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The holidays are almost here!!

One of my favorite times of the year – Halloween – has come and gone. As I slowly take down my decor and store away my costume, my mind is all ready on to other craft projects for the holiday season. I don’t usually decorate for Thanksgiving but I am considering it this year. There may be a future post about that… In the meantime, I wanted to showcase some of the things I did in our home for Halloween and also show how inexpensive it can be to make your home feel festive. Below are some photos from around the home:

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This year Daniel and I decided to be Batman and Robin. He sported a pretty cool Batman shirt (with a cape). He made it easy by finding one at a local store. I on the other hand decided to create the entire costume like the one I’ve seen at Party City. I purchased some green silk fabric, a red shirt, and some felt. About two hours later and a lot of contemplating on how to sew something so that it doesn’t appear inside out, I created this outfit. It was a lot of fun being a superhero at work. In total, my costume cost about $16.

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This was one of my first projects for this year’s Halloween decor. I learned how to make a yarn wreath with one of my friends last year for Valentine’s Day. My goal is to create a wreath for each holiday of the year. This one took me about an hour and a half. It’s always great to pop in a movie when making a wreath as stringing the yarn around the foam takes a while. The best part is trying to figure out where to place all of your little pieces onto the wreath. In total, this project cost me about $10.

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This is my kitchen. This is where we had a full spread for our Halloween party. I decided to go with a chili dog bar so that everyone can build their own dogs. Although I don’t encourage eating a lot of hot dogs, I think it’s a great thing to serve when you are trying to feed about 25 people. On the island I was able to put out different little Halloween decor such as spiderwebs over plastic tablecloths and a couple other little things I found from the dollar store. I added some dimension on the island was by hiding some books underneath the tablecloth so that some plates stood a little bit higher than the others. Another thing that I did was put some fun labels on the condiment bottles. For instance, the ketchup said cyanide and mustard said crushed beetles.

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This is a prosciutto appetizer dish that I found on Pinterest. While I was wrapping the prosciutto around the plastic skull, I did begin to get a gagging feeling. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to eat any of the meat after finishing the whole thing. He was quite a hit and people kept eating his face. Barf.

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This next photo and the photo below show just a bit of decor that I put inside of the bathroom. I didn’t want to go overboard in a room that not many people were going to hang out inside of. The picture frames were a dollar a piece and I found the images on Pinterest. As for the decor that’s inside of the big bell jar, I found the skull and the bird at the dollar store as well and the large skeleton board. Then I bought some mini skulls and Halloween colored ornaments to put inside of a bowl. In total, it cost me about eight dollars to decorate the bathroom. The one thing that was a tad expensive in my bathroom was the pumpkin spiced soap. But I had to have it because the soap fit perfectly with the whole theme!!

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This is an old chalkboard from our wedding that I up cycled to put outside to let the guests know to take off their shoes.

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This large cauldron was probably one of the most expensive things I purchased this Halloween. It was $16 and I wanted to put some drinks inside of it and make it smoky. Daniel didn’t want me to play with some dry ice so instead I just put a picture of sangria inside of it with a ladle and guests were able to scoop it into little goblets. Inside of the goblets I put some lychee with blueberry eyeballs to make it look like floating eyes.

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This is our TV area. I wish I had a fireplace mantle but for now my shelf will do. I put some cool spiderweb cloth over it and then I cut out little paper bats to put above the TV. This decor is very subtle but I think it really changes the space. The cost was about three dollars just for the cloth. I already owned everything else.

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This is one of the coolest finds that I found while on my shopping adventures. I found these two glittered pumpkins from Target for a dollar a piece. I took them home and then I taped them to the top of two candlesticks that I bought from the dollar tree. I also bought the little black cauldrons in a package of six and a tapered candle to make a bleeding candle in my wine bottle for two dollars. In total, this cost me six dollars. I didn’t glue the pumpkins to the candlesticks because I want to be able to repurpose my candlesticks for something later this holiday season.

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And this is the view from my corridor that is outside of our front door. It’s really the only space that I have to decorate outside of my home. I bought two tombstones from the dollar tree and then I put my little ghost that I had purchased last year. The newest thing in this hallway is the doormat. In total, everything in this hallway cost me $14 minus the wreath.

I can’t wait to bring everything back out next October and continue to craft new items to add to our Halloween collection. I’m really going to need a public storage facility to house all of my things as my garage can no longer hold any more decorations that I have.

