The Month of the Pumpkin Lives On!

I’m a little rusty when it comes to this blogging thing…you see, I told myself that I was going to revive The Month of the Pumpkin Challenge this fall (since I essentially missed the entire fall/winter season last year) and I have kept my word! I just forgot to blog about it. But here I am…always the procrastinator ;)

The first dessert I made was a pumpkin cake from Pinterest. My experience with Pinterest recipes thus far has been completely hit or miss, and I still haven’t made my mind up about this one. I was lured in by its simplicity and cheapness, so if I take those factors into consideration, I suppose it was good. It wasn’t a very pretty dish, and I wouldn’t present it at a dinner party, but it served well as an easy, work night dessert.

Here is the link to the recipe.  Sorry, no pics. I just plopped it into a large tupperware container so we could eat it throughout the week, so like I said, it wasn’t very pretty.

picture from noblepig.com

—————————————————————————————————————————————— Next, I wanted to make a pumpkin-y breakfast. I made Pumpkin Oat Muffins from the tried-and-true Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites cookbook. The only reason they weren’t fantastic is because I accidentally cooked them too long and they got a little dry and a little too brown. As a result, I opted to not take a photo of the sad little burnt muffins, for the sake of their dignity as well as mine ;)

Pumpkin Oat Muffins – adapted from the Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites cookbook

1 1/4 cups unbleached flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup rolled oats ( ground in a blender or food processor until they match the consistency of cornmeal)

1 egg

3/4 cup pumpkin (or winter squash or sweet potato puree)

3/4 cup evaporated skim milk

1/2 cup unsweetened pineapple juice

2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

apricot preserves

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and prep your muffin tins. (My batch made 15 muffins.) In a large bowl, sift together the first 5 ingredients. In another bowl, beat the egg and then add the pumpkin, milk, juice, oil and sugar. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry and stir just until combined. Spoon mixture into tins and add a spoonful of apricot preserves on top of each muffin. (The preserves melt and spread out to add a sweet coating to the top of each muffin.) Bake for 20-25 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

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Then we made Creamy Pumpkin Risotto and it was DELICIOUS. This is the dish that spurned me to get off my lazy arse and blog because this one needs to be shared! The recipe came from the Food Network site (click here) and we made a few changes, but this one is a keeper!

We used diced butternut squash (diced very small) and we substituted cream cheese for marscapone (because we are cheap bastards). Also, 35-40 minutes in the oven is not enough, ours went a little over an hour before it was perfectly done. (When we checked it at 40 minutes and it was still a soupy mess, we were quite disheartened and wrote this one off as a total failure. Luckily, we left it in the oven, went back to watching The Shining, and were very pleasantly surprised to find it had morphed into a fluffy, beautiful risotto during those last 20 minutes!)

The next time we make it, we’re going to briefly saute the onions and squash prior to putting it in the oven, just to give it a little more flavor, but seriously, this is one of my new favorite pumpkin dishes.

YUM!

Next up: Eggplant, Green Bean, and Pumpkin Curry!

Outlander Soaps from On a Branch Soaps!

After waiting with bated breath, I finally received my wonderful Outlander soaps from Tara! (They had quite the journey from Ontario to Tennessee!) They both smell amazing, but the lovely lemongrass scent of Claire’s soap was calling my name the loudest, so I tore into it and jumped into the shower. Jamie’s soap smells just as delicious, but I’m saving him for later ;) I consider myself a bit of a home-made soap connoisseur, and I can tell you that these are quality soaps, and I love that she took the time to include a personal, handwritten note! A perfect gift for an Outlander fan! I’m so happy! Thanks again, Tara (and Theresa for hosting the giveaway)!!

Now, go check out On a Branch Soaps on Etsy and buy some!

Instead of being realistic and thinking about Jamie and Claire’s lack of hygiene, from here on out I will imagine them smelling like these beautiful soaps :)

I am banned from time travel!

Each year at work, we are required to do an ethics refresher in which we read over the things we cannot do and then sign a form. There is one particular item that always catches my eye…

Time traveling is questionable conduct?? Whoever wrote this clearly doesn't know Mr. Fraser ;)

And I invariably joke (to myself) about how tragic it is to have a job that seeks to prevent me from going through the stones to see Jamie. It always brings a smile to my face! As you can see, my job is terribly exciting.

