Monday, November 29, 2010

Manda Monday--Christmas is coming!

Now that my three Thanksgivings are over, I can turn my attention to Christmas.  There is so much I want to do and enjoy, and just a few short weeks in which to accomplish it all.

Staying organized is key. By setting priorities and sticking to a time frame and budget, it is possible to have a fun and relaxed holiday season. Martha has several tips and tricks for staying organized during the holidays, including a planning calender.  

In addition to Martha's tips for staying organized and sane for the holidays, let me add my own:

Priorities--This is the biggest and best tip I can give to anyone wanting a perfect holiday: only do the holiday activities that bring you joy and happiness, and let the rest go. Do you feel like you have to send out Christmas cards, but truly hate to do it? Then don't do it! Do you feel like you have to make a gingerbread house or Christmas isn't complete?  Then make that a priority and schedule a time for it.  The perfect Norman Rockwell Christmas scene is beautiful, but rarely attainable.  Go with what makes you happy and disregard the rest of the hoopla.

Make a list--Based on your priorities make a realistic to-do list that includes when you want things done.  Sending gifts to faraway friends and family?  Factor in the gifts' travel time to the due date.  Want to host a holiday party?  Be sure to get the invitations out in plenty of time for people to add it to their calenders.  A list of all the comings and goings of December (and this includes all holiday parties and events) will keep you organized, making for a much more relaxing and enjoyable holiday.

I am taking my own advice, and working up a TMI-Household calender for the month of December.  This includes all parties and family gatherings.  The calender also doubles as my to-do list: I know what needs to get done and when. I'm careful not to schedule too much in each day so that I can enjoy the season as it progresses.

After all, if you're not enjoying the holiday season, then what's the point of all the baking, decorating, partying, shopping, entertaining, etc.?  Christmas is in 26 days.  If we clarify our priorities and stick to our time table and list, we will be able to get through it intact.  Happy holidays!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Any turkey left?

Now that Thanksgiving is over for most people (not us, we still have two to go!), you might be wondering what to do with leftover turkey.  In my house, we use leftovers for a few days of easy meals.  Any leftover turkey beyond that is usually reserved for soup and casserole.  However, Martha has a few ideas that have me thinking about new ways to use any leftovers. 

These turkey croquettes are a great way to use up turkey, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce:

Take a look at this turkey cobb salad...yum!

And this shepherd's pie has the potential to be a new family favorite:

You can view an entire gallery of leftover turkey recipes here.  Quite frankly, all these recipes makes me want to make two to eat at our Thanksgiving on Sunday, and one to have just for the leftovers.

What do you do with your leftover turkey?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Breaking the rules

I have a rule that no Christmas decorations go up at my house until after Thanksgiving.  Halloween is such a big deal, as is Christmas, that Thanksgiving sometimes doesn't get its due.  This is especially true in stores, where Christmas decorations are put out earlier and earlier each year.  I rebel against this each November in my house by keeping the tree, the lights, the trimmings and trappings all tucked away in storage until Thanksgiving is over, and by shaking my fist at those who dare to start on Christmas before they've had their turkey.

So you can imagine my husband's surprise on Sunday morning when I told him, "Let's put out the lights."

A few hours and some swear words later, and it was done. The lights are up.  And on.

I fretted about this decision for days.  After all, my ideal time for putting out the lights is right after Thanksgiving.  However, this holiday is an especially busy one for us this year.  We have two Thanksgivings to attend, one to host, and a day planned for downtown touristing.  By my calculations, we just don't have any time this weekend to tackle the outside lights, and putting them up later would only set the indoor decorating spree back a weekend or two.  Which would cut into my shopping time.  And wrapping.  And baking.  And crafting.  And more baking. 

So, I had to rebel against my own (very good) rule, and get a jump start on Christmas by getting the outside lights up.  You understand, right?

I am keeping with my rule in some small way at least.  See the wreath on the door?  It's an autumn wreath featuring leaves and pumpkins.  It clearly says "Happy Thanksgiving!"

Of course, it's smack in the middle of two small potted Christmas trees that flank the front door. 

I might be sending mixed messages.  But I swear to you, inside my house, it is all about Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Martha Monday--Pumpkin doughnut muffins

Is it a doughnut? Is it a muffin?  Either way, these pumpkin doughnut muffins are absolutely delicious.   This recipe is from the November issue of Everyday Food, and it is beyond.  Beyond!

Here's what you need to make the doughnut muffins:  all ingredients are pantry staples, except for the canned pumpkin and buttermilk. But, being as Thanksgiving is right around the corner, I had those on hand anyways.

The recipe says it makes 12, so I doubled it.  Instead of 24 muffins, I got 36!  There's something wrong either with Everyday Food math, or my muffin batter portions, and I'm not sure which it is.  No problem, though, because I am happy to have plenty of these on hand. 

