Thursday, October 30, 2014

This Book Room: The Lodge on Holly Road

James Claussen has played Santa for years, but now that he's a widower, he's lost interest—in everything. So his daughter, Brooke, kidnaps him from the mall (in his Santa suit!) and takes him to Icicle Falls. She's arranged a special Christmas at the lodge owned by long-widowed Olivia Wallace and her son, Eric. And yet…Brooke wants Dad to be happy, but she's not ready to see someone else's mommy kissing Santa Claus.

Single mom Missy Monroe brings her kids to the lodge, too. Lalla wants a grandma for Christmas, and her brother, Carlos, wants a dog. Missy can't provide either one. What she'd like is an attractive, dependable man. A man like John Truman… But John's girlfriend will be joining him in Icicle Falls, and he's going to propose.

Of course not everything goes as planned. But sometimes the best gifts are the ones you don't expect!

Additional notes: This is the sixth book in the Life in Icicle Falls series. You can read my review of the first book here, the second book here, the third book here, the fourth book here and the fifth book here. Please note that you do not need to read the previous books in the series to read this book. These can all exist as stand-alone books.

My thoughts: Can I please, please, please move to this town? It is so magical and the characters there just make me yearn to know them in real life. Since I'm not planning a move anytime soon, I guess I'll just have to live there vicariously through these books (also, strangely enough, I have a wonderful little German town in the state I live in and we visit there for a day about once a year; I am feeling inspired to stay there for a weekend now in December, though!).

I loved how many new characters are introduced in this book and that there was so much fun romance (not smut, and I appreciate the lack of that!). For some strange reason, I also really appreciated the underlying lesson that you can't tell anyone when they are ready for a new romance. Should I die at a younger age than desired, I have specifically told Jason to find a new wife and mama for our littles; I would not be upset if he married within a year after me passing. I do realize how hard that might be for other people, but I trust Jason to do what is right for him and our family.

Anyway, that tangent aside, this book completely put me in the Christmas mood. Does anyone want to join me for baking cookies, listening to music and playing in the snow?

What? There's no snow?!?!?!

Well, then read this book and be transported to a magical place with all of the above.

Happy reading!

Many thanks to Sheila Roberts for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. You can read more about how and why Ms. Roberts provides me with books here.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

In the Kitchen with Jason (and David): Chicken Potpie

I like me some good potpie, and this recipe made some good potpie. There was a small issue of taking about 4 hours to make. I also had a small issue with having about double the quantity of filling as my potpie could hold.

Ingredients for pie crust
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • pinch of sugar
  • 1/2 lb butter (2 sticks)