Productive Sunday

My plans to keep this blog going is coming to fruition! I spent the last two days in Las Vegas on a mini getaway. The plan was to celebrate a friend’s birthday and experience Halloween in Sin City. Seriously, this is the year of Vegas shenanigans as I went three times!! Anyway, I learned that I am getting a little too old to deal with overcrowded dance floors and have high expectations for hotel pools. Note to you Planet Hollywood, you have a ridiculous amount of space around the pool, why do you insist on only using 5 percent of the area?! And club goers, why don’t you dress up for Halloween? Halloween is better in San Diego. The plus side is I had good food, saw many professional bull riders (cowboys everywhere), got some rest and relaxation, watched my fave shows and read my book. Weekend getaways are great for catching up on things I don’t do while at home. The best feeling when I leave town is coming home and seeing my little family – Daniel and Vixen. i missed them so much!

Today, I caught up with an awesome friend, made holiday cards and cooked soup! This is quite productive for a Sunday.

Stampin Up parties are the new thing for me. I really enjoy making these cards with this group of ladies. It’s relaxing and I love sharing the cards with my family and friends. Stationery is really a lost art and people should continue to send mail again! Here are a couple of photos from today:

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I can’t wait to send these cards out in the next couple of weeks. Can you believe the holidays are only a couple of weeks away? After spending a few hours card making, I came home to make a soup from a recipe I saw in my latest Rachel Ray magazine. It was good, but a tad salty. I will need to remake the soup and cut back on the chicken stock which I think is the culprit for making the soup salty! Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:
1 cup whole-grain (not pearled) farro
2 tablespoons EVOO
8 ounces hot Italian sausage (about 2 links), casings removed
4 cloves garlic, sliced
5 cups chicken stock (I would sub half the stock with water)
1 bunch kale, stems removed, leaves roughly chopped (about 4 cups)
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves (didn’t use it)
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons grated pecorino-Romano (didn’t use it)

Directions:
– In a large, heavy saucepan, cover the farro with a couple inches of water.
– Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, salt the water and simmer gently until the farro is tender, about 30 minutes. Drain.
– Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, heat 1 tbsp. EVOO over medium. Cook the sausage, breaking it up, until browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Cook the garlic until golden, 2 minutes. Add the stock; bring to a simmer. Stir in the farro and kale and simmer until the kale is tender, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat.
– Return the sausage to the pan and stir in the thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Divide the stew among bowls, top with the cheese and drizzle with the remaining 1 tbsp. EVOO.

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Have a great week!!

I love my RR magazines

Well, there’s no avoiding it. I took a long hiatus from blogging because life got too busy. There were many great shareable moments from summer but to take the time to post and write, it’s nearly impossible. I’m going to take baby steps to start this process again. Let’s start with one soup that was really tasty!

I love subscribing to many cooking/home-style magazines: Southern Magazine, Food Network, Real Simple and Rachael Ray. I don’t have much time to read all of them but I always try to make something from my Rachael Ray (RR) magazine because her recipes are easy to make for a large group and they are tasty. The latest recipe she featured was chorizo and black bean soup. I’ve copied and pasted it below. This is for my soup making buddy Fab!

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon EVOO – Extra Virgin Olive Oil or vegetable oil
1/2 pound raw chorizo, casing removed and meat crumbled or chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 Serrano or jalapeño peppers, thinly sliced or chopped
3 to 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced or chopped
1 tablespoon ancho chili powder (a scant palmful) – I didn’t use this
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
Salt and pepper
2 15-ounce cans black beans, divided
3 cups chicken stock, divided
4 eggs – I didn’t use this
Optional toppings: I love cilantro so plenty of this!

Directions:
In a Dutch oven or heavy pot, heat the oil, 1 turn of the pan, over medium-high heat. Add the chorizo and cook until crisp at the edges, 2 minutes. Add the onion, chiles, garlic, chili powder, cumin and coriander; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, to toast the spices for a couple of minutes.

In a blender or food processor, purée 1 can beans and 1 cup chicken stock. Add purée to the Dutch oven along with the remaining 1 can beans and 2 cups stock. Simmer over medium-high heat for a few minutes to thicken. Then Bon Appetite!

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14 Days of Valentine Fun

With this year being the first Valentine’s Day that we share as husband and wife, I thought it would be nice to do something a little extra. Daniel and I usually spend Valentine’s day cooking each other dinner (trading off every other year) and enjoying a special dessert. We don’t usually do the lavish gift giving; we just get each other a card. After going on Pinterest to find some fun v-day ideas to share with my colleagues, I stumbled upon a 14 days of valentine idea. I took some of those ideas, used them as they were shown and modified a couple of them. Here are the ones I did this year.

