It took nearly a year of on-and-off knitting, but I finally finished this beast of a project. By the end, there were over 1500 stitches per round on the needles, if you can believe that. It’s hard to tell from the picture, but the blanket ended up being over six feet in diameter and can fit my queen-size bed. As soon as it was off the needles, I immediately cast on a sweater rather than pick up one of my many UFOs. Yeah, hopefully my mojo for those projects will come around again, but for now, I yield to burning urge to cast on all the new things with all the pretty yarn. I’m ready for cooler weather, cozy nights and relief from this endless heat.
Yarn: West Wool Tandem in the Norway, Glass, Aquamarine, and Brackish colorways.
Needles: US 6
Notes and Mods: As always, Stephen’s pattern is incredibly clear and well-written. The only change I made was following the option to not repeat the chevron section. I was so sick of working on this and was unsure I even had enough yarn to do so anyway.
Y’all. It’s been a summer, albeit a short one (thanks, school board for shaving off nearly a month of it). We started with Bear’s graduation and threw an epic graduation party at the house. That one was so big, I called in reinforcements, and had it catered. I usually can handle the big parties, but sometimes, I want to enjoy them too, rather than maintain food and logistics for over 50 guests. So, cheater, cheater pumpkin-eater, I guess. No shame in that game.
Next, the husband and I were supposed to jet off to St. Lucia for out 20th anniversary, but thanks to American Airlines cancelling our flight as we were checking our luggage, that’s pushed back until next year. Air travel is the fifth circle of hell this year, I swear.
Finally, we departed on our epic Italian adventure that was over a year in the making. Thanks to my handy-dandy travel maven, we settled on a plan that really was seamless from start to finish. She recommended the Private Tour offered by Adventures by Disney, which included our private guides in each city, all transportation, and unique activities…oh and excellent hotels. Basically, they handled everything, including tickets to venues, scheduling access times, and even put us on/off the trains so there was no way to mess up getting around. Overall, I highly recommend. They also offer a group option, but that’s not really our cup of tea.
First stop: ROME!
After the rest day at the hotel (which wasn’t really a rest day, because I drug everyone to the Cappuccini Museum and Crypts on a whim), we ventured on a tour of St. Peter’s and the Vatican Museum.
The pictures do not do the Basilica justice whatsoever. The interior is larger (2 football fields plus) and more magnificent than you can ever imagine. I could have spent several hours inside, because there is so much to take in at every angle. Side note, I did not get pictures inside of the Sistine Chapel, because they are forbidden, but it was breathtaking as well. Photos are allowed in some areas but not all.
During our tour, our guide Simone mentioned that you can actually climb to the top of the dome to the overlook, but it’s oh, a ba-gillion stairs. Hearing a challenge and the potential for bragging rights, the Heathens demanded we take on this endeavor…in the 100-degree heat.
This isn’t even the halfway point. Those stairs lead you into the real deal. It was small, cramped, hot, and I had to use my rescue inhaler, but we made it.
Totes worth it, as they say. The Vatican Museum section of our tour was like walking through history, and though we did have access to some areas not open to the public, we still didn’t see it all. Our guide said that if you only spent 2-3 seconds looking at each piece in the museum, it would take you more than two weeks to see everything.
As we wrapped up, we did pick up several items and gifts, which were sent to the Vatican offices to be blessed and delivered to our hotel.
After a much-needed lunch break, cocktail, and gelato, we toured the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, and our tour guide added in some scenic stops, with a coffee granita grab for the adults.
The next day, we our guide gave us a tour of the Coliseum before we boarded the train to Florence.
Once we arrived in Florence and made it to the awesome hotel, we had a private tour of the Pallazzo Vecchio, including the secret passages.
That night, we discovered that our hotel had a bar and terrace with the best views in the city and really good cocktails.
The next day, we visited the Accademia Gallery to see Michelangelo’s David, then the Uffizi Gallery to see incredible Renaissance artwork.
Then we basically walked all over Florence to see the sights.
Our guide, Leonardo (no joke), made sure we didn’t miss anything, and we fell in love with the city. We will definitely be back.