Ingredients for cooking the chicken
  • 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cups carrots, coarsely chopped
  • 1 leek, coarsely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp EVOO
  • 3-pound whole chicken
    • I didn't have a whole chicken so I just used two(ish) pounds of chicken breasts
  • 4 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 1 tsp whole peppercorns
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
Ingredients for making the pie filling
  • 1 Tbsp EVOO
  • 1 cup carrots, sliced
  • 2 small onions, chopped
  • 1 1/4 cups mushrooms, chopped
  • 2 cups peas, frozen or thawed
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 lb butter (1 stick)
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp rosemary
  • 1 large egg, beaten
Directions to make dough
  • Whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar in a bowl.
  • Using a pastry blade cut the butter into the four mixture until it looks like a coarse meal.
  • Add 1/4 cup of ice water 1 Tbsp at a time until the dough just holds together, mixing with a fork as you do so.
    • You may need to add additional water to get the dough correct, I used about 6 Tbsp when I made this recipe
  • Divide the dough into 2 equal sized balls, wrap them in plastic wrap and place them in your refrigerator.
Directions to make the chicken
  • Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
  • In a bowl, mix the onion, carrots, and leek with the EVOO.
  • Put the veggies on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes.
  • Put the now cooked veggies in a Dutch oven along with the chicken, celery, thyme, white wine, salt, and peppercorns.
  • Add 8 cups of water and bring to a boil over high heat.
  • Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for an hour.
  • Remove the chicken from the pot and set aside until cool.
  • Strain the broth and discard the solids.
    • The carrots are actually quite yummy, if you like mushy carrots, and make a great snack.
  • Stir the tomato paste into the remaining broth and cook over medium heat for about 40 minutes.
  • When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones and shred the meat.
    • Or if you were like me and used skinless, boneless, breasts then just shred it.
Directions to finish it off
  • In a large skillet, heat the EVOO over medium high heat.
  • Add the carrots and onions and cook until they begin to soften.
    • This is about 8 minutes.
  • Add the mushrooms and cook for 2 more minutes.
  • Add the pees, salt, and pepper and cook for another 2 minutes.
  • Transfer the vegetables to a bowl.
  • Using the same skillet, melt the butter, but this time lower the heat to medium.
  • Whisk in the four and cook for about 10 minutes.
    • You are going to want to whisk constantly at this step.
  • Whisk in thyme, rosemary, shredded chicken, vegetables, and broth.
  • Cook for another 10ish minutes.
  • While cooking remove the dough from the refrigerator.
  • On a lightly floured surface flatten a dough ball with a rolling pin.
  • Roll it out so that the crust will fit easily into a 9 or 10 inch pie pan with a little left over.
    • This is about 14 inches across.
  • Transfer the crust from the counter to the pie pan.
  • Transfer the filling into the crust.
    • If you are like me you will end up with a lot of extra filling. I just kept it warm and served it on the side with the potpie later as I like me some filling, and big pot pies sort of fall apart if you serve them when they are fresh from the oven (so no one could really tell that I added extra).
  • Roll out the other dough ball into a 13 inch round.
    • Make sure that your flowered surface is still flowered when doing this.
  • Transfer the second crust on top of the filling.
  • Cut off most of the excess crust around the outside of the pie pan leaving about 1/2 an inch of excess to make the crust edge.
  • Roll under the excess crust and crimp with your fingers.
  • Cut a couple of slits in the top crust, and place the pot pie on a baking sheet.
  • Put the potpie in the oven for 45 minutes.
  • Remove the potpie to a wire rack and let sit for at least 5 minutes.
And that in a nutshell is how to make a very yummy potpie. The day I made it I was in the kitchen for 5 hours, but I did make an apple crisp as well so if this is all you make, it probably will not take you that long.

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Ornament of the Month: Felt Cupcakes

These ornaments have been hugely popular! I made a bunch to sell at a craft show earlier this year, and I sold quite a few. I did hear a couple of people refer to them as ice cream ornaments, and that's okay. Ice cream or cupcakes - they're still stinking cute!

The supplies you'll need for this project are few, unless you have zero crafting supplies. The time involved in making these is a bit longer than the ornaments I usually make and while the skill level is still beginner, I would say it is less beginner than other ornaments I've made, too. That being said, you have plenty of time to make quite a few of these to give at Christmas! Make them in your kids' favorite colors or their birth month colors.

Here's what you need to make felt cupcake ornaments:
  • White felt
  • Felt in the color of your choice for the cupcake wrapper/cupcake batter
  • White embroidery thread
  • Yellow, green, red, blue, purple and pink embroidery thread (or just choose which colors you like best)
  • Scissors
  • Pins
  • Needle
  • Buttons to match the cupcake wrapper/cupcake batter
  • Thread to match the button
  • Fiberfill
  • Cupcake template
Here's how you make felt cupcake ornaments:
  1. Print this cupcake template twice or any other template you like.
  2. Cut out the wrapper template; be sure to cut the wrapper a little taller than is shown on the template. From the other copy of the template, cut the frosting template.
  3. Pin the frosting template to white felt and cut out two pieces. This will make one ornament.
  4. Pin the wrapper template to the color of your choice and cut out two pieces.
  5. Pin one frosting felt piece to one wrapper felt piece and sew along the bottom of the frosting with white thread. Pin the second frosting felt piece to the second wrapper felt piece and repeat sewing.
  6. Using thread to match the wrapper, make a loop on the back felt piece. This will allow your ornament to hang from a tree branch.
  7. Using a variety of different threads, sew sprinkles onto the front felt piece. You could just use one color, but I like a lot of different colored sprinkles for my ornaments. I just did a straight stitch for my sprinkles; you could choose to do French knots.
  8. If desired, using thread that matches the wrapper, sew lines onto the front piece on the wrapper part, as shown in the picture above. This isn't a necessary step, but I think it adds a nice touch of detail.
  9. Once all the little details are done (minus the button), pin the two pieces together. Using thread to match the wrapper, sew the two pieces together along the wrapper. Then, using white thread, sew the two pieces together along the frosting, making sure to leave a big 'ol open spot at the top.
  10. Stuff your cupcake with fiberfill so it's nice and plump.
  11. Sew the opening closed with white thread.
  12. With thread to match the button, sew the button at the top of the ornament.
Happy crafting!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Busy Bag of the Month: Growing Finger Muscles While Learning Color Shades

