Meal Plan Monday Post

Hello! Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving however you may have celebrated - be it a loud and boisterous occasion with all the people you love, a more quiet and relaxed gathering with those dearest to you, or anything in between. Patrick and I traveled to my hometown and feasted on a wonderfully prepared Thanksgiving lunch with local family. It was nice to spend the day with family. Unfortunately we didn't have long to spend with them as we only made it a day trip. The rest of our weekend was spent changing the color of our walls - that's right, we've been painting! More on that soon but needless to say it makes cooking after those long spans of painting not nearly as enjoyable as usual. We made it happen but had to splurge a bit on Sunday.

Meal Plan for Monday November 23 - Sunday November 29

Monday - Met friends at Tomato Jake's; Patrick and I split a salad and calzone
Tuesday - Flatbread pizza with arugula
Wednesday - Creamy mustard chicken with whole wheat spaghetti and steamed asparagus
Friday - Bacon and goat cheese pasta
Saturday - Breakfast Cinnamon Rolls (made eight pans for the freezer; kept one out for us)
   Lunch Leftovers
   Dinner Fettucine alfredo with kale and Old Bay baked tilapia
Sunday - Breakfast The rest of the cinnamon rolls
   Lunch Fruit snack plate - cheese toasties, grapes, and apples with peanut butter
   Dinner Walked to Char-grill and enjoyed burgers, fries, and a shake

Cheers to the holidays!

Wellness Wednesday - Thankful for Health

Today I'm dropping in with a holiday health goal. I have challenged myself to 600,000 steps throughout November and December. The holidays are a time of gratitude. Thanksgiving is tomorrow and that's the biggest gratitude day of all.

I'm thankful for so much in my life. That could not be more evident as I watch the news each night and see what perils others face - whether it be local or national news. I'm thankful for a husband who is a wonderful provider and companion. He brings me such happiness and together we fill our home with love and laughter. I'm thankful for a family that is supportive and always concerned about our well being. Even though they aren't close as far as distance is considered they are always close in our hearts and a phone call away. I am thankful for friends - new and old friends alike. Patrick and I have put in effort to maintain friendships with college friends as well as branch out of our comfort zone where we are now and make new friends with those that surround us. I'm thankful to live in a community that provides so much for us. We live a fulfilled life where we are and for that we are grateful.

I'm also thankful for my health. Without good health I would not be able enjoy this fulfilled life. I would not be able to enjoy activities with my husband, outings to visit my family, dinner clubs with friends, or special events in our community. I recognize that putting my health first must be a priority to live a life well lived. This is one of the reasons I meal plan. I've learned that the less structured the meal plan is, the more often we let slip in take out. Cooking each night allows us to control what we're putting into our bodies but it also gives Patrick and myself time to connect with each other in the evenings after working days. But I'm not chiming in today with reasons to meal plan; I'm sharing my reason to be active!

The holiday season is filled with celebration. It's a joyous time to share with my husband, our families, and our friends. There will be feasts and parties and cheers. And I look forward to all these happy occasions that celebrate this time of the year. However I want to put my health first. I want to focus a bit on me during the holidays. So I'm doing just that by challenging myself to 600,000 steps. It's not 10,000 steps every day because just like our meal plan includes desserts and holiday parties are on our calendar I believe in "everything in moderation." Some days might not hit 10,000 steps - maybe we were traveling to see friends or doing a house project or the sun set super early and that prevented me from grabbing a walk or jog but the next few days will give me the opportunity to make up for that.

So how am I doing?! As of last night I had taken 250,409 steps. I'm right on track to meet my goal. Here are the screen shots of my FitBit app and you can see my weekly progress. Week 1 was 70,785 steps; Week 2 was 75,011 steps; and Week 3 was 76,834.

I'm glad I gave myself this challenge. I really haven't been this consistent with steps since I got the FitBit. I've definitely been more mindful about meeting the step goal but if I missed for a day I never made up for it on another day. I am pushing myself now to meet this challenge and my body thanks me. I feel happy inside! I've been walking and jogging outside quite a bit and being active outdoors really keeps me motivated.

