. This is exactly the type of thing I like to gift to people whose birthdays fall between Halloween and Christmas. I bet they get sick of pumpkin and Christmas themed gifts!

Frosted Plum, at The Body Shop

LOVELY BEVERAGES: Caramel Vanilla Tea

Here's a nice tea to serve with dessert after your holiday dinner party or cocktail party. It does have caffeine, so some guests might want to abstain or choose something herbal instead. I like the mild flavor that doesn't compete with your dessert. I also like that it's not pumpkiny or Christmasy - perfect for this pre-Christmas, post-Thanksgiving weekend! It's part of Republic of Tea's "Cuppa Cake Tea" line.

Caramel Vanilla Tea, on Amazon

LOVELY BLOGS: Sweet Phi

Phi blogs from her home in Milwaukee. Her blog focuses on simple, easy step-by-step recipes to make your dinnertime easier. Recent posts I've enjoyed here include her coffee crumble apple pie; Super Easy 5 Ingredient Thanksgiving Pumpkin Pie and her Easy Sangria with Secret Ingredient recipe.

Don't miss her section called Five Ingredient Fridays!

http://www.sweetphi.com/

LOVELY BOOKS: The New Christmas Tree

This book of creative Christmas tree decorating ideas just came out in time for the 2015 holiday season. Author Carrie Brown shows us how to reinvent our Christmas trees, incorporate our old heirloom ornaments into the new trees, and dares us to embrace new color palettes. For each of the 24 Christmas tree ideas here, she presents crafts and tips for making the garlands, ornaments, and and toppers.

Not everybody is going to want to completely redo the way they decorate their Christmas trees. But I thought perhaps if any readers put up multiple trees throughout their houses like I do every year, this book might give some nice inspiration for our secondary trees.

The New Christmas Tree, on Amazon

The New Christmas Tree, at Barnes & Noble

LOVELY BOOKS: The Royal Confectioner

Today I'm enjoying browsing this 1874 cookbook on "ornamental confectionery." It's unlikely I will ever attempt (or achieve!) one of these gorgeous creations, but it's sure fun to read about them.

There are chapters on preserving fruits in bottles and bottling fruits; preserving fruit pulps in order to make ices; jellies and jams; compotes; using colored and perfumed sugars; using dried fruits; dessert cakes; "biscottini"; meringes; nougats; and so much more. I'm thrilled to have found this! And grateful it's been scanned in online and that we can read it for free.

The Royal Confectioner, at The Internet Archive

LOVELY LINKS FOR TODAY:

Apricot Mustard Sausage Rolls (Hungry Girl Por Vida)

Brown Sugar Shortbread (Alexandra Cooks)

Cashew Caramel Shortbread Bars (Bakerita)

Cranberry Apple Crumb Pie (All Roads Lead to the Kitchen)

Cranberry Jam Chicken Salad Sandwich (Mind Over Batter)

Cranberry Meatballs (The Lean Green Bean)

Cranberry Moscow Mule (Edible Crafts)

Cranberry Orange Gin Fizz with Thyme (BonBon Break)

Healthy Thanksgiving Leftovers Salad (Simmer and Boil)

Homemade Christmas Gifts (Hotly Spiced)

Kentucky Bourbon Cranberry Sauce (Jenn's Random Scraps)

Roasted Squash, Pecan and Cranberry Chopped Salad (Bran Appetit)

You Can Make Pie Out of Almost Anything (Munchies.Vice.com)


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