The next day, our driver took us through the Tuscan countryside to Fattoria Poggio Alloro farm, where we learned how to make fresh pasta, toured the farm, then had a delicious lunch and wine tasting. We ended up shipping two cases of various wines back to the U.S. while we were there. I loved everything about this day, and it gave the Heathens a little break from the very museum-heavy aspects of the itinerary. This was Bean’s favorite part of the trip, with the exception of our guide in Rome who she loved.
That afternoon, we made a quick stop to the San Gimignano for snacks and cocktails.
The next morning, we boarded the train to Venice, and hit the ground running with a tour of Piazza San Marco and the Doges Palace.
The next day, we received private mask-making lessons at a tiny local studio, which ended up being way more fun than I expected. The husband and Heathens really got into it, and our guide brought us some Buranelli cookies to try while we worked. We learned about Venetian traditions and the artists were incredibly kind.
Afterward, we took a gondola ride, which I do not recommend. There are so many of them that you basically sit in a traffic jam of bumping gondolas. We enjoyed the hotel ferry more than that, so I’d say skip it unless your heart is set on it. Another rooftop bar of cocktails later, and we were packing it up to come home.
While that is the bare bones of our tip (because I could write a book), it covers the highlights. We made it home safely and full of memories, though United did lose all of our luggage and even sent one bag to a different state, never to be heard from again…until a friend had to pick up and drive it back to Louisiana while on business.
Overall, this vacation exceeded our expectations. I think our only regret is not building in a rest day mid-trip, because every day was a packed itinerary and I wish I had more wandering time.
Now, it’s back to school and the hell that is carpool. I’m already dreaming about our next trip and counting the days till fall.
I took a break from my gigantic Slipstravaganza blanket, well, because I just need one. It’s up to about 900 stitches per round (true story) so it needed a timeout, or rather, I needed a break from the endless slog. I have cast-on-itis, but I have so many projects on the needles in various stages that I have to exercise some self-control.
Meanwhile, my cousin announced an impending new arrival, which, of course, means baby knitting. I broke my self-imposed project limit, because babies knitting doesn’t count. There’s a finite timeline for that kind of project, ya know? So, I narrowed down some patterns on Ravelry with similar attributes and let G-Man pick amongst the final contenders. Here’s what we got:
Yarn: Yarn Bee Soft & Sleek Solids in the Viridecent colorway (I used about 2.75 skeins).
Needles: US 10/5.0mm
Notes and Mods: I totally forgot to start my project page in Ravelry, but I know I CO more stitches because the pattern, as is, comes out narrower than I would like, per other knitters’ project notes. I looked through other projects, and I’m pretty sure I CO at least 130 stitches. As for length, I just kept knitting until I thought I was getting close to the size I wanted, then continued out the current pattern repeat before moving to the final steps. This pattern is both written and charted, fyi. Overall, beautiful, easy pattern, especially for a freebie. I pinned the completed blanket out with my Knit Blockers and aggressively steam blocked it to “kill” the acrylic. Sending this off to my cousin, then it’s back to the blanket of doom.
I finally planned out the Easter menu, because procrastination is apparently my thing this Spring. The days are flying by this year, for sure.
While I know that ham is traditional on many a southern Easter table, we usually opt for lamb. My family goes bananas for my grilled lamb chops, and with such easy prep and a fast cook time, I’m not juggling cook times and oven space as I often am on other holidays. I also aim for dishes that I can prep ahead, then just toss in the oven or on the grill come lunch time. I’d rather be hanging out and visiting with everyone than stuck in the kitchen on a holiday.
As for dessert, I will probably whip up a carrot cake, assuming my lost motivation shows up sometime soon. Or maybe break with tradition and do a chocolate fondue-type spread. Now, here’s hoping that I can actually get my hands on everything I need, as the grocery store has been looking a little on the lean side lately.
After spending a lot of time in Utah last year, my husband got really into what he calls “fry sauce.” While I usually just throw a bottle of ketchup on the table when I make fries, I decided to be less lazy and up my burger-night game.