I know we'll all be busy putting others before ourselves this holiday season. But remember that you're important too! Take time to focus on you so you can be present for others around you and savor the holiday season - whether it be walking around the neighborhood, reading a book, or lighting a candle and meditating. And if you'd like take join me in getting some steps. Feel free to hop on my challenge for December and take 300,000 steps before the New Year chimes in.

Spiced Pumpkin Cookies

I have gotten myself into trouble. I am now infatuated with cutout cookies and all the endless possibilities there are with royal icing decorating. It's like you can make a coloring book out of your cookies. A year or so ago a friend asked me if I had ever dabbled in royal icing and my answer was "what's royal icing". You might not know what royal icing is but you'd definitely be able to recognize it. It's a hard white icing that's often colored and used on sugar cookies (and many other desserts). The royal icing is piped around the cookie as an outline and then it is loosened with some water and the inside is "flooded" with this looser icing. I made these pumpkin cutout cookies a few weeks ago and ever since then I've been browsing cookie blogs and Instagrams in awe. Can't wait to make some Christmas sugar cookies!

Spiced Pumpkin Cut-Out Cookies from Bridget Edwards at Pioneer Woman
   Servings 12 (I had more than 12 cookies but I probably rolled them too thin; still tasty!)
3 C unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1-1/2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice
1/8 tsp cloves
3/4 C salted butter, cut into chunks
1/2 C granulated sugar
1/2 C Packed Light Brown Sugar
1 egg
1/2 C pumpkin puree
Royal Icing, Unflavored

   Whisk the flour, baking powder, and spices together. Set aside.
   With an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugars together until light and creamy. Beat in the egg and pumpkin, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.
   On low speed, add the flour mixture in three additions, mixing just until combined, scraping down the bottom of the bowl occasionally.
   Refrigerate the dough for 20–30 minutes before rolling. The pumpkin makes it a little sticky.
   Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
   On a floured surface and with a floured rolling pin, roll the dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut out the shapes, then freeze on the cookie sheet for 5–10 minutes before baking. Re-roll the scraps and continue cutting out cookies.
   Bake for 10–12 minutes, depending on the size of the cookies. Let rest on the cookie sheet for 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
   Once the cookies are cooled, decorate with royal icing.

Royal Icing Recipe from Bake at 350 blog
  This will cover 2-3 dozen 3.5 inch cookies in 2 colors
4 tbsp meringue powder
scant 1/2 C water
1 lb powdered sugar
1/2 - 1 tsp light corn syrup
few drops clear extract (optional)

   Combine the meringue powder and water. With the paddle attachment of an electric mixer, beat until combined and foamy.
   Sift in the powdered sugar and beat on low to combine. (Do NOT skip the sifting!) Add in the corn syrup and extract if desired. Increase speed to med-high/high and beat for about 5 minutes, just until the icing is glossy and stiff peaks form. (You should be able to remove the beater from the mixer and hold up and jiggle without the peak falling.) Do not overbeat.
   Cover with plastic wrap touching the icing or divide and color using gel paste food colorings.
   This "stiff" icing is perfect for outlining and even for building gingerbread houses and monogramming. To fill in your cookies, add water to your icing a teaspoon at a time, stirring with a rubber spatula, until it is the consistency of syrup. This technique of filling a cookie with thinned icing is called "flooding."

The cookies are particularly delightful with real pumpkin. They're soft and chewy too which is how Patrick likes his sugar cookies!

Meal Plan Monday Post

Patrick and I did something last week we've never done before! We also had a very busy week but kept ourselves motivated in the kitchen and cooked our meal plan. There were a few evenings where I could've easily gone for take out but, knowing that we had a refrigerator full of food to cook, I didn't let temptation get the best of me.