This busy bag is designed for an older pre-schooler and could even be used for kindergartners/first graders depending on their skill level and interests. I'm a huge fan of this busy bag because the materials you will need to make this are incredibly inexpensive to purchase. I spent $1.06 (including tax) for materials I needed that I didn't have on hand.

Here's what you need to make this busy bag:
  • Scissors
  • Glue stick
  • Pencil
  • Clothespins (can usually be found at the dollar store)
  • Paint chips/samples
Here's how you make this busy bag:
  1. First, you will want to cut the paint chips so that you have the big long strip that your child will clip the clothespins onto. You can use a ruler for this; I could not find mine so I just figured out how much extra I would need for the clothespins, then cut accordingly. I also cut mine in such a way that the paint strip had square edges (as opposed to the round the paint chips came with) and that no wording was left on mine.
  2. After the paint chips are cut, take what you cut off the paint chip and put this in a separate pile. I highly recommend putting the paint strips that are part of the busy bag in a bag and putting it away. At least in my world, there could be a tot about and since this busy bag is for when my kiddos are older, I'd like to keep them from being destroyed for now!
  3. To cut the paint chips so that the clothespin bit is covered nicely, I used the clothespin itself to measure out each paint chip bit. I just laid the clothespin down on the paint chip in the appropriate color box and traced around the tip of the clothespin. Once I cut out each piece, I put it on the clothespin to see if I needed to cut any excess off; often I had to cut a bit from the long side and short side.
  4. To attach the small bit of paint chip to the clothespin, I started off using glue. I do not recommend this. I did use glue on the green clothespins, but I felt discouraged because using glue was taking a lot of time and the short sides of the paint chip didn't seem to be well attached to the clothespin. I switched to using a glue stick, and oh my stars - it was so much quicker, less messy and the paint chip stuck beautifully to the wood.
Once all the paint chips are attached to the clothespins, you're done! It does seem this busy bag would take a ton of time to create, but to be honest, it took much less time than I had anticipated. I easily made it in one week (a week in which I worked on other projects, worked 45 hours and took care of my tot while Jason was out of the house for two evenings). I worked on this while Bug was asleep for the night, and I just put on a show on the computer to watch while I worked.

I had a good time working on this one, and I anticipate I will make this for other littles in the future for gifts!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Crafty Christmas: Heating Pad

Christmas Countdown: Christmas is just 9 weeks away!

It's winter and that means it is cold outside! Well, I guess that all depends on where you live, but we live in Michigan, and it gets cold here. Homemade heating pads are terrific gifts; they'll warm the recipient's heart and toes! This is still a beginner project for sewing, so don't feel like you can't do this. Say it with me, "YES, I CAN!"

Here's what you need to make a heating pad:
  • Fabric that is about 20 inches by 9 inches
  • Chalk
  • Ruler
  • Pins
  • Sewing machine and thread
  • Rice (tip: keep expired rice around to use in projects!)
  • Essential oils (optional)
Here's how you make a heating pad:
  1. Wash and dry your fabric; iron as needed.
  2. Use the ruler to be sure all sides are even; most fabric cut at the store are not.
  3. Pin the right sides of the fabric together so the wrong sides are facing out. Sew one short end and both long ends.
  4. If you want to use essential oils, mix the rice and oils together in a bowl at this time.
  5. Turn the pad inside out so the right sides of the fabric are now facing out. Make sure the corners are all squared away and iron the fabric again. Top stitch along the one short end and the two long ends.
  6. Add about a half of a cup of the rice mixture to the bottom of the fabric. Measure out about 3 inches and mark that measurement with chalk. Sew along that line.
  7. Add another half cup of rice and measure another 3 inches. Mark the line with chalk and sew along that line. Repeat three more times.
  8. To end the project, add one more half cup of rice, then sew the ends together. I ironed my ends underneath, then sewed along the top, so the pad would have a finished look. I'm not a fan of frayed ends.
Tip: If you're having trouble sewing along the chalk lines (the rice does tend to get in the way), pin along the line. I found that helped keep the rice in line.