This recipe comes from Pirate’s Pantry, first published by the Junior League of Lake Charles, Louisiana, and was submitted by Mrs. Edwin DeWeese. It was originally listed as a salad dressing, but I modified the recipe a bit so that it ended up being a perfect sauce consistency (see notes below). This sauce offered a great balance of creamy, slightly sweet, tangy, and savory. I whipped it up, and the entire crew gave it a resounding thumbs-up.
Ok, I have a confession to make. With the exception of post-Thanksgiving, my family will rarely eat leftovers. I don’t know what it is about this clown car of a household, but these peeps act like a “leftover night” is more of a punishment than a valid meal option. As such, I’ve gotten pretty adept at meal planning and portioning, but when I heard about the premise of this book, I was intrigued.
Cyndi Kane, otherwise known as Ree Drummond’s best friend, has long been featured on Ree’s blog and TV show, so I was familiar with her in that capacity. However, I don’t follow her on social media, so I didn’t realize she was venturing into her own cookbook publishing.
This book aims to provide a weekly meal plan where components of certain dishes are reimagined or repurposed into different meals later in the week. For example, Sunday’s Ham shows up in Jambalaya and Ranch Beans later in the week. I will say that, to that effect, this book holds very true the premise. The weekly meal plans are diverse enough so that the “leftover” components appear as entirely newly imagined dishes. It reminds me very much of how I aim to transform Thanksgiving leftovers beyond the turkey sandwich. However, rather than rambling, I’m going to break down my review into neutral notes, pros, and who this book is or isn’t for.
This book has ZERO photographs. Instead, there are lovely watercolor illustrations throughout, but if you judge a cookbook on the photo situation, be aware that it’s 100% artwork. I know people can be damn picky on this front, so the disclaimer is important.
Cindi is self-described mother, wife, homeschooler and home cook. She focuses on family-friendly meals that are somewhat healthy and budget-friendly. As such, she includes an occasional supermarket shortcut like a commercial seasoning packet, jarred sauces, Bisquick, and jarred garlic. The recipes are very much aimed at a home cook. If you are averse to a few processed ingredients or are on a special diet, look this over to see if it goes against your current approach to food.
The author admittedly grew up in the low-fat, diet/crazed/weight watchers’ culture of the 80’s. Occasionally, this shows in some of the choices and language in her recipes.
This book really is accessible for home cooks. The recipes are all straightforward and approachable, with no complicated techniques or hard-to-find ingredients in the average US supermarket.
The meal-plan menu approach is budget friendly, reduces waste, and does lean toward a good mix of home cooking with a healthy-ish direction here and there. If you want to open a cookbook and have a week’s worth of meals planned out, this IS for you.
The author includes timelines, lunch ideas, and “getting ahead” tips that I appreciated.
Even if the meal plan approach isn’t for me some weeks, there are still some solid recipes I will be trying on my selectively picky eaters.
The writing is conversational and aimed toward home cooks, and the layout is visually appealing and easy to use. I especially chuckled at the way she talks about “biohazard” chicken.
This book is for:
Home cooks who want family-tested recipes that are approachable/accessible.
People starting out in their next chapter of life (newlyweds, college students/graduates, anyone jumping into the deep end of home cooking/planning with no or rusty experience).
Budget-conscious cooks who value using up ingredients to their fullest.
People interested in streamlining meal planning and prep.
Busy homemakers short on time and interested in a ready-made weekly game plan.
Really, this reminds me of the old-school Junior League/church cookbooks from my childhood. Uncomplicated recipes that are designed for busy families with supermarket ingredients.
Pass on this one if:
If you are into “chefy” or “authentic” or coffee-table cookbooks.
If no photos in a cookbook is a dealbreaker.
If you are a hyper-foodie and get a thrill from test-driving complicated techniques or bold flavors.
If you are on a specialized diet or a food philosophy, including paleo, whole 30, are a vegan, or keto. (I’d still look it over, though)
If you have such severely picky eaters to the point that you can only see using one or two recipes out of it.