Wondering what we did that we've never done before?? We entertained guests and used our formal table settings twice in one week! We had one of our very favorite couples over on Tuesday for dinner and served turkey stuffed butternut squash with an arugula grain salad. Then on Friday we had three couples over for a neighbor get together. This was also the first time we had service for 8 using the china and crystal. We served orzo stuffed chicken with sweet potatoes and a kale salad. The neighbors chipped in with an appetizer, beer and wine, and dessert. This made preparing the meal really simple since we didn't have to worry about those other elements. Major thanks to Patrick who slipped away from the office early on both of those nights to make sure I was managing everything in the kitchen without extra stress!

Meal Plan for Monday November 16 - Sunday November 22

Monday - Pork schnitzel, spinach salad, wax beans
Tuesday - Friends over for dinner; served Turkey stuffed butternut squash with a grain arugula salad, tiramisu
Wednesday - Thai Turkey chili
Thursday - Scallops and brussels-sweet potato salad
Friday - Neighbors over for dinner; served orzo stuffed chicken breasts, kale salad, and King's arms tavern sweet potato casserole
Saturday - Breakfast Bacon and eggs, pear
   Lunch Leftovers
   Dinner Cod with sauteed ginger and cashew tatsoi
Sunday - Breakfast Oatmeal with banana
   Lunch Leftovers
   Dinner Broccoli and cheese soup

 It's Always Caturday
My best snuggle buddy

Hope you have a nice Thanksgiving!

Apple Butter and apple maple jam

You've made it through the canning blitz week! There were dilly beans and applesauce and piccalilli. And now there are more apples!

What's a gal to do with a bushel of apples besides make applesauce? Resort to other means and methods of course (err... recipes!). After making two batches of applesauce I set off to make something else with the rest of my apples. I did quite a bit of back and forth through some recipe books and I decided to make apple butter and an apple-maple jam. I made two batches of apple butter because it was pretty simple even if it was time consuming. It became an all day affair, really. The apple-maple jam was a bit more advanced because I had to get it to a gelling point which was not only time consuming but required a bit of judgment.

I think I preferred making the apple butter because I figured out I could let it simmer in a crockpot all day - I would make the apple puree in the morning, let it simmer in the crockpot until after dinner, and then can it before bed. Like I said, all day affair!

Apple butter from the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving (2012)
yield 3 pints
4 pounds apples (about 16 medium)
4 cups sugar
2 tsp cinnamon I substituted an apple pie spice blend for the cinnamon and cloves
1/4 tsp cloves
   To prepare pulp: Wash apples. Core, peel and quarter apples. Combine apples and 2 cups water in a large saucepot. Simmer until apples are soft. Puree using a food processor or food mill, being careful not to liquefy. Measure 2 quarts apple pulp.
   To make butter: Combine apple pulp, sugar and spices in a large saucepot. Cook slowly until thick enough to round up on a spoon. As mixture thickens, stir frequently to prevent sticking. Ladle hot butter into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Adjust two-piece caps. Process 10 minutes in boiling water canner.
   Note: If butter becomes too thick, add water or apple juice for desired consistency.

Two for one day! Here's the apple-maple jam recipe too.

Apple maple jam from the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving (2012)
yield about 8 half pints
3 quarts chopped, peeled, cored apples (about 6 pounds)
6 cups sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
1 cup maple syrup

   Combine all ingredients in a large saucepot. Bring slowly to a boil. Cook rapidly to gelling point. As mixture thickens, stir frequently to prevent sticking. Remove from heat. Skim foam if necessary. Ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Adjust two-piece caps. Process 10 minutes in a boiling water canner.

And with that the canning blitz week concludes.


And here we are with Day 3 of the Canning Blitz! We've shared dilly beans and applesauce; today is a green tomato relish that goes by the name of piccalilli.

Piccalilli came about much the same way dilly beans did. But this time it's not because I really like the name! Although I do really like asking Patrick if he'd like some piccalilli as a snack. The reason the dilly beans were actually made was because my dad passed off four pounds of green beans to me. The main component of piccalilli are green tomatoes.

