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.
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.
Whelp, we limped across the virtual schooling finish line, not with a bang but a whimper. No rocking out to Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out for Summer” in the carpool line as is our tradition, but rather a heavy sigh that this chapter is hopefully, maybe, possibly, better-be-or-my-liver-can’t-handle-it closed. My two youngest kids have not been in the classroom since March 13th of 2020, and while they made virtual school work and received excellent grades, I think we can all agree that no one wants to experience a repeat of this academic year. It’s weird to think that a few years from now, some doctoral candidate will publish a study on just how this pandemic turned a generation of learning on its head.
Now that 80 percent of our household is vaccinated, life is returning damn-near normal. After school concluded, I called my friend who is also a travel agent and had her throw together a quick, impromptu vacation for us. We ended up in Jamaica! This was our first family trip outside of the states, and it was both fun and educational. I learned so much along the way, while also realizing how much I need to learn.
We swam with dolphins and went snorkeling, tubing, and deep sea fishing. After all of the missed milestone celebrations last year, this trip was a blessing and the perfect summer vacation for the family. The voyage back to Louisiana had its hiccups, but after the past year, well, perspective has become something we strive to maintain.
While we still have a lot more summer to go, it’s difficult not to think ahead of how much our days will change when the Heathens are back in the classroom this fall. We will be back to carpool lines, school lunches, routines, and socializing, but I’m not naïve enough to believe that we will all make the transition seamlessly. I’m mentally preparing myself for how tired they will be resuming full schedules and being more active. Also, Bean’s virtual learning only took up about 4 hours of the day, so she is used to large sections of free time between lessons. Will they be ostracized from their old friends and peers after being home for the year? We shall see, I suppose.
Meanwhile, I’ll be over here canning and counting down the days.
PSA–pssssst. The Halloween décor is hitting the shelves at places like At Home. If you know, you know.
During what would have been Mardi Gras Break, we ended up taking a quick trip up to Utah with the Heathens. Which coincidently, we made it up to the snow just as Snowmageddon hit Louisiana. With G-Man in college, it’s rare that he gets a break that coincides with his siblings, so we wanted to do something as a family when we could. I’m not too familiar with Utah at all, nor do we have any experience with winter sports/activities, so we just kind of winged it. Here’s a rundown of what we did, where we ate, and what we learned.
I felt wayyyyy too intimidated to try and plan a ski outing on our first trip. We would need (I think) equipment, lessons, and as warm-blooded southerners to the core, I already had to spend the big bucks on cold-weather gear. Seriously, the heaviest coat I own is a fleece hoodie, so outfitting everyone with coats, boots, pants, etc. was a project. But seriously, skiing seems like something that you don’t just try on a whim, and we probably would have needed the “complete idiots guide” or something. When you have never even driven in snow, hurtling down a mountain and busting my uncoordinated ass didn’t feel like the best way to start the vacation.
However, we still had a blast in Park City. We started the day at Park City Peaks, where we went on a two hour snowmobile excursion. The ranch is located about a 20-25 minute drive from town, and their trails are amazing. We started by driving to a practice area to get the feel of the snowmobiles. G-Man drove one by himself, I drove one with Bear riding on back, and the husband drove the third with Bean. (We did let Bear and Bean drive a little in the practice area, but not on the trails or up the mountain). If you have never driven one, I will say it took a bit of strength to steer and keep on course, and we certainly felt some soreness the next day. We went through backwoods trails, up the mountain and back down again. Two hours was PLENTY of time, and felt longer, but everyone had a blast. We were careful to dress appropriately in multiple layers, waterproof boots and outerwear, gloves, and googles. They provided helmets and the guide was super-nice. I’d definitely do it again.
After a quick lunch, we then moved on to Woodward Park City to go snowtubing. This destination also has skiing, snowboarding, and such, but I just purchased a two hour pass for the tubing. Luckily, they have a conveyor belt type of escalator to help you get to the top of the hill, and also a smaller hill available for younger kids. We loved it, especially going down the hill together as we held onto each other’s tubes. I wish I had pictures, but I was more focused on keeping my gloves on and my hands warm.
While we wanted to eat dinner in Park City, and even had reservations, we were worn out after tubing and headed back to the hotel. However, if you are planning a trip, I highly recommend planning dining reservations in advance. Even with almost two weeks lead-time, most of my “first pick” dining options were booked up already, or only had super-late seating available. In fact, this was pretty much the case for most places we went on this trip.
