Lemon Fresh and Oh So Cute!!!

I have a confession to make.  I'm a fool for packaging.

It's true!  I try to control it, and most of the time I do quite well.  However, every so often, a product makes its way into our home solely on the merit of its packaging.  Which is how a bag of lemons made its way home from the wholesale warehouse with us a few weeks ago.  One look at the adorable Mr. Lemon on the label, and I was sold.  So to the Bee Sweet lemon company, a hearty BRAVO!  Put a little lemon puppy on them next and I'll be buying them by the caseload:
Who could resist?  Luckily, I had plenty of recipes that called for lemons, so I made the following:
  • Lemon Coffee Cake
  • Lemon Salad Dressing
  • Lemon Pepper Roast Chicken
  • Lemon Basil Roast Chicken
  • Gimlet Au Naturel Cocktails (a tasty little cross between a gimlet and a G&T that we came up with)
And while they were waiting to be consumed, the lemons looked quite pretty hanging out in a lovely blue and white china bowl. 

As I was unwrapping the lemons, I set aside the wrapper.  The scrapbooker in me said "save it, it's fabulous" while the woman who's been purging her belongings snapped "throw it out!"  This time, the emotional scrapper won, although I did neatly trim one incidence of the repeating pattern from the label and threw the rest away.  I put the scrap in my junk drawer (dangerous, I know).  Several times over the next few days, I would see it and think that I should just toss it, but one look at those big lemony eyes and back in the drawer he'd go.  I just knew he had a purpose!  And one day, while cleaning the kitchen counters with my homemade lemon cleanser, inspiration struck!

Here's how my lemon cleanser looked before inspiration struck:

Nothing wrong with it, but other than the "L" scribbled in Sharpie on the bottom, there's really no way to differentiate between the lemon, the cinnamon, or teatree scents.  But now...
This should barely qualify as a craft, it's so simple.  All I did was position the scrap of label on the bottle (hold it in place with some double sided tape if you need to) and then I neatly placed strips of clear packing tape over it until it was completely covered.  That's it!  I have no idea how long it will last, but the bottle cost a dollar and the label was free (since I used the lemons, it doesn't count as a useless impulse buy.  My blog, my rules!)  So if it wears off in a few months, oh well!  The label is plastic-y, so it will probably last longer than if it were paper.  Plus, it's a great bit of free advertising for the Sweet Bee company!  Anyone who makes labels this cute deserves a plug!  Now I'm on the lookout for labels for my other scents!

This may have been the quickest turn-around of any bit of ephemera I've saved in the name of scrap-booking.  If you don't think this is a big deal, ask any scrapper about their "stash" and you'll quickly understand!

Today I'm linking to Trendy Treehouse's Creative Share!

Have a wonderful week!  See you on Friday!

    Strawberry Festival Cake - From My Brain to My Blog


    One of my favorite things about being a domestic goddess is that I have the time to cook.  I mean really cook; think up menus, research recipes and ingredients, and of course, bring the whole thing to life!  The last two weeks I've been working on a cake recipe that doesn't use traditional frosting, something that is fresh and light tasting yet still a truly satisfying homespun cake.  I had a vision in my head...now I just had to bring it to life!

    I knew that I wanted to use real whipped cream, and strawberries.  In my vision, the best cake to accompany these ingredients would be a simple yet delicious vanilla flavoured yellow cake.  I searched the internet for "low sugar cakes" and finally found a recipe in my Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook that called for 1 3/4 cups of white sugar, which is lower than most cakes, and as good as I figured I would get without sacrificing on flavour.   

    One of the things about being a cook in a childless household is that there are only two of us to consume my creations.  Oh, we put out the word, and we get a lot of takers, but sometimes it's hard to resist the siren call of a plate full of brownies, or a platter piled high with slices of lemon coffee cake.  So I try to plan my baking projects around events, or when company is coming, or when my husband is scheduled to work (so I can send the goodies off with him). When we received an invitation to attend a birthday barbecue, I quickly volunteered to be the cake maker!  It was go time!

    Armed with my ingredients (and a new hand mixer, wheeee!!) I started.  First I made the cake that I had found in my Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.  It turned out wonderful!  I used an angel food tube pan instead of the two layer cake pans, and it turned out great, I just had to extend to the cooking time to approximately 50 minutes.  You can check out the recipe here.  