We experienced our first brief frost about a month ago. My dad called the weekend before the frost and said "hey, I've got all these tomatoes that need to come off the vine before the frost comes. Want some?" Patrick can attest to this but when Dad calls and says, "I have some [insert any vegetable], do you want some?" I never turn it down. The other interesting tidbit is I never really quite know what I'm getting myself into when I accept. For instance after this trip down to his farm I came back with a big box of ripe tomatoes, a big box of butterbeans, and he just offhandedly offered a bucket of green tomatoes. So the butterbeans and green tomatoes weren't even planned for! I shelled and flash froze all the butterbeans in 2 quarts bag. The ripe tomatoes were peeled, cored, and then stewed down before I canned them in quart jars as crushed tomatoes. After all of this I was then able to turn my attention to the green tomatoes. I browsed through my canning resources and thought this piccalilli recipe would be just the thing to do with all of them!

After I decided to make it I thought I should know what it is. So I did a bit of research and came up with this: piccalilli is a regional relish of chopped vegetables and has British origins. Wikipedia told me that it was "an English interpretation of Indian pickles, a relish of chopped pickled vegetables and spices; regional recipes vary considerably." And the more I researched the more I saw that regional recipes vary considerably couldn't be more true! It seemed that British piccalilli has quite a bit of mustard in it and that is it's defining characteristic. The Wikipedia page has an expanded section on American piccalilli. It is regionally known in the Northeast, Midwest, and the South. So you read more than you ever wanted to know about piccalilli at the Wikipedia page and googling because I think I've said enough!

Piccalilli [Green Tomato Relish] from the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving (2012)
   Yield 7 pints
4 quarts chopped, cored, green tomatoes (about 32 medium)
2 quarts chopped cabbage (about 1 large head)
2 cups chopped sweet green peppers (about 4 small)
1 cup chopped onion (about 1 medium)
1/2 cup Ball Salt
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
2 tbsp mustard seed
1 tbsp celery seed
1 tbsp prepared horseradish
4 1/2 cup vinegar
optional - Ball Pickle Crisp

   Combine vegetables in a large bowl. Sprinkle salt over vegetables and mix thoroughly; let stand 3 to 4 hours. I let sit overnight. Drain; rinse and drain thoroughly. Combine sugar, spices, horseradish and vinegar in a large saucepot. Simmer 15 minutes. Add vegetables and bring to a boil.
   Pack hot relish into hot jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Add Pickle Crisp to each jar, if desired. Remove air bubbles. Adjust two-piece caps. Process 10 minutes in a boiling water canner.

Patrick and I have been enjoying the piccalilli as a snack with cream cheese and crackers. On this particular day we added some nuts, grapes, and dilly beans. I think it'd be a great addition to summer cookouts!

Almost done with the canning blitz! Come back tomorrow for the last of the canning blitz recipes.


Welcome to Day 2 of the canning blitz! Did you read about dilly beans yesterday??

Today is all about apples! I decided to buy a bushel of apples. Do you know how much a bushel of apples is? It's forty pounds. Forty pounds of apples. When Patrick came home and saw forty pounds of apples acquired by his wife he slowly backed away from the kitchen and turned to run in the opposite direction! No worries; I enjoyed making my way through a bushel of apples!
I canned two batches of applesauce, two batches of apple butter, and tried my hand at an apple-maple jam. There was also an apple crisp! Today we're sharing the applesauce recipe on the blog. The apple butter and apple-maple jam will make an appearance at the end of the week. Keep in mind that these canning recipes are developed for canning and preservation but there's no rule that they have to be canned. You can make the recipes and keep them in your refrigerator and use immediately.

