Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Beauty of A Snow Day

There is something unequivocally beautiful in a snow day. Yes, it is annoying, schedules are disrupted, plans are thrown out the window, driving anywhere can be hazardous and a basic pain in the neck if you have to go out. 

But doesn't it "force" you to do things together that sometimes you do not have the time to do in a week  pencilled in with the "busy" activities of a day to day agenda?  Even if your participants are being bribed by the thought of a nice warm fire to warm them up after a romp in the snow? How else would those logs get into the house to start that fire...they don't walk there themselves. (sound like anyone?)

Those romps in the snow, are in essence, an integral part of childhood; a time to let loose, to use your imagination, 

to feel utterly exhausted because you have played with every fiber of your being. These integral parts of childhood that need not, to ever be forgotten, no matter how old you are. Those are beautiful moments.

How many of you noticed deliciously enticing photos of crock pot comfort food flying around Facebook today? Doesn't this kind of snow day entice one to cook up a belly satisfying meal that makes the whole house smell delish? We could not resist and let a large pot of vegetarian chili stew all day. Feeding yourself with soul satisfying homemade food is always beautiful and equally so, is finding the time to make it.

Sometimes, it is just doing nothing that is so beautiful; the slowing down of your mind, caused by the slowing down of your body because in essence, it is the the snow which gives you an excuse to do slow down and notice the beauty around you. Do nothing you say? What about the shoveling and the animal care and the wet clothes caused by the kids playing in the snow? Breathe deeply, take it all in, let the brisk air hit your cheeks and relish that you are here to take it all in.

The snow causes everything to be of the same hue which embodies a peaceful feel.

What other time of the year lends itself to such architectural changes on the landscape that are created by nature and are, oh so very fleeting?

Even if a glimpse of summer chairs sends thoughts of yearning for warmer weather to enjoy them in...don't succumb.
 Live in the now,
live in what has been beautifully made for you that causes you to slow your spinning world down for just a is just a day (except if you live in Boston).

Seize it, for there is always time to hop back on the merry go round... tomorrow.

With wishes that you all enjoyed the beauty of the day in whatever way made your heart happy~
(maybe you never got out of your jammies? that makes mine happy!)

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Treats for Your Sweets

Welcome to my yummy snack that I had while in the middle of making and baking. Greek yogurt with honey and raspberries along with a French Vanilla Hot Cocoa topped with whipped cream and peppermint marshmallows. I had to self indulge for a little after being surrounded by chocolate, sugar, chocolate, toffee, chocolate, peppermint...did I say chocolate?

I started making Valentine's Day goodies several years back and my children have developed favorites, and so have I. Since three of them will not be home on this day of love, I had to send them some love....
and some junk food to make them feel at home. We have culled out certain recipes over the years and the following seem to be the tried and true. Out went the packages yesterday and my kitchen has regained a sense of normalcy today. It takes a little time to individually package them up but they look so pretty and make great little tokens of love, appreciation and friendship. 

I like to start with the baked goods first and then while they are baking, move onto the items that I can make while the cookies are baking. I had a couple of requests for chocolate chip cookies and happened to find a new recipe on the back of the large bag of Ghirardelli semi sweet morels that I purchased at Sam's Club. They are the best chips for melting in the microwave when you want to cover things in chocolate...and who does not want to cover things in chocolate?

So the first item to bake was the cookies. As they were baking, I lined up all of the Pretzel Snaps from Snyder's of Hanover on the cookie sheets. It helps to have have a helper with this but since my main helper is in college :( 
and my other potentials were either sleeping or in school...or maybe in school sleeping...just kidding teachers! I was in this alone so patience is a virtue but the pay offs are really tasty.