    While the cake was baking, I started mixing up whipped cream.  Real whipped cream is one of life's true pleasures, and if you've never had it, pick up a carton of whipping cream, break out your beaters, and start whipping.  Here's a recipe for Sweetened Whipped Cream to get you started.  This recipe calls for confectioners sugar, and many call for powdered sugar; I used regular white sugar and it turned out fine.  What you do want to follow to the letter are the instructions on keeping everything cold; this is the key to whipped cream success.

    I tinted one batch of cream a light pink using Wilton concentrated food colour gel.  Then I made another batch, also tinted pink, but I used a bit of powdered sugar and beat the cream until it was a bit firmer.  The final batch, though, was a little bit of whipped cream heaven called Strawberry Whipped Cream Frosting.  I quickly whipped up a Strawberry Puree to use in the recipe and I knew as soon as I tasted it that the strawberry cream was the winner.

    I used all three creams for this cake.  I used the Strawberry Whipped Cream Frosting to fill the hole of the cake, I iced the cake with the lightly whipped pink tinted cream, and I filled a frosting bag with the stiffer tinted pink cream and piped rosettes around the base of the cake.  I then decorated the cake with strawberries; a pile of berries in the center of the cake over the berry cream, and strawberry halves tucked into the rosettes around the base of the cake.  Here's how it looked:

    Not too shabby, eh?  I was quite pleased!  I love when the image in my brain works out in real life!

    I'll be making this cake again soon, but next time, I'll be using the Strawberry Whipped Cream Frosting to ice and fill the entire cake!  But I'll be honest with you...you could skip the cake entirely and just eat the Strawberry Whipped Cream out of the mixing bowl.  Be sure to lick the beaters!  Yum....

    Today I am linking up to Just Something I Whipped Up Monday which is hosted by The Girl Creative.

    The Girl Creative

    Thoroughly Modern Manners - Expressing Thanks

    Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use."
    —Emily Post
     This has been a week of firsts at Nesty!  On Wednesday I introduced Window to My World, a post topic where I will periodically post a favorite image from my life, along with a quote that speaks to me on some level.  Today, I am starting a new post series called Thoroughly Modern Manners, where I will address specific topics related to manners and etiquette. I'll begin today by addressing the issue of expressing thanks.   The timing couldn't be more perfect, since I have something to say thank you for; my first blog award from Coryanne of Housewife Bliss!
     Dear Mrs. Bliss,
    When I visited your blog yesterday, I was delighted to discover that you had honored me with an award.  Please accept my sincerest thanks.  This is my first blog award, and I am so excited!  I had a wonderful time deciding which award to choose.  The blog button will make today's post look so festive and pretty.
    Again, thank you so much!
    Nesty Girl
     You can check out Coryanne's post, Blissful Awards and the Bliss Top Ten here.  As part of accepting my award, I am supposed to tell you something about myself.  I thought about rattling off my usual list of who I am and what I do, but those of you who follow my blog already know all of that (If you're new you can read about it here).  So here is a new fact about the Nesty Girl; I used to take kickboxing lessons.  I trained for a few years and I have a great right roundhouse kick.  I miss it a lot, and would love the chance to train again.  I found my old hand wraps the other day (we had different colours for different levels) and it's been on my mind, so it was kind of funny that we were asked to share something about ourselves!

    And now for my post!

    "Manners" and "etiquette" are sadly in short supply of late.  For the life of me, I'm not sure how this happened. As children, my sisters and I were schooled in good manners by our mother, and it seemed that these social graces were observed by most of our relatives and friends.  So it has been very strange for me to observe the decline of manners.  In fact, even the basics of "please" and "thank you" are so rare that when you hear them, it's a treat.  

    Of course, not everyone is without courtesy, and there are still those who are trying with all their might to make a difference in a world gone rude, and to you, our sincere thanks.  (For a great post about refreshingly well-behaved kids, please check out Pattycake Manner's post Good Kids.)  It is my sincere belief that, just as children develop good manners through repetition, bad manners are the result of bad habits.  In a world that goes way too fast, apparently it simply takes too much time to make the effort to do things nicely.  Why write a thank you note when you can text "tks?"