Applesauce from the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving (2012)

2 1/2 to 3 1/2 pounds apples per quart
sugar (optional)

Wash apples; drain. Core, peel, and quarter apples.
Cook apples until soft in a large covered saucepot with just enough water to prevent sticking.
Puree using a food processor or food mill. Return apple pulp to saucepot. Add 1/4 cup sugar per pound of apples or to taste, if desired. Bring applesauce to a boil, stirring to prevent sticking. Maintain temperature at a boil while filling jars. Ladle hot sauce into hot jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Adjust two-piece caps. Process pints and quarts 20 minutes in a boiling-water canner.
Variation: Spiced applesauce can be made by adding ground spices, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, or allspice, to the sauce during the last 5 minutes of cooking. I also cooked the apples with two cinnamon sticks and removed before pureeing. 
   For a chunky sauce, coarsely crush half of the cooked apples; process remaining apples through a food processor or food mill. Combine crushed and sauced apple mixtures; continue as directed above. I made two batches. The first was chunkier and I did not use the food processor. For the second batch I used the food processor and greatly preferred this consistency for the applesauce. 

Dilly Beans

Welcome to the canning blitz week! This week I'll be sharing all the recipes that I've canned recently. Today it's dilly beans. Then there a few apple recipes and something with green tomatoes - check back to see what it is!

Do you know what a dilly bean is? It's quite simply a pickled green bean. If I'm being honest I'll have to admit that I wanted to make pickled green beans solely because "dilly bean" is incredibly fun to say. "Hey, what did you do today?" "I made dilly beans!" See... so fun! (And Patrick thought I was crazy when he heard that.) Fun name aside, imagine our surprise when these dilly beans turned out to be awesome. I'm not a huge dill fan so I wasn't 100% sure how much we'd like them as I'd never actually had dilly beans before.

Now you're probably thinking I went and spent money on produce to make something I wasn't even sure I'd like. But I wouldn't do that! My dad called to say he had some green beans fresh from the garden for me. Little did I know that it was four pounds of green beans! And four pounds of green beans is, ironically enough, perfect for a double batch of dilly beans. So off I set to can eight pints of dilly beans.

Four pounds of green beans
Dilly Beans from the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving (2012)
   Makes about 4 pints or 2 quarts
2 lbs green beans
1/2 cup Ball pickling salt
2 1/2 cups vinegar
2 1/2 cups water
1 tsp cayenne pepper, divided
4 cloves garlic
4 heads dill or 4 teaspoons dill seed
Pickle crips, optional

   Trim ends off green beans. Combine salt, vinegar and water in a large saucepot. Bring to a boil. Pack beans lengthwise into hot jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. For pints: add 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 clove garlic, and 1 head dill (or 1 teaspoon dill seed). For quarts: add 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 2 cloves garlic, and 2 heads dill (or 2 teaspoons dill seed). Add Pickle Crisp to each jar, if desired.
   Ladle hot liquid over beans, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Adjust two-piece caps. Process pints and quarts 10 minutes in a boiling water canner.
Let beans stand for at least 2 weeks before tasting to allow the flavor to develop.

A few notes: The cayenne imparts just a bit of spice; it does not provide an overwhelming kick of heat. 
   I used wide mouth canning jars since the green beans were placed into the jars by hand. The wide mouth jar allowed for maximum green bean placement.
   I did not use pickle crisp. I'm not 100% sure what it is. This is a downfall of not growing up and watching someone can. Sure, I can google around and figure out what it is but for something like I prefer a seasoned canner's opinion. I've done a few recipes without the pickle crisp and haven't seemed to need it. Maybe opening the jars after more than a few months might make a difference?
  And finally I used the dill seed instead of a sprig of dill. I desperately wanted fresh dill but only for aesthetics. Dill must be a fragile herb; it was too hot for dill said all the farmers market vendors and there was no fresh dill to be found.

Outtake 1: Dupree helping with the photoshoot.

Meal Plan Monday Post

Patrick and I are back from a quick weekend trip to DC! We have a handful of friends there and it's always nice to have an excuse to visit. This time it was an engagement party. We had lots of fun catching up with our friends and celebrating the engaged couple. The weather was not too cold and the changing leaves were a gorgeous backdrop for our travels. Before our weekend away we were cooking in the kitchen. We were trying new recipes, repeating some favorites, brought a dish to a potluck, and had a throw together meal to use up things in the refrigerator before we left. All delicious!