Speaking of being sucked into a time-warp, I am on Pinterest now! Whether or not this is a good thing, I have yet to decide, but if you want to be Pinterest friends, click here, and then leave me a comment or shoot me an e-mail with your user name so I can follow you! Outlander Kitchen’s latest post inspired me to create an Outlander board :) Happy pinning!

Outlander Birthday Double Whammy!

Hellooooooo, my long lost friends! I hope you have all been well and happy for the past 3 months! I rather unintentionally took a hiatus from my blog – my brain has been overburdened with heavy philosophical questions and ponderings that I won’t bother you with- but oddly enough, I didn’t even have the slightest desire to blog.

So, what has brought me back to the blogging world? Well, I turned 30 last week (Eeek! Nah, I’m totally over it at this point) and Richie made me an amazing dinner that deserves to be shared. He created an Outlander-themed menu based off of Outlander Kitchen’s incredibly creative blog. (I often read her posts aloud to him because they’re always either cracking me up or blowing me away with imaginativeness…and apparently, he was paying attention!)

First off was Mr. Willoughby’s Coral Knob (a.k.a. cheese balls)

And then came Roger and Bree’s Pizza (or in our case, Richie and Bri’s Pizza, he he)

And for dessert, we had Stephen Bonnet’s Salted Chocolate Pretzel Balls!

The food was seriously amazing, and of course he gets major points on multiple levels, but I was probably most giddy about the Outlander connection :) Richie is obsessed with the pretzel balls, he ate them for breakfast the next day and he actually made them again today. It’s a running joke in our household that he is in love with “Stephen Bonnet’s Balls” ;)

(Richie accidentally deleted the one pic where his eyes were open...)

It was too hot inside, so we relocated outdoors and Levi thought it smelled delicious!

And as if that wasn’t enough…

I had entered Outlander Kitchen’s Giveaway for Outlander themed soaps – a bar of “Jamie’s Soap” and a bar of “Claire’s Soap” from On a Branch Soap shop (on Etsy) – and lo and behold, I WON!!!!! I am still in disbelief because I never win anything! And home-made soaps are literally the one single indulgent item that I allow myself, so if I could’ve chosen a giveaway to win, it would have been this one. I am going to LUXURIATE in these soaps!! I am SO EXCITED I CAN’T EVEN TELL YOU. Thank you so much, Theresa and Tara!!!

jamie's-oatmeal-soap

Jamie's-oatmeal-soap

claire-soap

Claire's soap

Mamaw

I lost my Mamaw, Shirley, 2 weeks ago to cancer. She was vibrant, friendly, thoughtful, loyal and compassionate. She cared about people and animals. She would give you the shirt off her back and seamlessly made everyone around her feel included and welcome. She had the greenest thumb I’ve ever seen and took pleasure in cooking huge, delicious, country meals. She always made me my favorite yellow cake with chocolate frosting (even if there were 15 other desserts already made).

 

She loved the color blue and I’ll always think of her when I see antique blue dishware or blue glass bottles in a windowsill. She always had her nails perfectly painted pink and yet she was tough. She and my Papaw spent a chapter of their lives working together building houses – by themselves. She enjoyed crafting and creating and had a wide range of skill.

The art that she was best known for was quilting and I would describe her as a prolific quilter. I have no idea how many quilts she produced in her lifetime, but I know that she gave one to all of her children and grandchildren every Christmas for many, many years, not to mention all that she gave to other family, friends, and church members. She made one for my husband (who, at the time, was only my boyfriend of 3 months) to welcome him into the family - I guess she just knew that he was a keeper ;)

Our heirloom wedding gift.

This was my gift when I went away to college. It was a bright spot in my dreary dorm room and it's still one of my favorites.

A recent gift to Richie. The amount of hand stitching boggles my mind.

I met many of her friends and fellow church members for the first time at her funeral and almost each person that spoke to me had a story about my Mamaw giving them a quilt, a baby quilt for a grandchild, a wall hanging, a pillow, etc. I was also particularly touched by the fact that most of these people called me by the nickname that my Mamaw had given me. All of these strangers also knew about my husband’s recent health difficulties and each one asked about him. We were always on her mind. It was a very moving experience.