To assemble the M & M Chocolate Pretzels follow the steps below:

1. Line up pretzels so they are level on a baking sheet. As you are doing this, let the oven preheat to 250 degrees.
2. Top each pretzel with either a chocolate melt, 2 or 3 chocolate chips or one Ghirardelli chip. 
3. Pop in the over and watch carefully so that they bake just until the chocolate softens.
4. Once the chocolate is soft, top with an M & M or a marshmallow or a caramel chocolate candy...yum. Let cool 

After those were assembled I moved onto the Chocolate Covered Pretzels and Oreos

1. Pour 2 cups of the Ghirardelli semi sweet morsels into a plastic container that is microwave safe or a bowl that you do not mind trashing when you are finished. When melting chocolate this way, it hardens pretty quickly onto the bowl which makes it tough to clean. I use the same container over and over again. Just pop it into a large Ziploc bag once finished and store with your baking accessories.  Follow the instructions on the bag but I have found that the chocolate melts the best if you put it in the micro for 30 seconds at a time and stir in between each 30 seconds. Stop when the chocolate is soft and gooey. Do not over cook for it gets too hard and will not dip well.

2. Dip 3/4 of the pretzel into the melted chocolate or you can coat the whole thing which is quite a bit messier. Set the pretzel onto a large sheet of wax paper to let dry a bit. Before the chocolate dries (you know it is dry when the chocolate clouds over) dip the pretzel into whatever topping you desire. Here I used toffee bits which is our family favorite.

 Other toppings that are great are mini chocolate chips, mini M & M's, mini marshmallows, sprinkles, chopped nuts, really anything that is tasty and will adhere to the chocolate. After dipping or sprinkling on the toppings, set them back down on the wax paper until dry.

Repeat the same process with Oreos if you so desire...and who would not desire a chocolate covered Oreo?

I always round out the treats with a homemade hot chocolate mix. I have done different flavors in the past but this year I did a French Vanilla Hot Cocoa Mix

This recipe makes a large amount of 19 1/2 cups. You can cut it in half if you do not need as much

1 box (1 pound 10 ounces) nonfat dry milk (8 cups)
4 cups sifted confectioners sugar
2 jars (8 ounces each) French vanilla flavored nondairy creamer or another flavor of your choice
1 jar (11 ounces) nondairy creamer
1 box  (1 pound ) chocolate milk mix
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups chocolate chips

In a very large bowl, combine all ingredients; stir until well blended. store in an airtight container until packaging.

You can package in brown paper lunch bags sealed with a heart doily or in canning jars like the above photo.

 Cellophane bags make another great option. 

Kraft paper cardboard boxes with glassine windows make a nice way to display the treats as well.
Use your imagination on how you want to label them but be sure to enclose or attach serving directions.
To serve: Stir 3 heaping tablespoons into 6 ounces hot water. Top with marshmallows and enjoy!

You can add some chocolate candy wrapped in festive colors to the cellophane bags to add some dimension.

I added some of their favorites to my sweets packages and off they time for a Valentine arrival.

Mission it is time to have a Valentine's Day themed drink.

I am really going out on a limb here with a sparkling strawberry lemonade.

All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt.

~Charles M. Schultz

Happy Valentine's Day!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

How DO You Get it All Done?

2015 has commenced with a bang, greeted headlong with enthusiasm, new found energy and a chance to "do it all over again" mentality. Winter weather and the anticipation of possible "snow days" cause us to turn inwards and reflect on life, our goals, our aspirations and...our junk! Purging and de-cluttering strategies fill up my "To Do List, which really should be kept on a Rolodex file (remember those ?) so I can just keep flipping through them as I shuffle them to tomorrow, next week, month or year. Very little seems to get checked off in it's entirety.

This list is about two years old and I did pretty well on this one!