SLC and Surrounding Areas
Beyond our snow adventures, we did some exploring around the SLC area. The kids loved K1 racing, which was basically indoor go-carts on steroids, and I enjoyed the Natural History Museum. We also checked out some record shops (Sound & Vison Vinyl was the favorite), yarn shops (Blazing Needles was awesome and welcoming), and the City Creek Center for shopping.
As for food, here’s a quick summary:
We dined at the Red Iguana, which has been featured on Food Network. We enjoyed it, and I will definitely go back. They had a menu full of authentic Mexican dishes, but also plenty of options that are more familiar for those who expect “Tex-Mex”, *cough, cough* like my kids. (In Louisiana, Tex-Mex dominates, so I loved experiencing new-to-me flavors and dishes). Again, get reservations in advance, because they stay packed.
We checked out the Strap Tank Brewery and Squatters Pub Brewery, both of which offered typical pub food. Both had plenty of options for our diverse group of eaters, like sandwiches, burgers, pizzas, steaks, etc.
The kids and I had a hearty breakfast at Black Bear Diner, which is a chain I was unfamiliar with. It had a large menu of typical diner fare, and is a good spot for families. I really liked the waffle.
For date night, the husband and I went to Cultivate Craft Kitchen, which we love. The menu is creative and seasonal, and we sampled the Toffee Brie, English Chips, Risotto, and great cocktails. Highly recommend, but probably not a good place for kids, hence the whole date night thing.
After loving Cultivate, we all went to its sister restaurant, Cliff Dining Pub the next night. This is more family friendly but still has an upscale atmosphere. Everyone really enjoyed this spot, and we will be back.
So, overall, the trip was a fun break for us, and I can see giving skiing a try next time. I think the area is fairly easy to navigate, though be prepared to walk forrrr—-evvvvv—errrrr in the new airport. That was a workout! For this Louisiana girl, the liquor laws are a head-scratcher, but everyone we met was soooo nice. If you have any must-see/do/eat suggestions for next time, please leave a comment. We only hit up what I threw together in a quick google search, so I’d love to know what to add, especially in warmer weather seasons. I highly recommend getting dining reservations in advance, as well as attraction tickets (the Natural History museum is on limited entry, so you have to buy tickets in advance).
Now, it’s back to virtual learning, spring cleaning, and knowing that just when we get settled in, Daylight Savings Time will be here to mess it all up again. Send margaritas, stat!
**Just a reminder–This post is not sponsored, and any included links are NOT affiliate links. My blog is not monetized, and these are places I went and spent my own money.**
Oh man, it’s been a week, a no-good-very-bad week. While we all knew Thanksgiving would be different this year, I never saw this one coming. The Hubs caught the ‘Rona and was diagnosed this weekend. Cue an immediate two week (maybe longer) quarantine for our family, and the challenge of keeping him strictly isolated from the rest of the house in hopes of preventing it from spreading to me and the kids. (‘Rona+asthma=no bueno). So much sanitizing…so much hand washing…it’s a process. He is feeling pretty crappy, and we are missing him, but I know it could definitely be worse. The rest of us seem symptom-free so far, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we just might get lucky.
So our scaled-down Thanksgiving will now be even more so. I worked with the Heathens to edit the menu we had planned, though admittedly, it could still feed a very large crowd. If Thanksgiving feels lonely and less-than-special this year, they at least get to have their favorites stay on the menu. I already bought the 24-pound turkey, and I’m not giving up my Honey-Baked Ham, so the leftover game needs to be especially strong this year.
Since my last leftovers post, we have incorporated a few more recipes into the mix and I have other ideas to try.
I took this idea for Thanksgiving Tamales and ran with it. I did them with dressing, turkey, cheese, and spiced-up leftover cranberry sauce with sautéed jalapenos. And to make life easy, I steamed them in the Instant Pot. There are plenty of tutorials for cooking tamales both traditionally and in the Instant Pot.
I make Turkey a la King using this recipe. But instead of the cornmeal waffles, I take leftover dressing and add an egg or two to really help bind it together, then cook it in the waffle maker until golden brown. This is fabulous.