It still hasn’t fully sunken in that I will never see her again and to say that she will be missed is an understatement. The last time I spoke to her, I told her that my interest in quilting was piqued by the baby quilt I recently made for a friend. She told me to take it up and carry on the tradition, and I plan to give it my best shot.

Craft-Mania and Best Wishes for the New Year!!

My last post of 2011! I can’t believe a whole year has passed, but I have to admit I’m not terribly sad to see it go. It did end on a good note, though, and I hope that my current productivity level proves indicative of what’s to come next year. During the month of December, I was a crafting MACHINE! I finally had the time to finish up some projects that were started in September and October, as well as make a host of home-made Christmas gifts. I started by finishing little W’s intended Halloween costume…a little late, but I say every day is a good day to dress like a gnome!

This is so cute I can hardly stand it!!

I think he likes it :)

I finished baby Mallory’s quilt. It was my first time using a rotary cutter and I rather enjoyed the whole experience. Perhaps I’ll become a quilter and continue the family tradition.

The finished product in it's new home!

Next came the Christmas gifts, and I started by making a throw pillow out of a discarded curtain panel. Richie and I liked it so much, I decided to make one for our house, too ;)

I used some vintage 1970′s trim that I had been toting around for, literally, 10 years. I think it fits perfectly with the fabric! One of my new year’s resolutions is to actually use up all the fabric and trim that has filled our entire guest bedroom closet.

I also decided to try my hand at making infinity scarves (9 total), and I’m very happy with the result. I liked them so much that I made a few for myself as well.

(How did I manage to not get any pics of the scarves I gave away??)

And then I made some craft brooches for the crafty ladies in my family. (And, of course, I made an extra one for me, too!)

Finally, I wanted to make some foodie gifts and I decided on Outlander Kitchen (via her Island Vittles blog)’s infused Pear Brandy (go check it out!).  It was fun to make and a huge hit with my friends. I can’t wait to try her Rhubarb Gin when the weather warms up! We also experimented with some blueberry and blackberry infused Jack Daniel’s.

I forgot to take pics of the finished product, but they looked beautiful in the simple jars with a little raffia bow.

The Jack-soaked berries were way too strong for our tastes, so we gave them all to Rachel. Come to think of it, I haven’t heard from her since! I’ll drop her a line later to check in ;)

Here’s wishing you all a very safe and Happy New Year!! Best wishes for 2012!! See ya next year ;)

Merry Christmas!!

My furry babies are staying with their grandparents for the time being, so I wasn’t able to take their annual Christmas photo this year. While this makes me very sad, I’m sure it makes Ruby and Levi very happy. I will, however, take this opportunity to look back on years past and share some pre-blog pics….

2010

2009 - This was the infamous "Kitty Turtleneck," also nicknamed "The Children of the Corn"

2008 - Their first set of sweaters!

And if that wasn’t crazy enough…before I had Ruby and Levi, there was Rupert Hibbert the toad. You guessed it, he got dressed up for our Christmas card as well!

2006

I hope I haven’t frightened anyone away, at least now you can say you’ve seen a toad dressed up as Santa, right? It’s a good thing I found some puppies shortly thereafter :)

Happy Holidays, everyone!!!

The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon

*Warning: this post contains spoilers.*

I finished The Scottish Prisoner last night and it’s definitely my favorite in the Lord John series. I’m going to forego a lengthy summary of the book and instead focus on the biggest impressions it had on me.

In a nutshell: it’s 1760 and Lord John is obligated to complete a task asked of him by an army comrade on his deathbed. LJ involves his brother, Hal, who then decides to involve (or rather, use) Jamie (still being held prisoner at Helwater); thus setting up the reunion of LJ and Jamie and their subsequent journey to Ireland in which they must work together to catch the bad guy and mend their own tattered relationship along the way.

While this book is actually quite sad and nothing swoon-worthy happens (which usually does when Jamie Fraser is involved), I ultimately found it to be perfectly paced, simultaneously heartwarming and heart wrenching, and above all, a treasure trove of answers to the myriad of questions surrounding Jamie’s time at Helwater.