In the hopes of not sounding like a braggart, women often ask me, "How do you do it all?" when they first find out that I have a large family, a little farm, a labor of love business and that everything looks "pretty." I secretly cringe inside as my list of unaccomplished projects, plans and the likes, float in front of my eyes. Sometimes you might even see me blink a bit when asked that question... it kind of looks like a tic.
 I think of the stack of all occasion cards and unwrapped gifts that have both been written and purchased but have never been wrapped or sent. I take inventory in my head of the rooms and closets that need to be de-junked, of their games, artwork, old teaching materials, books, photos etc that I could never throw out. Should one of my children become Picasso what would I have to show of their "early" work. When I have grand kids, surely I will need those "Circle Time" books that I used with their parents? Having four boys, no clothes were EVER thrown out, they were passed down and kept in Rubbermaid containers until someone would grow into them. Umm...I do not think the out grown pants of my 23 year old will ever suffice for my now 13 year old who is at the end of the line. Add the de-cluttering to the list of projects that need to be done and...

What they don't know won't kill them, but it's killing me. Why do so many of us as women, measure ourselves by what we accomplish? By how we keep our houses... By what we do with our kids or don't do...By what App we can download to organize more easily or quickly so that we can DO MORE. Is it really simplifying our life or is it just creating more stuff that you have to keep up with, to renew, to upgrade...why are we always upgrading??? Isn't the grade that we are operating at, "good enough"?

The bottom line is, I don't do it all. I do a lot...but I do not do it all.  One trip into my office will attest to that.

My inspiration board still thinks it is Christmas.

 A trip into the kid's old art room will blow your mind on cementing what I haven't done.

 My unfinished photo albums, one for each kid, the knights and castles themed art work that still hangs on my thirteen year olds walls, the lack of a dresser in my 19 year olds room, the fact that I cannot load any more of those "simplifying" Apps onto my phone because I need to properly download and sort my thousands of photos onto my computer. The computer in which my i-photo keeps shutting down so I cannot access the photos I have already downloaded. That requires a trip to the Apple store...and so on and so on and so on. 

"I need to, I need to, I need to," encircles my head like the smoke from Santa's pipe...I am still thinking about Christmas people because I still "need to" de- Christmas my house. Yes, I am the person of which you speak of when you say, "I cannot believe that her tree is still up and it is almost February!" It's not that I want to extend the Holiday season, love it though I do, it's just that I seem to live life by putting out the fires first and the tree hasn't caught fire...yet.

The tree has lost some of its girth and won't the kids who are still left home after the college departures be happy to find out that they will be partaking in the defrocking of the tree this Saturday? They are going to love me for this tidbit of family togetherness!

I am divulging all of my "cluttered" secrets in the hopes that even though you see beautiful photos of pretty rooms, pretty stuff, pretty food and a pretty farm with pretty thoughts on my blog, Face book page and website...that is what is on the surface and we all know that we are so much more than what is on the surface. Don't compare yourself to those surface images. Enjoy them, copy them, let them inspire you for I truly believe that the beauty of life, with all of its flaws, is inspiring. Wallow in those images on the pages you admire but again, do not compare yourself to them. That creates shame in the fact that you are not keeping it all together like the woman with the pretty pages... so you think. You are trying your best and so is she. 

You can let them elevate your style or your presentation in life to create beautiful spaces. That will lift your mood and your spirits.  I just had a very close friend tell me how she and her daughter put some deep thought into their Christmas Brunch table, which they had never done before. In the past, they had used what they had and never took the extra steps to make it really "pretty."This year, using some things they got from the barn along with the china she already had she made it beautiful and felt great about it. It was a fun experience that she and her daughter shared for it was her daughter that spearheaded her into doing it. When I walk into my overcrowded art room I know how I feel...overwhelmed. That is an absolutely normal emotion to feel... so I just turn around and head to my computer to write a blog post. A blog post out of the many topics that I would love to write about. I have notes all over the house, scribbled onto little pieces of paper, so as to not loose the thoughts as they pop into my head. You should see the side of my bed! Why is it that thoughts come to me in the middle of the night? If I do not get up and grab them they are a forgotten memory in the morning.

