6 Christmas Treats to Try & My Favorite Gingerbread Recipe

Xmas timeSo I have made some progress on my Christmas shopping…thank you internet.  I love having an idea, finding it online, typing in my address and credit card information and then sitting back waiting for it to show up at my door.  How did we ever get through the holidays without the internet?  Of course, that doesn’t mean I won’t hit the mall too.  I still like to wander some of my favorite stores looking for cool stocking stuffers and gift ideas.  But online shopping sure takes some of the pressure off.

With the gift shopping seemingly under control I am beginning to think of holiday baking.  I am a traditionalist when it comes to Christmas.  I think it is fun to have traditions, especially when you take traditions you grew up with and then add your own.  One of the traditions I have with my kids is decorating sugar cookies.  Over the years this has evolved and has often included various friends and/or family members.  IMG_0987The tradition is the decorating, who is involved changes from year to year.  I have tried various sugar cookie recipes and now have a “go-to” one that I use every year (or I had a go-to recipe…I am searching frantically for it, hoping I will find it before this weekend!).  I make traditional icing from powdered sugar and butter in at least six colors.  And I have a wide array of decorations and decorating tools, some from the supermarket, some from King Arthur Flour (a favorite source) and some from Williams-Sonoma.  Let me say right 181803_10200257997322005_746518064_nnow…our cookie decorating is much more about fun than perfection ~ there are no Martha Stewart creations here.  In fact, over the years we have had some incredibly silly cookies.  And let’s just say that sometimes the word “creative,” when used to describe the results, is used very (very) loosely (the cookie to the left started off as a snowflake but one of the arms of it broke off, leaving way for the evolution of some kind of Christmas monster…hey, I didn’t make it).  But we have a lot of fun and our cookies always taste good, which is what it is all about.

In addition to our sugar cookies, I usually make a few other favorites.  In our house we love my gingerbread cookies (and they are often a part of our decorating efforts).  I am not a huge fan of molasses and some of the strong spice flavors that find themselves in the list of gingerbread ingredients.  In fact, until I tried a friend’s gingerbread when I lived in London, I didn’t think I liked gingerbread.  But her’s was different…no molasses, fresh ginger and ground ginger, along with cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg…very easy dough to work with and a subtle taste.  If you didn’t think you liked gingerbread, give this one a try (thank you Meryl!).

Over the years I have tried different holiday cookies and candies…some I might make for years, others just once.  But I think it is fun to try something new with the hope that I will find that terrific recipe that will become part of my holiday tradition.  In that vein, here is a selection of some recipes that are on my short-list this year to give a try.

Turtle Cookies

Turtle Cookies_Top View 2

Not only do these sound delicious (chocolate cookie dough, nuts, caramel, chocolate…) but they look really pretty too.  And while there are multiple steps involved, they still fall into what I call a “doable” category.  It’s the holidays, a little extra effort is expected.

Red Velvet Cream Cheese Thumbprints

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A version of thumbprint cookies almost always get made in my house…the recipe I use is one my mother made when I was growing up…how is that for tradition?  But I have to say that this version is not only pretty & festive, but sounds super yummy.  Might be the year to try something new.

Christmas Bark

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These bark ideas are so easy.  This one adds red and green M&Ms, mint oreos, white chocolate chips and crushed peppermint.  The author has you crush candy canes in a ziploc bag…I like to buy the already crushed candy canes…much easier and you end up with nice, uniform pieces…call me lazy or call me a perfectionist…here are a couple of resources: Wilton for a small amount (6 oz) and Andes for 10 oz).

Gingerbread Christmas Trees

gingerbread cookie trees

If you want to try my gingerbread recipe but you don’t have a gingerbread man cookie cutter, why not try these Christmas trees instead?  I think they look really pretty and would be easy peasy to make ~ sometimes I don’t want to have to think too much about being creative.  Plus who doesn’t like a cookie with nonpareils on it?

Peppermint Kiss Cookies

Peppermint-Kiss-Cookies-3Because really, can you get too much peppermint at the holidays?  I think not.  And if you order that bigger bag of crushed peppermint, you can use it in this recipe too.  I love things that are easy and look pretty all at the same time.  

Salted Caramel Pretzel Pecan Bon Bons

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This is another take on turtles (who doesn’t love turtles?).  I am totally making these.  Of all the recipes, this one couldn’t be simpler ~ I think the hardest part will be unwrapping all the caramels.  I have all the ingredients…I will let you know how they turn out.

What are your baking traditions?  Do you stick with the tried and true every year or do you like to experiment with something new?  What are your opinions on gingerbread?  Do you know where my sugar cookie recipe is?  :)

Happy baking.

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8 Holiday Gifts You Can Make

Christmas-Shopping-Fever-2I have yet to start my Christmas shopping.  My tree is up, but there is not a single wrapped present under it (or unwrapped present hiding in a closet somewhere).  Moving less than two months ago and starting a new job/new career just over a month ago, I feel a bit behind on the whole holiday thing.  So it is highly unlikely that I will find time to make any gifts.  But I still like the idea of homemade gifts, especially for hostess gifts and gifts to neighbors.  And maybe some of you have a bit more time on your hands and would like to try one or more of these ideas out.  If you do, give me some feedback.

I scoured Pinterest for what I thought were good homemade gift ideas…things thatWoman Reading Long List weren’t overly complicated/ didn’t require a laundry list of tools and supplies and would be something I would be proud to give as a gift.  Let me tell you, there is a plethora of how to make your own bath salts and body scrubs.  But I was kind of “meh” on those…does anyone actually use those?  And they seemed to be made of sugar as the base…I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t in love with the idea of rubbing some scented sugar all over my body…like isn’t sugar sticky?  Just didn’t do it for me.   I did include a “body butter” idea, but I’m a bit skeptical…trying to be open-minded.

So I have eight different ideas for you.  Some could be really fun to do with children…I love the idea of having kids make gifts.  My own kids are grown up now but over the years we made and gave many a gift.  I think it means more to the kids when they have a hand in the gift.  But let’s get on with it, there are only 17 days until Christmas!

Idea #1: Coasters

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I thought these were really cute and people can always use coasters.  You can choose some pretty wrapping paper or scrapbooking paper to make these ~ Paper Source has some beautiful options…you could even make some holiday specific coasters.  I was recently looking for (non-holiday) coasters and quite frankly I was disappointed in what was available…a lot of ugly ones out there.  So this seemed like a fun idea, and definitely something that kids could do.  You will probably need to make a run to the craft store for a few supplies, along with a trip to Home Depot or Lowe’s for the tiles.  But overall this seemed like a relatively simple project with nice results.  I won’t get to these before the holidays but I might try to make a set for myself later on.

Idea #2: Paperwhites in a Mason Jar

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Forcing bulbs at the holidays is a fun way to bring some cheer into the house in the middle of winter, and paperwhites are an easy bulb to force.  This project requires just a few supplies, and is another one that children can help with.  This could be a nice gift to hand out to neighbors, or to deliver to a senior center…although any age can enjoy flowers in winter!  I expect you can find the bulbs at any outdoor center but if you like to have things magically appear at your door like I do, you can order them on Amazon (of course) or from Home Depot.

Idea #3: Hot Cocoa Kits

Hot-Cocoa-Mix-Kit-HoosierHomemade

This one is just really pretty…makes a very nice presentation, and once you find the containers, the rest of the supplies are easy.  The author gives some direction in finding the craft bottles she used, I am giving you the direct link.  The bottles are $1 apiece.  The author says that each gift comes in at about $5, perfect for giving to teachers, neighbors or anyone you just want to give a little something to without breaking the bank.  I like the myriad of ideas for what to fill the containers with (besides the hot cocoa mix of course!).  Kids would have fun putting these together.  What really makes this gift in my opinion is the decorative ribbon and other touches that give it a festive look.  A lot of room for being creative here.

Idea #4: Sharpie Paint Pen Christmas Glasses

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Can’t get any easier than this one.  You need some kind of glassware and sharpie paint pens (which dry quickly and are smear-resistant and waterproof).  The glasses shown here are done with silver and gold paint pens ($5.99 on Amazon, or I just found them at Staples)…I am all about glitz at the holidays, so I love these.  But you could also use red and green or blue and silver for some Hanukkah fun.  You don’t even have to be particularly talented to do these…maybe the Christmas tree above would take a moderate amount of skill, but the squiggles and dots anyone can do, even someone with minimal artistic talent like myself.  I also found these examples at Crate & Barrel which would be easy to mimic.

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Idea #5: Peppermint Body Butter

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This one I am a bit more skeptical about, but it sure looks pretty.  It is made from coconut oil, cocoa butter, peppermint oil and some red food coloring.   I think I would try this on myself before giving to someone else.  And I would also to make sure to label this well…I might be tempted to eat it instead of using it on my skin if I didn’t know better.

Idea #6: Tiered Platter (or holiday plates)

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This idea is presented as a two-tiered platter, which is nice for the holidays for serving cookies and other treats.  But you could also just do holiday plates or platters without adding the candlestick to make it two tiered.  Note that the modge podge shown in the directions is not waterproof.  There is a waterproof one called outdoor modge podge, if you thought you would be subjecting your plates/platters to more vigorous cleaning.  I still wouldn’t put anything like this in the dishwasher.

Idea #7: Gift in  a Tin

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This is a fun gift because it is adaptable to different themes.  You can do a Christmas Baking Kit, Winter Cold Survival Kit, Movie Night Tin, Coffee Lover Tin, Snow Day Tin, Spa Day Tin or anything else you can dream up or that would be a good fit for the recipient (I think an art tin for kids could be fun).  The great thing about the linked post is that she provides you with printable labels and tags to go with the gift tins she has posted about, making it even easier to reproduce beautiful results.

Christmas-Baking-Kit-Printables

Finding the galvanized tubs isn’t quite so easy (or inexpensive).  I did find this resource, aptly called Bucket Outlet, that has a host of different sizes and the price points seem reasonable.  Just recognize that the price of this gift could vary a lot depending on the contents and the style/size of the container you choose.   Bucket Outlet also has colored buckets if you would prefer to do something in red or blue (Hanukkah) or even as a gift for a birthday, mother’s day, etc.

Idea #8: Limoncello and Homemade Baileys Irish Cream

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Probably the one idea on my list that isn’t really child-friendly.  :)  Limoncello…so pretty, so tasty.  I had no idea you could make your own.  And truthfully it seems like it would be pretty easy…but you might have to start this one next year as it needs to set first for 2 weeks, then for an additional 3 weeks.  So too late for this Christmas…but pin it to your Pinterest* page for next year.  Or try it out for yourself now, make for friends next year.  Unfortunately you are going to have to make your own tags (aren’t the ones pictured cute?).

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Unlike the Limoncello, the Bailey’s Irish Cream (or maybe we should just call it Irish Cream, right?) is ready immediately and will keep up to 2 months in the refrigerator.  Finding bottles like these is pretty easy…here is an online resource.  And here is another resource for all kinds of bottles and jars (including mason jars) that can be used in various projects.

I know I said “8” holiday gifts you can make, but I’m going to throw in one bonus gift…for those with no time or limited skills.   I’m not even going to link to a blog post on this one, I think you got this.  :)

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So there you have it, eight nine different ideas to get your holiday gift-giving jump-started.  I would love to hear from anyone who tries out any of these projects…both the good and the bad.  Did it turn out?  Was it easy or hard?  Any tips you would like to pass along?  Was the gift well-received?  And most importantly, was it FUN?!

*If you like my ideas, consider following me on Pinterest!

 

 

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Should Boston Host the 2024 Summer Olympics?

L.A.-Olympic-RingsI read a great piece in the Boston Globe the other day titled “Can We Talk About the 2024 Olympics?”  In in Yvonne Abraham discusses the fact that the US Olympic Committee will be making a decision in the next few months about which US host city they will be submitting to the IOC for consideration for the Summer 2024 Olympics.  Four cities are in the running, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington DC and…(cue dramatic music)…Boston.  I admit to hearing some murmurings about Boston putting in a bid to host the Olympics, but I didn’t realize this was really happening…you may think me naive, but I don’t think I am the only one who isn’t paying a lot of attention.

“Boston has somehow become a finalist without ever saying officially that it wants to do this, and now it could actually win without any political body saying we want to do this,” said Andrew Zimbalist, a professor of economics at Smith College…

I didn’t really think this would go anywhere, and now I read that by January we may be the US pick to enter the running to host.  I have to admit to feeling a bit panicky when I read the Boston Globe article…the LAST thing I want is to be a host city for the Olympics.    bull_fight1When I was ten or so I probably would have thought it really exciting, but being now older (and wiser, much wiser) I find the idea frightening.  Not only do I see it as a royal pain in the you-know-what for those who actually live in (or in my case, near) the host city, I just don’t think that the lure of hosting the “world’s largest party” makes a lot of economic sense.

Of course, I’m speaking in the public sense…it doesn’t make much economic sense to me, a taxpayer.  But it probably makes loads of sense to the leader of the local committee supporting Boston’s bid, who just so happens to be the CEO of a large….wait for it…construction company.  Yeah, makes loads of economic sense for them.  bank-russia-dubious-dollars.siHow much are they projecting that the Olympics will cost Boston?  $4.5 billion?  Seriously?  Athens cost $16 billion, Beijing $40 billion, and London $20 billion.  Where is $4.5 billion coming from?  That would be difficult to say, as John Fish, the CEO of Suffolk Construction, has said that it is too early in the bidding process to have “any real discussions about the bid,” that such things should wait until Boston has actually received the blessing from the US Olympic Committee.  At which point, as Yvonne Abraham points out in her article, it might be too late.  Fish seems to think that by putting Boston forward as a host city he is helping both Boston and the state of Massachusetts.  And yet, history (of which there is a lot of) doesn’t seem to support the idea that hosting an Olympics brings economic benefits to the host.

The reigning idea that hosting an Olympics boosts tourism and economic development is not borne out by the actual numbers.  In fact, some hosts (most recently London and Beijing) actually see a decrease in tourism.  As Victor Matheson, professor of Economics at Holy Cross says, “Boston is already overrun with tourists in the summer.”  swan-boats-at-the-boston-public-gardenWe don’t need an Olympics to boost tourism.  And building stadiums ~ not a lot of economic sense.  Los Angeles, one of the few economically successful Olympics, did not build new stadiums.  There has been talk recently of the Kraft family building a new soccer stadium, which could potentially play into the need for an Olympic venue.  Except that a soccer stadium is generally built to hold around 20,000, whereas the Olympic stadium would need to hold 80,000.  Boston apparently has enough hotel rooms, basketball courts, soccer stadiums and baseball parks, but lacks four necessary venues.

The biggest — the 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium and 100-acre Olympic Village, with 16,500 beds and a 5,000-seat dining hall — would ideally be built close to the city center, to satisfy the IOC’s recommendations. However, land in Boston’s urban core is scarce, the report said. The state would also need an Olympic-sized velodrome for the cycling events and a large aquatics center.

And then there’s the transportation issue.

The public transit system would need to be expanded, “requiring additional and significant investments in our infrastructure to handle the capacity that an Olympics would bring to Boston,” the report said. Traffic — already a notorious bugaboo of life in Boston — would also be a concern, the report noted.

I don’t think a lot of Massachusetts residents are paying all that much attention.  And they should.  Certainly Boston could benefit from some infrastructure improvements and some see hosting an Olympics as a way to “fast track” that.  But along with the infrastructure improvements would come a lot of headache and unnecessary expense.  As Eric Wilbur wrote in his sports blog on boston.com

What the Olympics could do is prompt an immediate upgrade in the subway system and city bridges, both long overdue.

Perfect. Do we have to invite the country of Andorra here in order to get that done?Andorra-map

Studies show high levels of public support from the host nation before, during and after an Olympics.  I’m just wondering if the high level of support would actually be realized in the state of Massachusetts.

What do you think?  As a Massachusetts resident, are you supportive of an Olympic bid (and just because I’m not doesn’t make me right)?  If you live elsewhere, what do you think of a Boston bid?  What if your state was putting forth a bid, would you feel any differently?

Resources:  Do the Olympics Cost too Much for Host Cities?

Why Would Anyone Want to Host the Olympics?

3 Reasons Why Hosting the Olympics Is a Loser’s Game

Does Hosting the Olympics Actually Pay Off?

 

 

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Most Googled Thanksgiving Recipes

happy-thanksgiving-2Tomorrow is Thanksgiving…can you give me a “whoop whoop?”  I am not hosting and am feeling quite relaxed.  So relaxed that I spent part of yesterday putting up Christmas lights.  It was 60 degrees, it seemed like the smart thing to do.

I found this interesting article, “The Thanksgiving Recipes Googled in Every State,” in the New York Times that I thought I would share with you. It lists the top ten most googled Thanksgiving recipes in every state (that’s the easy explanation of the results, read the article for a more detailed explanation).  I am going to say up-front, there were some weird entries.  Let’s go through it, state-by-state:

Alabama: Sweet potato dumplings.  Right now I am just waiting (fingers-crossed) logo-tcu-horned-frogs-575x575.s600x600for Alabama to lose a football game and tumble out of the top 4 college football playoff teams.  I could care less what they are having for Thanksgiving.  Go Frogs!

Alaska: Cranberry Relish.  Thanksgiving 101.  It’s a state full of men who probably don’t know how to cook.

Arizona: Turkey Enchiladas.  Sounds good to me.  But more interesting is that the 2nd most googled Thanksgiving recipe is Rice Krispie treats.  Rice Krispie treats for Thanksgiving?  That just makes me laugh.

Arkansas: Four Layer Delight.  This is the first of many dessert-like entries on the 50 states’ list.  At least this one doesn’t pretend to be a salad (see Colorado, Delaware, Illinois and others).  Apparently Four Layer Delight involves cookies, Cool-Whip, chocolate pudding (and then more Cool-Whip).  Can you say diabetic coma?

persimmon-tree-1California: Persimmon Bread.  I find it interesting that in the NY Times article the California entry is followed by a discussion of yams and how California is a big producer of them.  That’s great, but what does that have to do with persimmon bread?  A persimmon is a fruit, it is not a yam.  I have never had a persimmon and have certainly never cooked with one.

Colorado: Frog Eye Salad.  No, I did not make that up.  The name sounds disgusting.  The recipe sounds even worse…pasta, fruit, eggs, whipped cream and marshmallows.  And Colorado isn’t the only one googling frog eye salad, see below.

Connecticut: Butternut Squash Casserole.  Sounds boring until I googled it and found a recipe that includes leeks, thyme, bread, parmesan and prosciutto.  Now I’m paying attention.

Delaware: Pretzel Salad.  Dessert disguised as “salad.”  Involves a pretzel crust, strawberries, jello and the ubiquitous (or so it seems at Thanksgiving) Cool-Whip.

Florida: flan de calabaza.  Runner up is flan de queso.  A reflection of the large Latino population.  Calabaza is a type of squash that looks a lot like a pumpkin.  Personally, I hate flan…sue me.

Georgia: Key Lime Cake.  Whoa!  Now I’m paying attention.  Key lime pie is divine, IMG_6356key lime cake is a must try.  Thank you, Georgia.

Hawaii: Pumpkin Crunch.  Definitely surprised by how un-Hawaiian this sounds ~ every other state is googling things that involve pineapple & coconut.  Must have some “sister-state” Thanksgiving-recipe-swap-thing going on with Illinois.

Idaho: Frog Eye Salad.  Yes, again.  Unbelievable.  Everything else on their top ten most searched recipes sounds remarkably normal (dutch apple pie, turkey pot pie, pumpkin bars, turkey brine, lemon meringue pie, pumpkin pie, spinach dip, pumpkin cheesecake and pumpkin roll).

Illinois: Hawaiian Salad.  See Hawaii.

Indiana: Persimmon Pudding.   Okay, second entry involving persimmons.  Am I the only one who has not only never had persimmon anything, but has never even considered using a persimmon?  Who knew they were so popular?  The recipe I linked to is called “boozy persimmon pudding.”  If I’m going to try persimmons, that seems like a good place to start.

Snickers-Caramel-Apple-SaladIowa: Snicker Apple Salad.  Okay, the whole salad thing is just getting completely bastardized.  Pudding, apples, snickers bars and…you guessed it, Cool-Whip.

Kansas: Cream Cheese Corn.  When I looked this up it was basically corn and cream cheese mixed together with a little butter thrown in for some “healthy fats.”  :D

Kentucky: Chess Bars.   I think this is a Southern thing.  Seems to involve cake mix, cream cheese, eggs and confectioner’s sugar.  Oh, and some butter.

Louisiana: Mirliton Casserole.  Kudos to Louisiana for topping their search with something that doesn’t involve Cool-Whip.  What it does involve is shrimp, mirlitons (a kind of squash, often called chayote) and some cajun spices.  Sounds pretty good to me.

Maine: Pumpkin Whoopie Pie.  I have to admit to having made these before.  OnePumpkinWhoopie word.  Yum.  The whoopie pie is a New England thing, a bandwagon I am happy to jump on.

Maryland: Sauerkraut.  I am nominating Maryland for worst “most searched Thanksgiving recipe.”  Seriously, sauerkraut?

Massachusetts: Mashed Butternut Squash.  Yes, we are home to Harvard, MIT, Williams College, Amherst, Wellesley and on and on…yet we google “mashed butternut squash.”  Do we really need a “recipe” for it?

Michigan: Cheesy Potatoes.  I am from Michigan.  I can say I have never had cheesy potatoes at Thanksgiving (and if I did, I would have called them au gratin potatoes, but whatever).

Kale-and-Wild-Rice-Casserole-1Minnesota: Wild Rice Casserole.  Makes sense I guess as I think most of the wild rice (which we do all know isn’t really “rice,” right?) is grown in Minnesota.  I am linking to a recipe that adds kale, mushrooms, onions and Gruyère cheese.   I am adding this to my Pinterest page.

Mississippi: Asparagus Casserole.  Seems to be green bean casserole, substituting asparagus (and adding some cheese, because you know, vegetables without cheese just doesn’t cut it).

Missouri: Green Rice Casserole.  The NY Times says this involves rice, cheese, parsley & pepper.  The recipe I found when I googled it called for broccoli, rice, cream of mushroom soup and Velveeta (do they still make Velveeta?), which isn’t really cheese.

Montana: Fruit Salad.  This falls in the same category as Massachusetts.  Really, who needs to google how to make fruit salad? I’m not even providing a link it is thatFruit-Salad-Recipes ridiculous.  At least it doesn’t involve Cool-Whip. Or Velveeta.

Nebraska: Snicker Salad.  Nebraska, Iowa beat you to it.

Nevada: Frog Eye Salad.  The third most searched recipe was “vegetarian gravy.”  Which just seems to be the opposite of frog eye salad.  Will they be at the same table?

New Hampshire: Pumpkin Whoopie Pie.  New Hampshire must love pie.  Of the top ten most searched recipes in New Hampshire, 5 were for pies.  And that doesn’t include whoopie pies and turkey pot pie.

New Jersey: Stuffed Artichokes.  New Jersey, I commend you on your entry.  But personally I think artichokes are better ordered at a restaurant.  They just seem very high maintenance to me.  Who really has the time at Thanksgiving to make stuffed artichokes?  Much easier to throw together some candy bars, Cool-Whip and pudding and call it a salad.  

131090lrgNew Mexico: Pumpkin Roll.  No snarky comments here.  Roll pumpkin cake around a cream cheese frosting?  Yes please.

New York: Stuffed Artichokes.  So New Jersey.  More interesting is the 3rd entry, “coquito” a version of eggnog that includes cream of coconut.

North Carolina: Pig Pickin’ Cake.  I have no idea where the name comes from but it does sound very southern (and not particularly appetizing).  Basically cake with mandarin oranges, pineapple and Cool-Whip.  Thanksgiving is apparently not Thanksgiving without Cool-Whip.  The second most googled recipe in North Caroline is “cherry yum yum.”  Where do they get these names?

North Dakota: Cookie Salad.  I am going to let you guess what is in this.  Just make sure nothing even remotely healthy is in it or you would be wrong.  And yes, Cool-Whip is involved.

Ohio: Dirt Pudding.  Same thing, called by another name…pudding, cookies and Cool-Dirt+pudding+1Whip.  So unimaginative.  Except for the gummy worms some versions add.  So Thanksgiving.

Oklahoma: Sopapilla Cheesecake.  Just when I was about to fall asleep, Oklahoma shows up with sopapilla cheesecake.  Except that it isn’t cheesecake, not even close.  It looks more like bread and involves crescent rolls and lots of sugar.  Maybe Oklahoma should google “cheesecake.”

Oregon: Vegan Mushroom Gravy.  Leave it to Oregon to switch things up.  In their top ten most googled recipes, four involve “vegan.”  And none of their top ten involves Cool-Whip.

Pennsylvania: Potato Filling.  Or for those not from Pennsylvania, “potato stuffing.”  Personally I prefer my potatoes mashed.

Puerto Rico: Tembleque.  Yeah, I know Puerto Rico isn’t one of the 50 states, but it’s on the NY Times list, so here it is.  Plus their entry is unique.  Tembleque is apparently a kind of coconut pudding.  Kudos to Puerto Rico for also having sangria make their top ten most googled recipes.

choc-cream-pie-1Rhode Island: Chocolate Cream Pie.  Chocolate overload.  The linked recipe calls for  whipping cream but I am sure many (most?) substitute Cool-Whip (personally, I hate Cool-Whip…much prefer real whipped cream).

South Carolina: Pineapple Casserole.  We sure seem to have an obsession with pineapple and mandarin oranges at Thanksgiving…you know, just like the Pilgrims & Indians, don’t you think?  This recipe calls for pineapple and cheese…sounds like a weird combo to me.

South Dakota: Snicker Salad.  Another state obsessed with candy bars in their “salad.”

Tennessee: Spinach Maria.  Basically spinach with lots and lots of cheese.  The photo 4 (1)American obsession with taking something healthy and doing their best to make it not so healthy.

Texas: Sopapilla Cheesecake.  See Oklahoma.  Personally I was more intrigued with the “green bean bundles” further down on their list, which seems to be green beans wrapped with a bit of bacon.  Yum.

Utah: Funeral Potatoes.  I got a recipe for this a long time ago from a friend who called it “party potatoes.”  So much happier than “funeral” potatoes.  I don’t make these at Thanksgiving, but they are good and they can feed a crowd.

maple-walnut-2Vermont: Maple Walnut Pie.    It’s Vermont, what did you expect?  They also google “maple glazed carrots” and “maple pecan pie.”

Virginia: Collard Greens.    Greens with a bit of ham and some spices.  Sounds good to me.

Washington: Smoked Salmon Dip.  I was more intrigued with the “lefse” further down their list.  Turns out it is a kind of Norwegian potato pancake.    

Washington D.C.: Corn Pudding.  (Washington D.C. is also technically not a state, but whatever, we will let them play).  Cornbread, whole kernel corn and creamed corn all in one dish.

West Virgina: Deer Jerky.  Most unexpected “Thanksgiving” recipe entry.  I am sureResizedKhoNai my brother is making some of this right about now (even though he doesn’t live in West Virginia).

Wisconsin: Brownberry Stuffing.    I was disappointed to learn that Brownberry is a brand.  So “Brownberry stuffing” could also be “Pepperidge Farm stuffing.”  It’s your basic stuffing as far as I can tell.

Wyoming: Frog Eye Salad.  Yes, we finish up the list with another frog eye salad entry.  Apparently the most googled recipe in the United States as it tops the list for four states.  Gross.

So there you have it…just a bit of fun diversion from the tasks associated with Thanksgiving preparation.  Maybe a few new recipes to try, if not tomorrow, then sometime in the future.  I hope you have a wonderful holiday, see you next week!

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Is the Massachusetts Real Estate Market “Schizophrenic?”

page1_img1Being new to the real estate business I have been doing my best to read, learn and understand the current market.  But how can I expect to understand the real estate market when experienced agents are being quoted in the Boston Globe as saying the market is “schizophrenic,” “weird,” and “baffling.”  I guess it isn’t behaving the way it is supposed to?  Maybe I am naive, but when has the market behaved the way it is “supposed to?”

The Boston Globe discussed the market and recovery in Massachusetts this week in “A Very Strange Housing Recovery in Massachusetts.”  The second paragraph says:

Sales are down, foreclosures are up, and buyers are walking away from pending deals. Construction of new housing is falling again. To top it off: Single-family home prices in September fell compared with the same month in 2013, the first such price decline in two years…

OMG, the sky is falling!  And yet, the article also points out that:

…the state’s median home price, adjusted for inflation, has climbed back to within 15 percent of pre-recession highs; nationally, prices are still down 30 percent…

The media always likes to focus on the gloom and doom.  dgloomIn my area, what I would call “greater metro-west Boston,” we are generally seeing an increase in inventory (with some exceptions), a decrease in units sold and an increase in sales price.  Here are some real numbers for select communities (source: Century 21 Commonwealth):

Single-family Inventory, 10/21/13 vs 10/21/14:

  • Brookline                    -15.3%
  • Dover                              1.6%
  • Framingham                25.5%
  • Holliston                      57.1%
  • Hopkinton                   28.3%
  • Medfield                         8.5%
  • Natick                            15.0%
  • Needham                       58.1%
  • Newton                          22.9%
  • Sherborn                      -27.9%
  • Wellesley                       47.6%

Median Price Change, first 3 quarters 2013 vs 2104:

  • Brookline                       16.0%
  • Dover                                3.8%  Home-Prices-Going-Up
  • Framingham                    2.9%
  • Holliston                         14.1%
  • Hopkinton                       3.8%
  • Medfield                           9.2%
  • Natick                               7.5%
  • Needham                          2.9%
  • Newton                             8.3%
  • Sherborn                          2.4%
  • Wellesley                         8.7%

You could make a case that it is a good time for buyers (as inventory levels are up) or sellers (as selling prices are up).  Maybe I am really, really naive, but I think if you are looking to buy, there is always a house out there for you, and if you are looking to sell, a home priced right will always sell.  If you are interested in a market analysis of your home, or if you are interested in seeing what is out there in the market to buy, contact me…I will try to help you wade through this “schizophrenic, weird and baffling” market.

 

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How to Have “House Beautiful” Bookshelves

f731b6ad2f5938bcdc6c6ac3ecbe430aI’m laughing at the title of my blog post.  As if I know how to have “House Beautiful bookshelves.  The truth is, I’m a shelf-styling neophyte.  But having recently moved I found myself staring at 6 beautiful white shelves…which were completely bare.   I decided to get some assistance from my decorating friend Linda and my other decorating friend, Pinterest.  If you are looking at shelves in your own home that don’t look like they stepped out of House Beautiful, read on and learn along with me.

IS9x3idz8c2dlb1000000000When I bought my house these bookshelves didn’t even exist.  Instead there was this weird space between the fireplace and the wall (see it to the right of the fireplace…  note that these are pics of the home before I bought it…it looks a lot different now).  Not the first time I have shaken my head wondering what the heck the builder was thinking.  Really, what do you put in that space?  I was at a loss.  Then my friend Pat, who is a carpenter, suggested that he build some bookshelves in there and it made perfect sense.  It was like the space was meant for bookshelves all along.

Back to those six beautiful white shelves…what to do with them?  I started by pulling things from my house that I thought might work on the shelves…photos of my kids, a fake plant (I love fake plants, so low maintenance), a few candles, and an ampersand I bought at Pottery Barn for way too much money, especially considering what it is…a metal ampersand (don’t you like it though?).  I threw some things on the shelves, but nothing really happened until my friend Linda showed up.

The current iteration of the shelves.  A work-in-progress.

The current iteration of the shelves. A work-in-progress.

Linda scours HomeGoods, Marshalls and Target for all kinds of great decorative stuff that isn’t Pottery Barn expensive (she is a much smarter person than I am).  Linda came to my house last week with a car full of tchotchkes and proceeded to start putting things on the shelves.   She added a couple of round metal things (I have no idea what else to call them…see them on the top shelf?), a cool wooden box, some books, and a bowl of (fake) lemons for a splash of color.  It was fun to watch the shelves come together.  You need to play around with this a lot, it’s kind of like a puzzle.  The box started on the bottom shelf,  but later got moved to a top shelf…we kept shuffling things, standing back to look, shuffle again…I don’t think you should expect to do this on one go or even in one day.

After Linda left I moved some things around again…it’s kind of fun…change it up, step back, take a look, yes or no?  Move something else.  It is getting there, but I still consider it a work in progress.  I actually even went to my bedroom and swiped a print off the wall and added it to the shelves.  IMG_1797I like it there, but now instead of three coordinating prints above the bed I have two…another decorating dilemma that will have to wait until later.  Linda also showed me how easy it is to wrap books in paper.  I know, I know, some of you might think this is overkill, and that’s okay.  I am going to give you a couple of links to other blog posts that talk about the whole shelf arranging process, and one is definitely anti-covering books.  So if that just seems silly to you, and if you actually have a lot of books that you want to keep on your shelves and you actually want to be able to read the spines…I have some help for you too.  There is no one way to do this.

My takeaways from all of this:

  • think about “layering” your shelves…I realized my shelves were looking a bit too uniform…something on the left, something on the right…turns out I needed some things in the back and some things in the front too…layers.
  • change-up the heights…I’m not sure if either of the posts mention this specifically, but it is kind of a no-brainer, even for a decorating-challenged individual such as I…you do not want everything to be the same height.  Which leads me to my next point…
  • Mix up the books that you use on the shelves (whether you choose to cover themhow_to_arrange_books_on_shelves_like_a_decorator or not)…some should be vertical and some should be horizontal.  The horizontal ones can be used to elevate things that need more height (note the lemons on my shelves). 
  • You need to have some uniformity of color.  One way to do this is to just work with a limited range of colors (my shelves are primarily the blue/green of the walls, silver & white with a splash of yellow for interest).  If you are really trying to use your shelves for actual books, then at least group your books by color (see the pic to the left and blog post link below).  There needs to be some uniformity…it helps eliminate chaos and busyness…it makes it more pleasing to the eye if everything isn’t “all over the place” decoratively speaking.

So…there you have it.  Gather, layer, mix up heights, and have some kind of “plan” for the color.  I am not done with my shelves yet.  I even have an empty bottom shelf that I am unsure what to do with.  I would encourage you not to rush it and not to be overly wedded to any one piece…it may be better somewhere else in your house.  I had a really pretty silver candle from…yes, Pottery Barn, yes, too expensive, but it does smell divine…color-wise it was perfect, but no matter where I put it, I didn’t like it.  I finally took it off the shelves and moved it to the powder room.  Now the powder room smells divine and the shelves just look better without it.  I don’t know why, it just didn’t work.

sitting area

I’m sure someone loves this room, but I don’t.