While it was tiring to shop and make the notes for each one, it was fun to hide them around the house and get text messages from Daniel that showed a lot of excitement! The other thing that was challenging about this project was the feeling that I got that I was giving him too much sugary goods. Try your own way to modify the ideas and make your sweetie something healthier 🙂 By the way, I only have 13 goodies down there. The final thing I gave him on Valentine’s day was a card and a big hug. You just can’t capture that kind of stuff in a photo.

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Egg-shaped toast.

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Be careful! Heart-shaped carrots are quite the task!

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Doggie Treats

Daniel and I started fostering dogs through a local foster agency in November. We did it to save the many adorable stray dogs that end up in shelters. I thought we would foster several dogs before settling down with one but then Vixen came into our lives unexpectedly. She is such a great dog; she loves to go in walks, she can be left alone at home and she doesn’t ask too much of us. It’s not that we neglect her but we just needed a dog that could be independent. All in all, she is wonderful and I have become that dog mom that likes to spoil their dog. I don’t buy her lots if things but I like to feed her organic/home made goods. Since it was a rainy day, I stayed indoors and wanted to bake. I wasn’t in the mood to make something for myself so I thought it would be a neat to make my own dog treats. I found an easy recipe from Curbly. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to make. Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients (to make about 8 treats):
– 4 ounce jar of organic baby food (any flavor you’d like. I think dogs like orange flavored veggies like butternut squash and carrots) make sure that it doesn’t have ingredients that are deadly to dogs!
– One cup of 100% whole wheat flour

Recipe:
– Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
– Mix both ingredients together in one bowl. Add about one tablespoon of water if you need moisture to gather more flour if some of it doesn’t stick.
– Flour your counter and roll the dough out to a 1/4 inch thickness.
– Grab your favorite cookie cutter (I just happen to have a bone-shaped one – really, I’m not crazy enough to buy it just for this project!) and cut away.
– Place the treats on a cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes.

That’s it! Let the treats cool and then serve it to your dog. You can save the treats in an airtight container and give one to your dog once a day. Did I mention that this entire recipe only costs you about $1.50 (buy the flour whole sale). That’s a steal!

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A pocket full of goodness

This weekend was GREAT. I was able to craft, hang out with my sweet fiance and make good food. I appreciate any time that I can get to cook a great meal. Daniel got me subscriptions to Rachael Ray and Real Simple magazine and I have been eye balling many recipes for the past month. There are just too many dishes to make and not enough time. As time seems to fly by, I find myself resorting to the easy to make dinners (like grilled chicken and rice) instead of making elaborate meals. Although I didn’t make anything too elaborate this weekend, I’m glad I used three recipes I found in my food magazines and book.

The pocket full of goodness that I made this weekend was the empanada. Real Simple magazine features an area where they focus on one ingredient that you can use in ten recipes. Two months ago, they featured turkey as one of the main ingredients. We tend not to cook with turkey because it’s ground meat but the recipe looked easy and good. After going to Trader Joe’s, I found out that they didn’t have any pie crusts for the empanadas. I ended up making dough from scratch! So because of all the hard work I put into the dough, I found this was worth blogging about.

Dough recipe

Ingredients (makes about six large empanadas. I cut the recipe in half and ended up with three big enough to share empanadas)

2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 large egg
1/3 cup ice water (measure 1/3 cup of water and then throw an ice cube to chill in it for a bit to get ice water)
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar

Preparation

Sift flour with salt into a large bowl and blend in butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal with some (roughly pea-size) butter lumps.

Beat together egg, water, and vinegar in a small bowl with a fork. Add to flour mixture, stirring with fork until just incorporated. (Mixture will look brittle and break apart easily.)

Turn out mixture onto a lightly floured surface and gather together, then knead gently with heel of your hand once or twice, just enough to bring dough together. Form dough into a flat rectangle and chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, at least 1 hour. As you are waiting for the dough, you can start prepping the stuffing.

Empanada Filling Recipe (by me with some inspiration from Real Simple)

Ingredients

2 carrots (diced)

2 celery sticks (diced)

Half an onion (diced)

Dash of cumin (or as much as you’d like)

1 pound of ground turkey

Cheese (optional)

Directions

Saute all of the vegetables together on low heat for about three minutes. Once the vegetables start to look soft, add the turkey and cumin powder. Cook the turkey thoroughly and then allow the meat to cool down.

Preheat the over to 325 degrees.