The instructions say to brush melted butter on the muffin with a pastry brush and then cover it in cinnamon-sugar.  I couldn't find a pastry brush (though the Big Guy helped me look and I swear I have one somewhere!) so I simply dipped the tops in melted butter and dipped them in the cinnamon-sugar.  It worked out just fine.

Ultimately, I think simplifying that step decreased the messiness, which is always a good thing. Plus, the coating of butter/sugar/cinnamon on top was just the right amount of sweetness need to get this muffin into doughnut territory.

The muffin itself is delicious.  It is so moist and tender without being overly sweet.
Note to Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts and whoever else tries to foist some kind of "pumpkin muffin/doughnut" on the public this time of year:  what you sell is not cutting it.  Give this recipe a try, and get rid of that cloyingly sweet crap you call "pumpkin".  This is what people want and deserve! Martha's pumpkin doughnut muffins for everyone!

The Little Guy had one right away.  I told him I was making them for my coworkers, and he was quite adamant that I "don't take these to work. These are for our house!"  Three-year-olds can be so demanding!

Thank goodness doubling the recipe actually tripled it.  I'll have enough for a yummy breakfast for myself and the Little Guy, and plenty left to share with the folks at work. 

Give this recipe a try! These pumpkin doughnut muffins are amazing!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Vodka cranberry slush

Looking for a fun cocktail for holiday entertaining?  Let me introduce to you the Vodka-Cranberry Slush.  This is an easy make-ahead mix that everyone will enjoy. 

Start with a large can of frozen orange juice concentrate and lemonade concentrate.  Let them thaw and mix together.  Add one cup of very strong tea (I used green tea, but black tea would be fine as well).

Add 3.5 cups of water, followed by 3.5 cups of your favorite vodka.  Mix together and let freeze at least 24 hours.  It will sit quite happily in the freezer for much longer, though, so feel free to make it a week or two before you actually need it.

When you're ready to serve, scoop some frozen vodka mixture into a glass and top with cranberry juice.  An ice cream scoop works just fine for this.  This amount of slush is good for twenty drinks (each with 1.5 scoops of slush in the glass). 

You'll want to have straws or stirring sticks handy to guests can mix the slush with the cranberry juice. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A common sight

One thing I love about living in Aurora is all the geese activity.  Each spring, thousands fly overhead on their journey north, and each fall I see them again for their trip south.  Enjoy these pictures taken from my backyard.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Martha Monday--Good things for the holidays

The holidays are rapidly approaching, which means Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia is full speed ahead with awesome crafts, recipes, holiday plans and more.  Here's a few things that have my attention:

1. For the month of November, MSLO has teamed up with Pier One Imports for a daily giveaway.  They are giving away one $50.00 gift card each day.  Be aware that the first entry form is also a subscription form to receive Martha Stewart Living.  There is an option to enter the contest without subscribing, so be sure to click on that link if you already receive the magazine or just want to enter the contest.

2.  Baking season is upon us.  Get $1.00 off Martha Stewart's Holiday Cookies here.  The big headline on the magazine is "The very best gifts to bake and share."  I must have this!

3. Martha is a planner, as am I, which is why I so appreciate her planning calenders.  Click here for month-by-month planning calenders, and see what needs to be done when for Thanksgiving, Christmas, homekeeping and more.  Organization makes me giddy!

I hope everyone is excited about the holidays, and not stressed.  Breathe deep, take a few minutes to get organized, and then get to work.  It will be the best holiday yet! 

PS. Thanks to everyone who has joined me on facebook.  I heart you all!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Fun family Thanksgiving project

Looking for a neat icebreaker activity for Thanksgiving?  Get the whole family involved with a fun project that focuses on blessings and gratitude.  Simply hang several sheets of large post-it paper (20"x23") on the wall, provide some markers, ask them what they are thankful for, and watch the fun!

Be sure to hang some paper in reach of the youngsters, and that you provide WASHABLE markers.  It's amazing, and touching, what people will share with a piece of paper that they may be too shy to share aloud.  Give it a try this Thanksgiving, and see what your guests are thankful for.

Other than being thankful for you hosting them for Thanksgiving. Which they had better be.  Sheesh! 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tasty corn bread casserole

This is a super tasty side for holiday, or any day, dinners.  I make it for Easter and Thanksgiving, and a few other special occasions in between.  And because I was recently asked for the recipe, I'm sharing it with everyone now.  Enjoy!