Meal Plan for Monday November 9 - Sunday November 15

Monday - Chicken with balsamic tomatoes and orzo on a bed of spinach
Tuesday - Cornmeal fried tilapia, marinated green bean and butter bean salad
Wednesday - Junior League Thanksgiving potluck; we brought a honey glazed ham
Thursday - Butternut squash and sweet Italian sausage penne fake bake
Friday thru Sunday - In DC to celebrate the engagement of one of Patrick's childhood friends
   Dinner Orecchiette and roma beans

Engagement Party pic
Stay tuned to the blog this week for a canning blitz! I'll be sharing all the recipes I've made lately.

Fall Festival Block Party

We did it again! We had a block party for our neighbors. The first block party was in June and a great way to kick off the summer! It was such a resounding success that I thought another one would be well received. I'm hoping to keep the two block parties going as an annual tradition. Check back next year for an update! In my opinion the two block parties celebrated some of the best seasonal highlights. By having them in June and October the block parties were themed as summer kickoff and fall festival. Here are the fall festival highlights...

Pumpkin spice has somehow became synonymous with fall, and how can you overlook apple pie?! I thought a baked goods contest would be fun as the highlight for the fall festival. But I also wanted to have a festival-like atmosphere. Wonder how I married the two? Play a game to get a pom-pom and then use the pom-pom to vote in the baked goods contest!

The pom-pom jar reads "play a game / get a pom-pom"
The baked goods contest jar reads "vote for me with a pom-pom"

We had one table set aside for the baked goods. When folks brought their baked good I placed a mason jar next to it with a label for what it was. As you can tell this baked goods contest was all for fun! It made everyone play a game and get involved with the kiddos. The pumpkin spice cake won!

Baked goods

And now I bet you want to know how you got a pom-pom? We had some super laidback game options that everyone enjoyed. There were 3 games available. The first was some sort of variation of basket bowling. There were 6 baskets stacked in a triangle and the objective was to knock them all over with the mini soccer ball.

Next up was "witch hat" ring toss. We found the witch hat ring toss set at Target. It's a set of black cones with a buckle painted around them. It came with three coordinating rings. The objective was to get all the rings on the cones!

Finally there was a mini pumpkin tic-tac-toe set up. Next to where the games were set up was a small folding table with an orange plastic tablecloth on it. With a sharpie I wrote on the tablecloth "fun and games" and also drew the outline of a tic-tac-toe board. On the table surrounding the tic-tac-toe board I placed 5 orange mini pumpkins and 5 white mini pumpkins which were your tic-tac-toe accessories. I also had some bubbles on the table which were quite a hit towards the end of the party.

A party isn't complete without some snacks. We needed some savory and crunchy options to offset our baked goods table. Next to that table we lined up all the snacks! Chips and dip, spanakopita. fruit, cheese and crackers, and chicken artichoke cups were all offerings for the snacks.

Finally there was a small drinks table set up. There were two beverage dispensers - one with water and one with a sparking apple cider mocktail from Events by Social Graces blog

For the Sparking Apple Cider Mocktail: Mix together 6 cups apple cider, 2 cups orange juice, and 1/2 cup lemon juice. Before serving slowly add in one bottle sparkling apple cider. Serve to fall festival guests.

Even though this was a smaller turnout than our summer block party I'd still call it a success!

In this picture you can see a bit of our set-up. On the nearer curb we have the food tables - snack, baked goods, and drinks. Then on the opposite side are the games.

And finally I'll share the invitation! I put these together at the beginning of October for everyone. Each name tag at the corner had each family's name so that they were all personalized. The invitation also included a Signup Genius link which is an online RSVP and sign up tool.

Happy Fall! Hope you are enjoying festive fellowship with your neighbors.