Peat bog in Ireland

On the surface, it may seem like a fortuitous dalliance or a random snapshot into the past, but to those of us who are fully invested in the characters, it is a very important revelation of what got those characters where they are today (or, er, in 1781…) and I would say that this book is the most important – regarding character development – of all the Lord John books. Scottish Prisoner is required reading if you want to be in the Outlander fan club!

Jamie Fraser and Lord John Grey are two of my favorite characters (ever). I actually love these men. DG knew exactly what she was doing by devoting an entire novel to them…I daresay she couldn’t go wrong. Jamie and LJ are like golden retrievers: tried and true, an all-around classic. While there may be a few cliques or stereotypes surrounding them, you can’t go wrong with this breed because you’ll always have a loyal, overall good dog (who is pretty to look at) at the end of the day.

I was dying to know what happened after that infamous scene in Brotherhood of the Blade and the niggling thought of how the heck did they ever get past that? was ALWAYS floating around in the back of my mind. Therefore, I am so grateful to finally have an explanation, even though I am still amazed that Jamie did get past it. (Most. Awkward. Situation. Ever.)

This book gave me even more respect for Jamie. The expression “be the bigger man” kept popping into my head because Jamie was always doing just that. He had so much sadness weighing on him and the rawness of his longing for Claire, even after 14 years, was truly gut-wrenching. The fact that he was able to keep his head up and carry on despite the degradation to his name and character (even going so far as to help those who unjustly looked down upon him), further proved that he is a true gentleman.

One scene that I found particularly moving was when Lord John and Lord Dunsany went for a leisurely ride, towards the end of the book. Dunsany describes how the other grooms don’t make things easy for Jamie and that he keeps to himself. Things have never been easy for Jamie, but he stands strong and perseveres. But it was his relationship with William that I found most heartbreaking. He’s been removed from his family, lost his wife and child (without even laying eyes on her), lost his title and rightful authority, and on top of all this, he is forced to watch his only son (the only thing he has left in his life) from a distance and always through a veil of secrecy. And yet he cherishes the small moments and forgoes any chance of freedom to continue that shard of a relationship.

I came away with mixed emotions regarding Lord John’s position in relation to Jamie. While Jamie has the power to make him weak in the knees, LJ is still his master and (by the end of this book) holds authority over his only son as well. In the final pages, when LJ finally realizes that Jamie is in fact, William’s father, I almost got the impression that he happily saw it as another way of lording over the man. But I’m not positive of that, because I can see it many ways: it gives him an excuse to see Jamie (which he was always looking for), and even further, a lifelong connection to him. Not to mention the fact that if he were to give William the best upbringing and education possible (which we actually know to be the case), then Jamie would forever be in debt to LJ for doing what he could not. On the other hand, LJ loves Jamie and cares for him deeply, and would see in William an opportunity to show Jamie how much he loves him, since he can’t actually (physically)show him, which he would very much like to do (don’t we all). As you can see, I’ve not made up my mind on the matter just yet, but Lord John is a very complicated man, which is of course, why I love him ;)

Ruins on Inchaleraun Island, Ireland

Another storyline that I found very enlightening was that of Isobel Dunsany. I have always wondered about her marriage to Lord John, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that this book sheds a little light on the subject. After carrying on in a decidedly snotty and childlike manner, she experienced a very cruel and unfortunate lesson on the importance of choosing an honorable man. Luckily, it was Jamie to the rescue, but I have a feeling that Lord John’s role in comforting her and his vow to keep her secret (especially considering that this followed relatively soon after their poignant scene in Brotherhood) probably resulted in her seeing LJ from a new perspective.

In the end, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and deep down feel like it was “for the fans,” if that makes any sense. It’s kind of crazy to think that I’m saying that about a book that doesn’t have Claire in it (!), but…so many answers! I love answers! Even if you haven’t read the other Lord John books, you really must read this one.

Interesting link: a Sassenach reflects on Scottish language

I stumbled upon this today and it made me smile, so I thought I’d share. I especially like the part about “juice” and “ginger” in reference to pop. Where I’m from in Tennessee, we use the term “coke” to refer to any generic carbonated beverage. I’ll ask for a coke, which is then followed with “what kind?”

http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2011/11/reflections-of-a-scot-down-south/

Scottish bar stool for kilt wearers (completely unrelated to aforementioned post)