One thing I surprisingly never thought of is a classic Kentucky Hot Brown. Most of the ingredients are things I already have on hand from my Thanksgiving prep. I’ve also seen a ton of recipes for Hot Brown casseroles if you want to go rogue.
While we usually do the paninis I talked about in my last Thanksgiving leftovers post, I saw Jeff Mauro do this chimichanga of awesomeness on The Kitchen this weekend. Same principle as the paninis, just deep fried into pure joy. I will say that the size of the tortilla he used is not commonly found at the average Louisiana grocery chain, so I’m hoping to be off quarantine by then to pick some up from a local market.
I forgot to link my recipe for Cajun 15 Bean Soup in the Instant Pot last time. I always leave a good bit of ham on the bone before I toss it in the freezer. It’s a great rainy day meal.
I mentioned switching out turkey for chicken in recipes last time, but here are some specific ideas: Classic King Ranch, King Ranch Mac and Cheese, Fajita Chowder, turkey tacos, Thai turkey wraps, and a classic chicken noodle soup made with turkey, pictured above. For ham, consider classic ham biscuits, omelets/ scrambles, you can easily add chopped ham to this hash brown casserole to make it a main dish, and to a simple pasta alfredo with peas.
So there are some leftover ideas. I’ll probably be posting a lot to Instagram this Thanksgiving week since I’m still cooking, but not hosting a 20-30 person holiday. So, if you have questions, comment here or there. Quarantined is more fun with commiseration.
Finally, if you are a frontline worker, I want to personally say thank you. I can’t imagine how difficult this year has been for you, and it’s probably going to get worse based on the indications. I want you to know that you are what I am most thankful for this year.
Welp, we finished up the first quarter of the school year, and while virtual learning is the definition of the fifth circle of hell (rivaling my nemesis known as the school carpool line), Bear and Bean kicked ass and took names. Their report cards were a huge weight off of my shoulders. I’ve struggled with the decision to keep them virtual while so many of their peers returned to full-time classrooms. Would they be able to keep up? Would they resent missing out on the fun parts of school? Would they still learn with equal quality from home? I’ve been more stressed than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. But, in the end, they ended up being pretty dang good at managing it.
Meanwhile, at some point, it occurred to me that, if all they needed to do school was an internet connection and a workspace, well, that did not necessarily have to be at the house, right? Two margaritas later, I threw together an impromptu trip to Destin, Florida. October is pretty much the end of beach season, and hurricanes have been like “Hey 2020, hold my beer.” So, I easily found a condo, we hopped in the truck, and that was that. Despite G-Man being off to college, the remaining four of us have been together all day loooonnngggg, every day. Just experiencing a change of scenery made all the difference in the world. The only downside was tire issues on the way back that transformed an 8 hour drive into 13 hours of no fun. Regardless, fresh air, good food, and quiet days made it all worthwhile.
Other than the last-minute trip, we’ve been cooking, baking, and sharing time with our neighbors.
But now, I’m looking forward to the holiday season. Normally, I am the drill sergeant that refuses all Christmas until after Thanksgiving. Thanks to 2020, I’m like, “Turn on Hallmark. I need cotton candy for my brain!” So, I’m throwing my arbitrary holiday rules out the window.
I went to order my yearly planner as I always do in November (my favorites are from Commit30 fyi), and it dawned on me that maybe I am jumping the gun. My 2020 planner sits on my side table, mostly blank or full of plans that never happened.
Is ordering the new one inviting trouble? Us Louisianans are a notoriously superstitious bunch, so I am hoping I’m not daring the universe to up the ante in 2021. In the meantime, it’s time to break out the Thanksgiving binder, hunt down the turkeys, and accept the fact that, yes, we are all still in this for the long haul. But I live in the land of the drive-thru daquiri, so it’s all gonna be ok.
Do you ever feel like you are a master imitation of a broken record? I finally realized that’s exactly how I sounded when, for the 1000th time, I remarked to a friend this that it’s been a tough year. Scratch that, a tough four-plus years. After losing Dad last year, we went on to lose both our neighbor and good friend, followed shortly thereafter by my uncle. Considering that I already win the award for “Most Unhealthy Ways to Cope with Grief,” I’m not at all surprised that I’ve been operating on semi-toxic fumes for far too long.