Bonus Idea: Don't feel like making a full-on heating pad? No worries! From fleece, cut out a circle that fits in the palm of your hand. Sew around the edges of the two pieces, and before sewing it totally shut, fill the inside with rice. Sew the circle shut. Make 2 of these and you have two hand warmers. Shh, I made some to stick in Jason's Christmas stocking!

Happy crafting!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Gaming Corner: Yahtzee

I truly enjoy this game, due mostly to the fact that I am a sucker for dice rolling. The whole game revolves around rolling dice and trying to score as many points as possible. Set-up is get out the score pad and 5 dice.

5 dice and a score card = very simple
Turns will be taken by each player, until all of the boxes on the scorecard have been filled. On your turn, roll all 5 dice. You may then re-roll as many of the dice as you choose. And after that, you again may re-roll any of the dice you choose one final time. You then would use the faces shown on the dice to determine the score you put in one of the boxes. To do this requires an explanation of the score card. It is divided into 2 parts: an upper section and a lower section. In the upper section, there is a line for each side of the dice: 1, 2, 3 and so on. When scoring on the top section, you score a number of points equal to the amount on the dice faces but only to the faces that match that number in the row you are scoring... that sounds confusing but after the following example it will make perfect sense.

The above picture scores either 2 points in the 2 box, 6 points in the 3 box, or 8 points in the 4 box.

The bottom section of the score card has a bunch of poker hands that you are trying to roll. I will list off each type and how many points they are worth:
3 of a kind - Sum of all dice rolled
4 of a kind - Sum of all dice rolled
Full House (3 of a kind and 2 of a kind) - 25 points
Small Straight (4 in a row) - 30 points
Large Straight (5 in a row) - 40 points
YAHTZEE (5 of a kind) - 50 points
Chance - Sum of all dice rolled

If ever you roll any additional Yahtzees after rolling your first, you get a bonus 100 points and get to take another turn. Part of the fun of the game is figuring out where to put your rolls. Take the following dice roll for example. You could score it as a short straight, 8 points in the 4 box in the upper score card, or even 14 points in chance.

It could happen that at some point you may have a roll that you cannot score. If that happens, you must put a zero in one of the boxes. At the end of a game, all the boxes are totaled up and whoever has the most points is the winner.

I loved this game as a child and it still has a special place in my heart. Probably just because of the dice rolling but maybe because it is a game a kid can play that isn't just luck (I keep coming back to that.) :-)

-Gamer Jason

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

In the Kitchen with Jason (and David): Blueberry Muffins with Streusel Topping

These muffins were super good. I'm not exactly sure what streusel is but it made the muffins taste great. You will want to make these again right after you finish the first batch. If you do, please make sure to share. :D

Yup, there are that many blueberries in this muffin.
That is why it is so good!
  • 6 Tbsp butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar, divided
  • 2/3 cup + 1 1/4 cup flour, divided
  • 1 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs, at room temp
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • zest of a lemon
  • 3 cups blueberries
  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  • Line a muffin tin with paper muffin liners.
  • Mix butter, brown sugar and 1/4 cup sugar together in a bowl until fluffy.
    • I'm not exactly sure what fluffy mixed butter looks like but I guessed that once everything was combined and mixed for another few seconds that I had achieved fluffiness.
  • Add 2/3 cup flour and cinnamon to the bowl and mix until it looks like a crumb topping.
  • Set it off to the side of the room to use at the end of the recipe.
  • Whisk together remaining flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl.
  • In a different bowl, whisk together the vegetable oil, remaining sugar, eggs, sour cream, vanilla, and lemon zest until well combined.
  • Pour the batter into the dry ingredients, mixing just until combined. 
  • Fold in the blueberries.
  • Distribute the blueberry batter evenly in the muffin tin.
  • Sprinkle the topping made at the beginning of the recipe all over the batter.
  • Bake for about 30 minutes.
  • Let the muffins cool in pan for 10 minutes and then pull them out of the pan to finish cooling.
    • If you serve the muffins warm, they will most likely not come out of the liners cleanly, but with that being said, I cannot advise against a nice warm muffin.
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason