Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

I am so thankful for my family, for my husband, and each one of my kids. I am thankful for friends and neighbors. I am thankful for an abundance of food, for this wonderful country we live in, for our beautiful state of Washington, and for my goofy dog.

This was our attempt to sort of recreate the Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving painting.

The tablesetting before we all sat down to eat. 

Each person had a pumpkin and a tealight candle at their place (except the 4yo and 2yo!).

The centerpiece. I wanted to create something festive looking, but not too tall, so we would be able to look at each other across the table!

The drink table included iced tea, water, white zinfandel, and sparkling apple cider.

On our menu: Turkey (of course!), homemade cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, Southwest cornbread stuffing, green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, steamed broccoli, homemade dinner rolls.

This is the only way I will eat sweet potatoes. It is more like a dessert. The potatoes are creamed with sugar and butter, and the crunchy topping is made of flour, more butter, brown sugar, pecans, ginger, and nutmeg. Soooo good!

The Southwest stuffing was just a box of cornbread stuffing mix, and I added corn and canned green chilies to it.

 After our first picture, we took a silly one. This one actually reflects our family more accurately!

I didn't get any pictures of the pies, but I made pecan and pumpkin. A couple hours after eating, we had some neighbors over for pie, and they also brought red velvet cake. We had no shortage of sweets! After dessert and a nice visit, the kids spread out on the living room floor to play Apples to Apples. And now, I am going to bed! I am so exhausted. I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Easy Beef Enchilada Casserole

Whenever I'm in the mood for Mexican food, but short on time (or energy), I like to whip up a quick, enchilada-inspired casserole dish. When I was growing up, my mom made Chicken Enchilada Casserole, which included a green-chili sauce, white cheese, and, well, chicken. It was one of my brothers' and my favorite meal (and still is!).

I have made that dish many times since venturing out on my own, but it also inspired me to come up with a similar version, using ground beef and a tomato-based sauce. Thus, my version of a "Beef Enchilada Casserole" was born.

Don't be afraid of the ingredients list. It only appears long because of the seasonings - you probably have everything sitting in your spice cabinet right now. If you want to make it even easier, a packet of taco seasoning instead would do just fine! (But really, I never find it a problem to measure out spices that I have on hand.)

  • 1 lb. lean ground beef
  • 1 sweet yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can (15 oz.) black beans, drained
  • 1 can (10 oz.) Rotel tomatoes (tomatoes and spicy green chilies)
  • 1 can (8 oz.) tomato sauce
  • 1 can (4 oz.) fire-roasted green chilies
  • 2 tablespooons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried basil
  • 8 corn tortillas
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • Shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, sour cream, guacamole, to serve

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees (F). In a large skillet, brown ground beef over medium-high heat with the chopped onion and garlic. Add beans, Rotel tomatoes, tomato sauce, green chilies, and seasonings. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low; cover and simmer for 15 minutes. As it simmers, you can use this time to shred the cheese, chop the lettuce and tomatoes, and make the guacamole.

2. In a greased 9x13-inch baking dish, lay 4 corn tortillas, overlapping as necessary (you may cut the tortillas in halves to fit them easier). Spoon half of the beef mixture on top of the tortillas and spread evenly, then sprinkle with 3/4 cup of the shredded cheese. Repeat, to form two layers.

3. Bake 20 minutes, or until hot and bubbly. Serve topped with shredded lettuce and tomatoes, a dollop of sour cream, and guacamole.

Enjoy! (I didn't have any avocados on hand, so no guacamole.)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Welcome to My Home!

As you may know from reading my blog, or are a "real life" friend, we moved in September. As a military family living far from away any of our extended family, we have chosen to rent our housing here in Washington State. Late last spring, the landlord of the house in which we were living informed us that he was moving back to town, and wanted to move back into his house - which was our rental house at the time. :( I was so disappointed when we found out we would have to move; I loved the house we were renting, and just the thought of trying to find a house we liked as much, staying in the same school district for our kids, and packing up all of our things - again - overwhelmed me. It was not something we were expecting.

Well, we were able to find a house nearby the neighborhood we already lived in, and I can say, I love, love, love this new house! It's even better than our last house. It's a bit more spacious, has an extra room that we can use as an office or guest room, and I love the floor plan. In fact, we have two eating areas again - an eat-in kitchen and a formal dining room. Even though I dreaded the move all summer, I am so happy in this new house and glad we had to move!

So, in celebration of our move into our new home, I am going to take you on a virtual home tour.  

Welcome to our home! This first picture was taken on my cell phone a few weeks ago, and it's not coming across very clear. But here's our home! The huge tree covering the right side of the house (which includes a covered porch with a railing) is completely bare now!

When you walk into the front door, the first thing you see is our piano in a very wide entry hall. It's a perfect spot for the girls to practice without being in a room where they are distracted (or distracting others....).

The piano from a different angle, with a view of the front door.

Family pictures hanging in the entry hall. As you can see from the picture of the piano above, I have nothing else in the entry hall. My goal is to get a small decorative table and an accent lamp to place under the picture gallery. We come in through the garage, so I am able to keep a shoe shelf, coat rack, and hat/gloves basket in the garage by the door. I love that because clutterphobe that I am, I just never really liked the look of all that stuff by the front door!

To the right of the front door is our "bonus" room. It has French doors, which I keep open most of the time. Andy has his desk in there, and we also put our couch with a pull-out bed in there. My mother-in-law stayed in this room when she was visiting. We called it "Grandma's Room" at the time. There is also a huge, walk-in closet, which is perfect for storing the grandbabies' toys. So sometimes we call it the playroom now. Other times, the office. I'm not sure what it is, but it's nice to have!

Down the entry hall, past the piano and staircase, if you go to the right you will come to our formal dining room. If we have a lot of company, we can fit ten people around that table! (We have six chairs, and the bench is big enough for 4 people - or 5 kids!) Most of the time, this table is used by the kids for getting homework done, though.

 If you go to the left, you will walk into the living room. I love the built-in shelves, which includes a place for our big screen TV. The fireplace is a gas fireplace and we have used it just about every day since the beginning of October! The cute little red and green painted wood chairs - I snagged those for River and Austen at Goodwill for $5 each. They're never in place when R&A are here (they get toted all over the living room) - so as you can see, I had no pint-sized visitors today.

This is our eat-in kitchen, which is open to the living room and dining room. I love to cook, and there is plenty of room to do what I love to do. I'm probably in this room the majority of the day! A nice little bonus - a built-in desk. I finally have my own desk! I have all my cookbooks stored in the cabinet above, and if I'm not cooking, I may be found sitting at the desk making out menu plans. Or playing on Pinterest. No, the dog did not come with the house.

I didn't get pictures of everyone's bedroom for this post, but here's mine. I love that we have enough space in our master bedroom suite for a sitting area! Andy and I went shopping a couple of weeks ago for those chairs. This is my get away. If there is too much talking, singing, barking, or TV going on, I take a retreat to my room with my Kindle. I love my room.  In fact, I am in my room right now. :)

Don't you just love the way Luke poses for my home tour pictures? 

The little ceramic cup - or whatever it is - was my mom's. It's really pretty, but I didn't know what to do with it. It was special to me since it belonged to her and I wanted to use it. One day, it occurred to me that it would make a perfect remote/glasses/cell phone holder for Andy! He always leaves those items lying around on his nightstand, so now I have a solution to the clutter.

I love this Confirmation picture of Emma, and I found that picture frame at Tuesday Morning.

I also found this little ceramic bird at Tuesday Morning. Love that place!

I loved my bathroom at the other house, but I love this one even more! I'm not sure why. We had an oversized tub at the other house, but this bathroom has a better plan. The toily has its own closed-off  room! Can't beat that!

 A basket of rolled-up towels. I have switched to all white towels and sheets for everyone. Makes laundry so much easier - and I can bleach everything!  I just love white bathrooms.

I found this handsoap at Trader Joe's - it smells like clean laundry! And the dispenser is just too cute.

I will leave you with pictures of Emma's room....I actually haven't taken pictures of the other bedrooms in the house, but you've probably seen enough! And if you've stuck around this long, don't worry, only two more pictures.

Emma had some ladybug-themed comforters on her bunkbeds that she picked out when she was 9, but wanted an update to something zebra-striped. She had been asking for a change for months, way before we moved. I saw these at Target, and decided to surprise her on her birthday. When she came home from school the day she turned 12, she was greeted with new bedding and curtains when she walked in her room.

I couldn't resist these adorable curtain rods! Or the flowery throw pillows!

Okay, that brings you to the end of my tour. Thanks for visiting, and I hope you enjoyed yourself!

If you have a blog and have a home tour posted (or would like to do one), please let me know in the comments section, because I would love to see your home! I will also link you back here on my blog! :)


I have a couple of friends who have done home tours on their blogs, too!



Another Low-Calorie Lunch

I'm getting pretty good at putting together 300-calorie lunches for my husband. This one is actually under 300 calories!  Recently I discovered Sara Lee 45 Calories & Delightful bread, which the whole family loves. At only 45 calories per slice, I can really cut back on calories when making sandwiches. Compare that to regular sandwich bread, which is about 70-80 calories per slice.

Deli lunch meat is surprisingly low-calorie, and using mustard as a spread instead of mayonnaise also help cut way back on the calories. Simple sides of fresh fruit and some whole-wheat pretzel sticks with Light Laughing Cow cheese round out this low-calorie, portable lunch.

Friday, November 8, 2013

An Anniversary Gift Basket

Today is my daughter and son-in-law's fifth wedding anniversary! I am so happy for them, and with two little ones underfoot, a sick car (they've been taking advantage of public transportation recently), and a budget that doesn't allow for a lot of extras, I wanted to make sure they enjoyed a special celebration today. My husband and I offered a "sleepover" for the babies (ages 4 and 2), and the use of one of our cars for the night. When my son and I went to their apartment to pick up the munchkins and drop off our car, I also brought them a gift basket that I put together this afternoon.

I had so much fun shopping and putting this basket together. (The shopping was really fun!) I wanted to get so many different things, but I had to watch my budget - it would be so easy to put together a $300 basket, hehe. But I kept it frugal. 

Included in the basket were 3 "vintage look" tea towels, a bottle of their favorite wine, 2 wine glasses, a "crackling" wood-wick candle (the next best thing to a fireplace?), a bag of Ghirardelli chocolates, a vase with a rose, and a gift card for the movies. 

I lined the basket with one of the tea towels. I love these towels that I picked up at Target! They really reminded me of something my grandmother would have made back in the 70's.

I started adding the items one by one. To give height to some of the smaller items, I crumbled up some plastic baggies and placed them under the lining.

I loosely wrapped the two wine glasses with the other tea towels.  

The rose was centered between the wine glasses, and the card found its spot in the the front of the basket.

Happy Anniversary, John and Whitney!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Halloween at Our House

I love fall traditions and Halloween! Maybe I love Halloween so much because it comes right smack in the middle of fall with all its gorgeous colored trees and nippy air and bright orange pumpkins in every storefront....or maybe I love it because it paves the way for Thanksgiving and my favorite holiday of all, Christmas. Or maybe because I just relish the sense of community it brings on Halloween night when the whole neighborhood sets out together to dress up in crazy costumes and ask each other for candy. Summer is always fun and relaxing, and then at the end of August is the sudden hustle of buying school supplies and new clothes and meeting new teachers...and then it seems that suddenly Halloween and the holidays are upon us. It's such an exciting time of year!

Halloween this year started out with me running to the store for groceries, and starting my day off cooking and baking as soon as I got back. Part of the fun of Halloween (and any celebration, really) is the anticipation and preparation.

As you can see, I kept the decorations up from Emma's Halloween-Birthday party last weekend.

Luke watched me patiently in the kitchen while I cooked, hoping that I would drop a yummy morsel every once in a while.

After the kids got home from school, they finished up their homework and we had an early dinner.

On the menu: 

Mummy Meatloaf with Blood Sauce
Witch's Fingers
Haunted Forest Trees

(My kids are teens now - well the 12yo is almost a teen - and they smirk and roll their eyes at my special names for Halloween food, but I know deep down they still love it.)


I thought the Mummy Meatloaf looked pretty awesome and disgusting. I found a picture of it on Pinterest and just had to make it. I used Pioneer Woman's meatloaf recipe, put the sauce on under the bacon mummy wraps, and used onion slices for the eyes and teeth.

After dinner, my oldest daughter Whitney and her little family, along with some friends, came over and helped my girls with their makeup and costumes. Then the whole motley crew went trick or treating together.

You may notice my son's absence from the pictures after dinner. That is because he went with some friends from church to My Morbid Mind Haunted House, in lieu of trick or treating. He had a good time and said it was really cool (and not that scary), but I think he may be a little jealous of his sisters' huge stash of Halloween candy that now occupies the pantry.

Here's now a cowboy salute to all them hardworking....ummm...nevermind, just 'djustin' my hat.

Aren't Tori's victory rolls awesome?? Whitney did them!

While they were out trick or treating, Andy and I stayed back to hand out candy and get the snacks ready.

Nothing says "it's the holidays" like wassail!!! I found an amazing recipe here and it was a hit with everyone, young and old. I used locally made apple cider from Lattin Farms, which is the best apple cider you can get here. I added fresh-squeezed lemon juice, orange juice, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, and a couple pinches of ground nutmeg and ginger. I put it in the slow cooker on low in the morning, and it brewed all day. The house smelled like autumn heaven by nightfall.

I love my cake. Every Halloween since about 2003 or so, I make a "graveyard cake." This year I added a pretzel fence, some green coconut grass (rather than only green frosting!), a dirt path made of crushed Oreos, and some darling little meringue ghosts. The gravestones are made with Pepperidge Farms Milano Double Chocolate Cookies. I learned how to do the meringue ghosts here. They were really easy to make, though time consuming - and I did follow the recipe to a "T" since I had never made them before. I really had fun putting the cake together, and it's my favorite one out of all the ones I've made through the years.

Must-haves on Halloween: candy corn and roasted pumpkin seeds. This year, I made sweet and salty pumpkin seeds from this recipe. Thank you again, Pinterest, I love you!

Soon everyone came back and I stopped them at the door to take pictures.

Can you find me in the picture? :)

I was duly impressed with Whitney's Dia de Muertos makeup! To die for.

After the trick or treaters came back and I forced them to pose for pictures, I found this little guest staring at the cake. I asked, "Do you like the cake?" and he said, "I just can't wait to eat it!" He didn't have to wait long!

 She wanted that ghost.

Whitney made Sky's peacock skirt and tail! And look at my living room in the background....this cracks me up! It's really not too messy, considering we had seven active little kids, ages 6 down to 2 in the house! (No, a small cowboy did not get knock-kneed and then vaporize into the air.)

Now....only 28 days until Thanksgiving! Woohoo!!!