But this last week, we took a long-planned family vacation, which was amazing, exhausting, and magical. When we came back to Louisiana, spring was in the air, with the wisteria in full bloom and the grass already filling in the winter-brown lawn. I know the hellfire summer is just around the corner, but something about coming home to a landscape transformed on the tails of a truly epic vacation gave me the kick in the ass I sorely needed. I spent the past couple of days thinking about what needs to change, and as the title suggests, I’m about to go Marie Kondo both literally and figuratively on myself, and my environment. It’s time for some physical, emotional, and spiritual spring cleaning, and part of that is returning to this space and getting back to the things that spark joy, as cheesy as that sounds.
So before I get back to it, let’s take the 50-cent recap of the past months, shall we?
First, I invested in an amazing smoker and subsequently smoked allllll the things, including all my neighbors’ Thanksgiving turkeys, lots of pork butts, bratwurst, and so on. One day, I want to volunteer with Operation BBQ, and help those suffering from disaster or displacement.
Bean joined the Cub Scouts!
She’s having a blast.
I knit a blanket for a special baby and won second place at the State Fair:
We did a winter garden of cabbage, broccoli, spinach, and carrots. (We also planted strawberries in the fall for a late spring/early summer harvest):
And finally, I finished all of the Knitterati 2018 blocks (though I have yet to assemble the blanket and add the border):
Oh, and one more project. Dad’s wife asked me to make pillows from some of his dress shirts:
So, even if I was not at my best this past year, I can say that I kept making. However, I think it’s time to dust off the cobwebs and realize that maybe there’s a bit more nuance between seemingly normal and truly healthy. If anything, at least my house will be cleaner…maybe. Probably.
School started this week, and for the first time, its arrival felt bittersweet. Usually, by this time, I feel like I will sell my soul to their teachers in exchange for removing the Heathens from my home for a few hours a day. August means we’ve devolved into who-looked-at-who the wrong way, which in turn, ends up being a crossover between “Who Moved My Cheese?” and The Hunger Games. This year, however, summer seemed to fly by at a too-rapid pace. It doesn’t help that G-Man is a junior, Bear is a freshman, and Bean is in (gulp!) first grade. I wish I had a few more days at the pool or the camp, but in the end, the promise of less than 100-degree heat means that I’ll get over it quickly. So, the summer recap:
We had our epic family reunion with my 80-plus cousins who are just as zany as we are, fun days at the Gulf and the camp, questionable fishing, and general mayhem:
There was some knitting, which I will post about tomorrow:
I smoked and cooked at bit (including hosting 4th of July for our neighborhood, and tackling fresh pasta):
But, if I had to sum up this summer, I would call it The Summer of Canning. We spent the spring installing and planting several raised beds in our postage stamp-sized back yard. We hope to adopt a year-round gardening plan down the road, but ultimately, I think the Husband and I feel called to find a balance between the frantic digital pace of modern daily life, and the skills, traditions, and values that we internalized from our parents and grandparents.
We want to raise well-balanced, knowledgeable kids that have adequate life skills by graduation, or at least some exposure to many things and the attitude that they can figure crap out if they try. This isn’t just about gardening. G-Man must have changed tires on the family car six times this summer as we dealt with failing tires and those pesky nails the contractors down the road kept dropping. He also has a bank account, and I’ll send that kid to the Kroger at the drop of at hat, which means he now knows where to find vinegar and pectin, and the difference between a poblano and a banana pepper. G-Man and Bear can cook a meal, bake a mean cookie, and follow a recipe while adapting if needed. As such, the garden is another extension of our desire for fresh produce and deliciousness, while modelling life skills that might keep our kids from being left for zombie bait in the event of a Walking Dead scenario. Kidding…Kidding…
But, with that garden, came the dilemma of keeping up with it. I swore to the Husband that I would not let his efforts go to waste. I’ve written about canning before, but this behemoth was beyond my ability to manage, or at least my available time. But then, the blessing came. My neighbor had never canned and wanted to learn, so I did a quick recipe with her (that she brought over) so she could get the basics. One thing led to another. Before long, we transformed into a well-oiled operation of shared labor and shared bounty. We worked side-by-side each week, harvesting, prepping, and putting up recipe after recipe. We fought the bugs, the heat, our restless kids, and the burn of hot peppers from forgotten gloves. As the days blended together, we visited, shared stories and memories, and ended up with overflowing pantries of salsa, jalapeno jelly, serrano jelly, pickled peppers and onions, cucumber relish, pickles, spicy tomato jam, pickled jalapenos, and more.