On that note, I will have to wrap this one up and I leave you not with a solution on how to get everything done on your TO-Do list (for I have not figured that one out yet) but with a thought to go easy on are doing your best! We all are! If we measured ourselves by what we have been able to cross off of our To- Do lists we would need some serious counseling.  Keep bringing your game to the party and do not let it beat you. You will master it and while mastering it, learn how to poke fun at yourself every now and does a lot to lighten your load, for at least a minute or two.

Now to get back to the projects that I am avoiding of which I will show you the results of in a later blog post...a much later blog post.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Goat Cheese, Lentil and Brown Rice Rolls

 What is one of the top New Years Resolutions?
Eating Healthier, why of course!
Here is a recipe that we tried and LOVED that fits that bill.
Hope you like!
I am going to try and post more of the recipes that we use in our house that we end up loving. I cannot promise you that I can take photos of each step, for that will happen in my next life, but will do my best. My family already thinks I am kooky for taking any pictures at all of our food. 
Here's to freaking them out a bit more!

Cooking spray to coat the glass pan with (we used a coconut oil spray)
6 large Swiss chard leaves (about 1 1/4 pounds)

2 cups cooked short grain brown rice
1 packed cup baby arugula leaves, chopped
1 cup goat cheese, at room temp (8 ounces)
1 cup cooked green lentils (if you buy uncooked ones, make sure you leave enough time to cook them first)
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp kosher or sea salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
One 26- ounce jar marinara or tomato-basil sauce
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese (2 ounces)
2 Tbls. olive oil, or unsalted butter diced into 1/4 inch pieces


Place an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 9 by 13 inch glass baking dish. Set aside.

Remove the thick stem from the center of each chard leaf.  Cut each leaf in half lengthwise. Trim the ends from the leaves to make each leaf-half about 7 inches long and 5 inches wide. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the chard leaves and cook for 10 seconds (no longer). Remove the leaves and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. Drain on paper towels and set aside.

For the filling: In a medium bowl, mix together the brown rice, arugula, goat cheese, lentils, mint, olive oil, 1 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. pepper and garlic.

Spoon 1/3 cup of the filling onto the end of each chard leaf and roll up like a jellyroll.

Spoon 1 cup marinara sauce on the bottom of the prepared pan. Arrange the rolls, seam side down, in a single layer on top of the sauce. Spoon the remaining sauce on top and sprinkle with the parmesan. Drizzle with olive oil or dot the top with butter (I used olive oil), if using, and bake until the cheese begins to brown and the rolls are heated through, about 25 mins. Cool for 5 mins and serve.

 I know that there a few steps but it really is quite worth it. Let me know if you try it and like it Mikey!

Happy healthy eating~

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Sensory Overload in Atlanta

Upon returning from spending four days at the Atlanta International Home and Gift Show, I had to take a week off from any activity where I had to make a decision. Okay, I am exaggerating a bit but dinner was simple (it helped that the hubby was out of town) and the writing of this blog took a week. I could not decide on what pictures to chose to go along with the story! Seriously, the decisions that we had to make were certainly not life or death but they confronted us on every level. I used to think that being a Buyer for a store sounded like a super fun job. I mean think about it...your title is a Buyer, inferring that you HAVE to Buy things for a living, not sell anything, but Buy... which translates into shopping.  Whoa...was I off on that count! Yes, buyers usually get to travel, which is always fun and they really are doing a tremendous amount of shopping, but once at their destination, it is all business and their buying and shopping involves a super heavy dose of sensory overload and decision making prowess. 

The Atlanta Show is amazing! Anyone who is selling anything is there and whatever you are looking for, you can most certainly find, and then some. Once at Atlanta's Mart, there are bridges between the three twenty plus story buildings so you do not even have to see the light of day to get from one to the other. This was our fourth year attending and we finally felt that we had the lay of the land down pat...well kind of. By the fourth and final day we finally made it from our room to the correct floor in the hotel where we had to access the bridge across to the Mart, without any detours...and in less than fifteen minutes.

The trip began in usual "Murphy-esque" fashion, bright and early at 5 am. By 10:15 am as we landed, we were greeted with an empty carousel after everyone had claimed their bags, except for Chris. Even though ours were checked together as we were standing next to each other, hers got left in Philly.

 Maybe if she had packed in one of these Vintage beauties, it would have stood out and never been left behind?

We hit the floor of the Mart by noon after waiting with our fellow compatriots in the airport who would also be sleeping in the clothes that they were standing in. (Suitcase arrived next morn.) We had realized early on, that in order to offer the quality that we wanted at Life's Patina, you had to go to where you could touch and feel the product you were ordering. We always have that control with the things that we find on our picking trips and the pieces that we make but were dismayed upon receiving one of our first orders, to find that the beautifully represented table in the catalogue we had ordered from was...  plywood. Never a good thing, so we headed to Atlanta where I had heard you could find anything and order right then and there.

The choices were many...the displays and showrooms can be overwhelming. Much research is needed before you head South to figure out where you will be heading once you arrive. Conversation at one of the showrooms goes something like this:
"Do we order the silver or gold deer...or both?  What size?  How about those trees?  The chandeliers are pretty cool! Oh wait, did you see that angel? What is the price point on those chandeliers?...  


The distractions were endless and the choices...overwhelming.

First you need to decide which building to shop...1, 2 or 3. Then you decide which floor. All of the buildings have approximately twenty floors...just like this, 

and a Rib Shack...just like this...appropriately named after one of my sons.

Although most of our eating was done while walking so I wouldn't really call it eating. Grazing is a much more fitting term. As a ploy to get you into their showrooms and to keep you there upon arriving, many of the showrooms serve some sort of snacking type food and beverages. We followed the breadcrumbs and wound our way around the three buildings based on who was serving what and when. Margaritas at 4:00 on floor 12? We will be there! The best Bloody Marys? We have got you covered.

Besides the decisions of which floor to shop on and what showroom  do you head to once you get to the appropriate floor you also have to decide which tunnel or bridge takes you to the floor you want to end up on. We did not have a pedometer on but if we did, I would assume we clocked many many miles a day. 

At one point, we thought of taking this cute vintage bike from a showroom and pedaling to our next destination, but then we saw this handsome guy and thought that maybe he could give us a lift.

As we walked over to ask him, we glanced at the wall behind him and decided that we did not want to draw attention to him for he might end up like one of his unfortunate friends.

So on ward and upwards we went... 

or on wards and downwards in this case... when we thought we should have been going upwards.
Let's just say that every now and then we had to hightail it off a down elevator when we were planning on going up...or vise versa.
Pressing your nose into a map book, while carrying on a conversation whilst getting on a crowded escalator in the wrong direction, with a cup of coffee in your not a pretty picture. Don't even think about taking an elevator unless you wanted to end up with that cup of coffee pressed against your face and spilling down your coat as the jockeying began to fit one more person on.

Now that you have a visual, you might be able to understand that between the navigation of the buildings and the decisions making needed to find the product we wanted to have shipped home;

fabric choices,

candle choices, "did you smell that one? what about that one?"

how many pieces should we order?

this color?

this color?

or this color?

This product? NO

This alligator? NO (sorry if I misidentified you as an alligator and you are a crocodile

This life size, lighted up scene of a gaggle of trumpet swans surrounding an angel standing beneath a pine tree?  NO

why we sometimes gazed out the window and felt like we should get off the merry go round and take some time out hanging on the ferris wheel. At least we would not have to decide where to get off...

We always knew though, that we could always look forward to the last decision of the day...
which drink to have. 
As we tucked ourselves into bed every night with our computers and our stack of catalogs next to us, we never forgot to email our families our mantra...lest they forget.

So now that I have put my foot in my mouth

with my visuals, I feel that it is only fair that I reveal some of the treasures that we found that will be hitting the floor of the barn this spring...

in my next blog post!

Until then and thanks for reading about our adventure ~ Meg