Overall, I’m glad I bought the book, and I have earmarked several recipes to try on weeknights. Knowing that dinner will be a little easier after escaping the fifth circle of hell (otherwise known as school carpool line), made it well worth my twenty bucks.
Breaking with tradition, we decided not to host anything for the Super Bowl this year. I hosted a LOT of parties last year, and I’m still just kind of burnt out. While I love entertaining, I was just not up for a party on a school night. I wanted to watch the game and relax, preferably with PJ pants and a cocktail.
Despite it being just us, I planned on a small scale spread so we still had a special occasion feel. While I was looking up a dip recipe, I stumbled across these sausage balls and since I had everything on hand, I decided to give them a try.
This recipe comes from Revel, a cookbook from the Junior League of Shreveport/Bossier Louisiana (1980) and was submitted by Edie Broyles Williams. These were super quick to make, and the sauce showcased a really good balance of sweet, savory, and (a very mild) sour. The boys devoured them, and considering the incredibly low effort, it was a winner all around. For a pantry pull recipe, you really can’t beat this one for fast and easy. It’s safe to say that Spicy Sausage Balls will definitely remain in the appetizer rotation.
Remember, I publish the recipes for CCTT as written. I write these notes to clarify how I interpreted the recipe or streamlined it.
For this recipe, I used red wine vinegar and ginger powder (which is what the author most likely intended).
My broiler resembles a fire-breathing dragon, so instead of smoking us out of the house, I baked the sausage balls at 400 degrees for about 15-20 minutes.
I was in a hurry, so rather than rolling out 80 balls, I used my one-inch scoop which resulted in about 30 balls.
Next time, I will use one pound of sausage and one pound of ground beef, rather than straight sausage. I think the sausage seasoning flavor can be pretty strong depending on the brand and cutting it with some ground beef would balance things out perfectly.
Roll sausage into balls about the size of pecans. Broil in oven 10 minutes. Turn while broiling. Drain. Mix sauce in a saucepan and heat until bubbly. Add sausage balls to sauce. Serve in chafing dish. Men especially love this.
If you are looking for a new, easy, and delicious snack for your big game party, have I got the recipe for you. These tamale-inspired meatballs combine the sweetness of cornbread with the spice of enchilada sauce, while the cumin comes in to punch up the flavor. My family devoured these meatballs at the Christmas party and have already requested them for our game-day spread.
While this recipe calls for ground beef, you could use ground pork or a combination of the two. I have not tested these with ground chicken or turkey, but commonsense tells me that, should you attempt it, I think they would end up on the dry side so take that for what it’s worth.
If you want more spice, use the spicy enchilada sauce, or add some hot sauce. I stuck with mild to make sure the gaggle of kids at the party could eat them, but will use the medium this weekend since it’s just the five of us.
To make portioning easier, I use my one-inch cookie scoop, and spray my hands with a little non-stick spray, but that’s because I truly suck at eye-balling portions.
I whipped up a box of the Jiffy Corn Muffin mix in an 8×8 pan as a shortcut, which was the perfect cornbread portion for this recipe.
So, overall, this ended up being a stupid-easy recipe that wowed the crowd, and I’ll take that kind of victory any day (especially one that gets me out of frying some damn wings come Sunday). Whip up a batch of these this weekend and you will become everyone’s new best friend.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a sheet pan with foil and spray it lightly with nonstick spray.
In a large bowl, combine crumbled cornbread, 1/2 cup of enchilada sauce, and salt, stirring lightly to combine. Add the beef and mix well, but not to death. Shape the beef mixture into one-inch balls and place onto the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 18 minutes.
While the meatballs are baking, spray a 9x13 casserole dish with nonstick spray and set aside. In a medium bowl, combine remaining enchilada sauce, tomato sauce, and cumin, stirring well to combine.
Remove meatballs from oven and reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Transfer meatballs to prepared casserole dish, and pour sauce mixture over them, being sure to coat meatballs evenly. Place casserole in the oven and bake uncovered for 15 minutes.
Top meatballs with cheese, and return to oven for 3 to 5 minutes, or until cheese is melted. Serve immediately.