We even put together and vacuum-sealed bacon-wrapped jalapeno poppers for fall and winter entertaining. A full pantry and freezer soothes my soul and makes me feel more connected to the strong women in my family tree. That was something I didn’t expect, but I’ll take any day.
Over these intense kitchen sessions, I noted to my neighbor that I can now see why chores like canning, quilting, butchering, and harvesting historically often turned into group events. People helped their neighbors or friends with these labor-intensive activities not only to share the load, but also to connect in a way we now have lost, and which we often miss in our disconnected, overworked, digital lives. (and yes, I get the irony of saying that on my digital blog, but I do believe we can all find a better balance between the power of the internet to connect and educate us, and the temptation for it to consume us at the expense of genuine experiences). Whether we were enveloped by steam from the canner, or got lost in the hours of chopping 12 pounds of tomatoes at a time, we strengthened our bonds as both friends and neighbors in a way that made me feel closer to her, and my family’s history and traditions.
So, as I come to summer’s end, I still feel like it flew by, but as I reflect, I also think of it as time of connecting with family and neighbors, cultivating skills, and transitioning from the tragedy of losing my father to letting the light back in. That, if anything, was probably the best takeaway of all.
But you know what’s even better about summer’s end? I can now plan the Halloween decorations and party. Mwhahahah!
Alrighty, now that the holidays have passed, I can post the few last-minute gifts I whipped up in the days leading up to Christmas. I swore not to do any gift knits this year, but finally decided that it just would not be December if I wasn’t knitting a gift or two. All of these were fast projects (at least as far as “fast” applies in knitting terms), and with stash yarn
Pattern: Polku Messy Bun Hat (available for purchase on Ravelry)
Yarn: Caron Simply Soft in Country Blue colorway (I held the yarn double for this project/gauge)
Needles: US 10 and 10-1/2
Notes and Mods: Made this for my Mother-In-Law, who requested a hat that allowed for a ponytail. I went up a size to ensure the gauge and yarn would work.
Pattern: Man Hat (available for free on Ravelry)
Yarn: Loops and Threads Charisma in Deep Woods Colorway
Needles: US 8 (wish I had used a 9 or 10)
Notes and Mods: Made this for my sister’s very knit-worthy boyfriend from stash yarn. He has a big head so I think I should have gone up a needle size or two. His son loves it so much, I’ll be knitting him one after I finish up my current WIPs.
Pattern: Man Hat (available for free on Ravelry)
Yarn: I Love This Yarn in Camo colorway
Needles: US 8 (though I used a US 10 just for the cast-on to prevent a too-tight edge).
Notes and Mods: CO 88 stitches to make up for smaller gauge. I have used this crappy yarn before and the color pooling never makes sense. For example, I knit this hat with the yarn in the exact same pattern and stitch count and there was no significant color pooling. The recipient is a big camo guy, so hopefully it’s not too crazy for him.
Pattern: Little Red Riding Slippers
Yarn: Lion Brand Wool-Ease Thick and Quick in Constellation colorway
Needles: US 10
Notes and Mods–Made these for my sister who is not a fan of knits, but loves Ugg boots so I took a chance on Ugg-inspired slippers. I screwed up on attaching the cuffs so the seam isn’t going the way I prefer, but I was not willing to rip it out at that point. If I make these again, I will pick a yard that gives better stitch definition at this gauge. She’s actually worn them, so I’ll count that as a win.
We had a nice, relaxed family get-together yesterday, and I wanted an easy dessert that I was pretty sure *most* of us would like. These little cakes are so stupid-easy, and for something so simple, they still taste like delicious indulgence.
toppings of choice: chocolate sauce, caramel sauce, jam, etc.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line cupcake pans with 24 paper baking cups. Place a vanilla wafer in the bottom of each cup. Beat cream cheese, sugar, eggs, lemon juice, and vanilla extract together with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Fill muffin cups 2/3 full with cream cheese mixture and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until set. Cool 15 minutes on a rack, then refrigerate until ready to serve. Top as desired