 

One last word from someone who does not consider herself a “decorator” by any means (that’s why my friend Linda is helping me)…I think decorating is, first and foremost, about pleasing yourself.   There are no real rules (I am sure we have all seen rooms done by professional decorators that we absolutely hate…I know I have).  Do what pleases YOU.  If you like it, then that is what it is all about.

Do you have open shelves in your house?  Have you “styled” them, or are they functionally crammed with books?  What do you think about shelves with more tchotchkes than books?  Do you like my ampersand?  Any tips you would like to share?

More tips:  How to Style a Shelf Like a Boss

Save the Books: How to Style a Bookshelf for Actual Book Storage

 

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Decorating Ideas for Thanksgiving

thanksgiving-westmont-ilThanksgiving will be here in just two weeks.  I am not hosting Thanksgiving, so right now I am not freaked out about preparing for it.  What does freak me out is that the Christmas season “officially” begins the day after Thanksgiving (or in mid-September if you are a retailer) and despite retailers attempts, I have not even thought about shopping, decorating or baking yet (I have even been in the Container Store twice without so much as looking at the wrapping paper).

But…before we get ahead of ourselves I wanted to focus a bit on Thanksgiving.  I like the holiday because

  • there are no gifts involved,
  • everyone in the US celebrates it so you don’t have to worry about whether you should wish someone a happy Thanksgiving, and
  • it’s about food and family and giving thanks for what we have.
thanksgiving-table

Where’s the stuffing?

Thanksgiving is a day where there are no rules, diets are set aside and we are allowed to just enjoy a bit of overindulgence.  I tend to be a traditionalist when it comes to Thanksgiving food and there are certain things I must have (even though I rarely host, I do make a “Thanksgiving” meal at some point over the long weekend)…mashed potatoes with gravy and green bean casserole top the list for me.  Oh, and stuffing.  It’s not Thanksgiving without stuffing.

As much as I love decorating my house for Christmas (my tree goes up right after Thanksgiving and comes down Jan 1), I have never been one for decorating for Thanksgiving…I guess if you aren’t hosting it seems like a lot of effort for nothing.  But if you are hosting,  decorating is all about the table.  And I found some beautiful ideas on Pinterest (almost makes me wish I was hosting).

Do you all like Pinterest?  I LOVE Pinterest.  I got hooked when I bought my new house and began working on buying some new furniture for it.  Pinterest was a great way to collect ideas in folders, and to share those ideas with my friend Linda, who was working with me on the decorating.  It is also a great place to collect recipes…I used to find recipes and print each one out…now I can stick them in a folder on Pinterest…much much better.  I love wasting large amounts of time finding inspiration on Pinterest, and I have found some beautiful holiday decorating ideas.  I tend to be only marginally creative…so my focus was on finding ideas that seemed relatively simple for those of us who are creatively challenged, or who just don’t have a lot of Martha Stewart time on our hands.

pumpkins and candles centerpiece 3The first one looks really easy….I think the hardest part might be finding a board or tray to assemble this on.  The creator said she used a “baguette board”…like I would have one of those…but I suppose this combination of candles and mini-pumpkins could be used in any kind of arrangement.  Anyway, it seems simple and yet pretty.

 

pumpkins and candle centerpiece 2

Continuing with the “pumpkin as centerpiece” theme, this too looks pretty simple.  White pumpkins seem to be the decorating rage this year.  They aren’t painted, they are actually naturally white.  I haven’t actually seen any for sale, but I haven’t looked…I am sure they are out there.  Wrap a bit of bittersweet amongst the pumpkins and viola, instant table decoration!

thanks_41

I am a sucker for all things glitzy when it comes to the holidays, so this next one spoke to me.  Of course, this one will require some basic crafting skills…namely an ability to use a can of spray paint (start and stop the spraying off the object you are painting for best results…I learn that on a DIY show).  Pumpkins, some pinecones and some glass votives and you have an eye-catching centerpiece (I am ignoring that cut piece of log the middle pumpkin is resting on…seriously, where am I going to find that?).

Fall-Thanksgiving-Tablescape

Here are a few more ideas, using simple things from the supermarket and some candles (yes, the raffia might require a trip to the craft store).  Cinnamon sticks wrapped around a candle…easy peasy.

winter-candle-decorations-2-500x375

And this one takes even less effort…do they still sell popcorn in a bag?  The blog poster says she bought popcorn at Walmart and the glass candle jars at the Dollar Store…I’m sure HomeGoods and The Christmas Tree Shop would also be good bets (for the jars, not the popcorn).

Capture145

So, are you feeling inspired?  I know I am…I might decorate my table even though I’m not hosting Thanksgiving!  If you like these ideas, why don’t you check out my Pinterest page and follow me?  I have an entire folder of “Thanksgiving Decorating” ideas that I have already collected for you.  You’re welcome.

I am going to wrap up this post with a few bits of decorating inspiration that remind us what Thanksgiving is really all about…giving thanks.  I’m not sure I could pull off the fancy handwriting, I might have to type mine in some flowery font.  But I like the simplicity and gentle reminder.

7c8384e67ee0262e62946941d6b6e365

And this one would be fun to do with children (I told you those white pumpkins are everywhere!).

Thankful-Handprint-Pumpkin

Happy decorating!

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