1 box Jiffy corn bread mix
1 can whole kernal corn, drained
1 can creamed corn
1 egg
1/2 cup sour cream

Mix everything together and place in a greased 8x8 (or 9x9) sqare baking dish.  Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the middle is no longer jiggly and the top starts to turn a nice golden brown.  This is a very moist casserole, so don't think it's not baking and accidentally overdo it.  Trust me on this.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Martha Monday--Everything Thanksgiving

For me, Halloween is like the beginning of a crazy roller coaster ride where I'm zooming through Thanksgiving and Christmas at 100 miles per hour, screaming hysterically the whole way, until it spits me out on January 2, exhausted and confused about what just happened and where all that time went. 

That said, the best way to survive the crazy holiday roller coaster is to start planning now.  And what's next on the calender?  Thanksgiving. And Veterans Day (thank you, veterans! You are awesome!).  But Thanksgiving means friends, family and a big, dead bird, so some planning now could really help me get in front of such a large holiday before it steamrolls right over me. 

Fortunately, Martha has me, and all of us, covered.  At Everything Thanksgiving, you can sign up for her holiday enewsletter with tips and recipes, get ideas for centerpieces, menu plans and more.

There are 2.5 weeks until Thanksgiving.  Start your turkey thermometers now!

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Victoria's Secret Giveaway

Happy Friday, everyone! Let's celebrate with a small giveaway here at The Martha Initiative.  I'm giving away two fun coupons from Victoria's Secret! One is for a free Lacie Thong (up to $12.50 in value with no purchase necessary) plus $10.00 off of a bra (valid November 2-29, 2010).  The second coupon is for a free tote filled with beauty goodies with any $60 purchase, valid only on November 26, 2010. 

Small confession:  I got these coupons in the mail early this week, and since I am old and set in my ways, I have no plans to step inside a Victoria's Secret store anytime soon.  Additionally, and this may be too much for my more sensitive readers, thongs are just not for me.  Unless Martha Stewart wears them.  In which case, I'm all about the thong.

That said, let me give these coupons away to one lucky reader! 

To enter, become a follower of the blog and a fan on facebook by noon on Sunday, November 7, and then give me a shout on facebook to let me know that you want to be entered in the drawing.  That's it!

Oh, you're already a follower and a fan? No worries! Just give me a shout and let me know.

Oh, you don't want to advertise to everyone that you want to win a free thong from Victoria's Secret?  It's okay, I totally understand.  Just send me an email.  The address can be found on my profile.

To review: 
1. Become a follower of the blog.
2. "Like" The Martha Initiative on facebook.
3. Leave a message on my facebook wall that you'd like to be entered into the drawing.

I'll have the Little Guy draw a name at random on Sunday at 12:30pm sharp.  Good luck and happy shopping!

Disclaimer: this giveaway is not endorsed or sponsored in any way by Victoria's Secret. They're still mad at me from years ago when they asked me to be a Victoria's Secret model and I turned them down to live this glamourous life instead.  Bwahahahahaha!  Good one, Amanda, good one.  Seriously, I got the coupons by being on their mailing list, and since I won't use them I'd like to give them away to someone who will. 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Butternut squash risotto

Several weeks ago, I was exploring Martha's recipe selections for butternut squash, and I came across butternut squash risotto.  It looked delicious, but since I've never tackled risotto before and cooking risotto takes a lot of time, I put the recipe aside.  It stayed with me though, and finally I just had to make it.

And I'm so, so, so glad I did.  This dish is now among my top comfort foods, and it's a must for the chilly fall season.

Start with a bunch of butternut squash cut into pieces larger than dice.

The recipe calls for a whole butternut squash. I thought that seemed like a bit much, so I only used half.  This was wrong of me--in retrospect, I wish I had added the entire squash.  Oh well. Live and learn, am I right?

Risotto does take a substantial amount of time to make.  Add some liquid, stir the risotto until all the liquid is absorbed, add more liquid, stir the get the idea.  In all, you can expect to stir this dish for 40-60 minutes before it is ready.

My stirring time was constantly interrupted with the needs of my children, so I stepped away several times to wipe a nose or find a special toy.  This had me worried about the quality of the final product, but the risotto turned out fine.

It was my first time making risotto, and I am hooked. The time commitment is large, but it is worth it.  I can see this dish impressing dinner guests or just being a nice, comforting family meal for a chilly fall evening. 

Give this one a try soon, and let me know how it goes. Enjoy!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Martha Monday--Any leftover candy?

It's the day after Halloween...for those of you who have any candy left, Martha has a fun solution.  I found the recipe for shortbread candy bars in the October issue of Everyday Food.

Here's my crew for Halloween...after all the indecision about costumes, my Little Guy finally decided to be a rock star to go along with Baby Girl's lobster.  My dear readers, I give you...ROCK LOBSTER!

We might go on tour soon, if we can work out the details about nap times and sippy cups.  Rock stars can be so demanding!
I hope everyone had a very happy Halloween! Now, let's start thinking about Thanksgiving...