Once the dough is ready, pull it apart to create small spheres of dough. You can then roll it out into circles. Place a handful of meat stuffing on one half of the circle, add cheese if you’d like and then fold the circle over and seal the empanada with a fork (to create the crinkles in the closed area).

Place the empanadas on a cookie sheet and spray them with some olive oil or canola oil. Bake for about 20 minutes then enjoy.

Now it’s time for some dessert. I’ve never been a fan of carrot cake (usually because it is ruined by raisins!). However, after reading Gesine Bullock’s book and drooling over her recipes, I decided that since it’s Easter, I should make a cake. Here’s the recipe for Gesine’s delish carrot cake. I didn’t put the effort into decorating it because I feel like the characteristic of carrot cake is to be more rustic looking with frosting slathered on it in a non-uniform manner. Someone at the pot luck I attended on Saturday decided to Easter it up a bit by adding a chocolate bunny.

People at work were afraid to decapitate the bunny so they cut around it. I was left with the large chocolate bunny and the cake that was left beneath it. Time to whip out fondue kit to make chocolate fondue :D.

LA Adventure

Every year there is the International Championship of A Capella which brings together college a capella groups from across the U.S. Daniel and I try our best not to miss it because we love to watch the best of the best sing their heart outs for a chance to make it to New York for the national competition. Even though I can’t carry a tune, I do enjoy hearing those that can. Before going to the show in LA, Daniel and I decided it would be a good opportunity to explore the foodie areas of LA. We don’t make it out to that area very often because the traffic just annoys us so when we do, we make the most of the day or two that we usually spend there. Daniel decided to take charge of the day’s adventures by planning out our site seeing and eating itinerary.

Daniel’s reason for picking the two places we ate at were because they ranked in the top ten Yelp places to eat in 2011 in the nation. We ate at Wurstküche and animal (yes, with a lower case a). I was surprised to find a long line of people at Wurstküche at 3 in the afternoon. Who eats lunch at that time? We were just getting a snack, so it was totally reasonable for us to be there ;). This place totally gets me. They specialize in German sausage and great beer. The combination is FANTASTIC. I don’t usually have a beer in the afternoon but this was a special occasion. When I read the menu, I didn’t even know where to begin. There were about ten different kinds of sausage that I could pick from but I was only hungry for one (so sad) that I felt like I had to pick the best one! I chose the mango, jalapeno and chicken sausage while Daniel went for the exotic rabbit and snake combo. I couldn’t bring myself to take more than one little bite of the one that he chose as I kept imagining the face of a snake staring me down. They are just really unattractive animals… I was quite content with my chicken sausage.

After stuffing ourselves with the sausages and beer, we headed to what we thought was LACMA but it was really the MOCA. They are two different places… but since we took a wrong turn, we ended up going on the Angels Flight trolley up to Angels Knoll park. This is the park where they filmed one scene from 500 Days of Summer. It had such a nice view of the downtown area so we took a moment to take it all in. Afterwards, we  headed to LACMA (the real one) and stumbled upon the La Brea Tar Pits. The eight year old in me yelped as I have never had the opportunity to go there when I was a child learning about it. I was really excited and explained to Daniel why all the excitement was there. We took some time walking around the park to look at the large art pieces. I’m glad to say I officially went to the Urban Light display and the tar pits. The Urban Light area was a lot smaller than I imagined it to be but it was still nice to see in person.

Interesting “spaghetti” like string display at the museum

After our sightseeing adventure, we headed over to animal. I had read about animal before on a blog but I still wasn’t sure what to expect. We went in to find a menu filled with lots of interesting animal parts from pig ears to veal brain. I like food but I don’t think I like it to the extent that I am willing to try weird animal parts (hence why I did not eat snake earlier in the day). I decided to go semi-vegetarian (still working on this in my every day lifestyle) and order the kale, baby broccoli and then quail (it’s very little meat!). The two green dishes satisfied my palette but I have to say, I wasn’t too fond of the quail. The quail was cooked well but I had a problem with the presentation. I just don’t think Greek yogurt should be used with any kind of meat type dish unless it was curry. The Greek yogurt was the foundation for the fruit that the quail laid on. Fruit and yogurt = parfait. My other two cents – this place is a bit steep on the pricing and hipster to the max.

Last thing of the LA day – acapella! Congrats to UCLA (my alma mater’s enemy) for making it to New York! They definitely deserved it. Daniel and I have watched them for the last three years and have seen them grow tremendously. They have the energy and the vocal chords that earned them the first place spot.