I really enjoyed Paperback Crush. It’s a deep dive retrospective of the teen fiction novels I devoured in the ’80s and ’90s. Divided up into a thematic approach, it explores the evolution of popular teen fiction and the history of the most iconic series. While it primarily focuses on the titular decades, the author has done her research and mentions how certain themes can be tracked back through the decades. Just browsing the classic artwork brought back memories, and the author’s humorous and sometimes wry tone made it a fun read.
Overall, pure nostalgia made me buy it, but I’m glad I did. Series like The Baby-Sitters Club and Fear Street made me catch the reading bug, which I still have today.
Nonfiction–Hooked by Sutton Foster
This book is basically a memoir from Broadway and television star Sutton Foster. It follows her extensive career and travels as a rising stage talent to mother and TV star, while also describing the tumultuous relationship with her problematic agoraphobic mother. While she does incorporate how her crafting projects served as touchstones throughout her personal journey, this book is still very much a memoir at its core, with crafting as thematic tool for the stories. Overall, it was a good read, but I was already familiar with and a fan of the author. Because it’s mainly a memoir with crafting as an ancillary topic, it could be misleading if you don’t read the jacket or reviews.
Nonfiction–Stephanie Pearl-McPhee Casts Off
I’d say this book is solidly for knitters. It’s a fun, whimsical and funny look at the knitting community, including how specifically diverse, strange, and neurotic we can be. As a prolific knitter who fits many of the author’s descriptions, I found it to be an entertaining, lighthearted read. So, if you are a knitter, it’s great. If not, it’s not for you (unless you live with a knitter and need a guidebook to our world).
Fiction–The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister
This novel brings together a diverse cast of characters as they take a cooking class at a local restaurant. The chapters focus on their backstories, while weaving together the lessons from the class into their personal journeys and future goals. It’s beautifully descriptive, and a short, easy read if you like novels with food/cooking as a backdrop to the story. I will say that, while I enjoyed this one, I was slow to finish it. I appreciated it as a whole, but it was more of a pickup-putdown read for me.
So, there’s the recap (excluding the trashy romance novels that get me through carpool). That puts a respectable start to my embarrassingly tall TBR pile, I hope.
It’s no secret I was on the struggle bus this holiday season. By the time I hit New Year’s Day, I was so dang tired of cooking, while also trying to balance menus for various events. When I was planning on what to bring to the family Christmas party, I knew I was sick of the usual dishes and wanted something different. However, when I bring food to large parties, I have to follow the basic rules of etiquette: nothing that requires reheating, an electric outlet, or assembly in the host’s kitchen. They already have their hands full, so commandeering counter space or a stovetop burner is a big no-no.
So, in my abject laziness and apathy, I dove deep into my fridge and came up with a super-simple, yet tasty and beautiful appetizer. These Garlic-Herb Tomato Tartelettes combine ready-made garlic-herb cheese spread with a touch of cream, which is scooped into frozen phyllo tart shells. The mixture is then topped with sliced cherry tomatoes and parmesan and baked until nice and hot. A drizzle of balsamic glaze finishes them off. These can be served warm or at room temperature. If you need a quick, easy appetizer, this fits the bill.
21.9 ounceboxes of frozen phyllo tart shells(approx. 15 shells per box)
16.5 ouncecontainer garlic & herb soft spreadable cheese (such as Alouette brand)room temperature
1/4cupheavy whipping cream
3/4 to 1pintcherry tomatoeshalved
1/4 cupbotted balsamic glaze
chopped basic for garnish, if desired
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place tart shells on a baking sheet.
In a medium bowl, combine cheese spread and whipping cream until smooth. Spoon about a heaping teaspoon of cheese mixture into tart shell and top with two of the tomato halves. Sprinkle tarts with parmesan cheese.
Bake tarts for 12-15 minutes, until hot, being careful not to burn the tart shells. Remove tarts from oven and let cool for 2-3 minutes. Lightly drizzle tarts with balsamic glaze and garnish with chopped basil if desired. Enjoy!
This may make more or less tarts depending on how heavy-handed you are when distributing the filling.