    Well, because it's the right thing to do.  The problem lies in the fact that proper expressions of gratitude have become so rare that many people are left floundering as to how to do it correctly.  Even simply accepting a gift in person leaves many flummoxed; "What if I don't like the gift?" I've heard more than one person ponder.  

    Luckily, there are resources for those to whom gratitude does not flow freely from either their lips or their pens.  Legendary first lady of etiquette Emily Post lives on at emilypost.com. On the site there is a wealth of information for people of all ages, including gift giving and receiving FAQ's.  Also, giftypedia has some good advice on both receiving a gift as well as thank you notes.

    When in doubt?  My rule is to err on the side of being too polite.  Do you recall the old job interview rule about dressing a step above the role you are interviewing for?  Well, when it comes to expressing thanks, going a step above what you think is required will rarely steer you wrong.  So, the next time someone does something nice for you, why not pick up a pen and paper and send them a nice note?  You'll feel good, they'll feel good, and the world will be a better place for your small but important contribution to the fine art of good manners.  

    Do you have an etiquette question or concern that you'd like me to research and address?  If so, let me know in the comments or by email at nestyblog@gmail.com.

    There are some great blog hops going on today!  Fabulous Nest Friday is hosted by Housewife Bliss and it is fabulous! 
    As well I am linking to New Friend Friday, which is co-hosted by The Girl Creative and Trendy Treehouse.
    New Friend Fridays

    Have a wonderful weekend!

    Window to My World....

    Welcome to something new at Nesty!  From time to time I'll be sharing a glimpse into our life, as well as a quote that "speaks" to me!  Enjoy!!

    Butterfly Chicken How-to...For You!!!

    I recently tried something new in the kitchen, and I was so delighted with the results that I decided to share it with you in a "how-to!"  

    As I've mentioned before, I'm a fan of Rachel Ray and her magazine, Everyday With Rachel Ray.  It's the one magazine I make a point of buying every month.  I like the lighthearted, down-to-earth feel of the magazine, and I really like that the publication team makes an effort to use ingredients that are accessible to almost everyone.  As well, the magazine encourages readers to be creative by telling cooks to "eyeball it" for some measurements, and to substitute ingredients if necessary (in fact, they often suggest substitutions.)  All in all, I've been really pleased with the recipes I've tried, and several of them have become household favorites.

    In this month's issue, which was all about grilling, there was an article on butterflying chicken, and using "pastes" to flavour the birds before cooking.  I was intrigued.  Of course I'd heard of butterflying chicken before, but I hadn't tried my hand at it personally.  As luck would have it, we went to Terrace for groceries a few days later, and at the wholesale club there were three-packs of fryers for sale, so we bought a pack, froze two of the chickens, and butterflied one for that night's supper.  We used a prepared sweet Thai chili sauce to glaze the bird before roasting, and it was delicious.  So much so that I decided to try the technique again this week, this time using a homemade paste as suggested in the magazine.  I made up my own lemon pepper paste, and I was quite pleased with how it turned out.  One of our favorite chicken dishes is a lemon-rosemary roast chicken, and this paste delivered a flavour that was reminiscent of a lighter, zingier version of that favorite dish.

    The purpose of this tutorial is not to walk you through the process of cooking the chicken (although I will share with you how I prepared mine).  Rather, I wanted to show you, step-by-step, how to butterfly the bird.  Many people are afraid to attempt to do anything with a whole bird other than stuff it and roast it, but this really isn't hard at all, and it looks so great!  Also, butterflying the bird allows it to roast evenly so it cooks in a much shorter time.  So, let's get started!

    Once you finish this stage, how you proceed is up to you.  Also, if you aren't using a paste, you could skip step seven.  I roasted my chicken in the over at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes and it turned out great!
    See?  Delicious!  However, this is apparently a great way to prepare a whole chicken for grilling on the barbecue, so by all means fire up the grill!  Just remember, always be sure that chicken is cooked thoroughly!!  As well, if you have a large enough platter, you can "flatten" the chicken out to show off your butterflying skills!

    I served our Lemon Pepper Roast Chicken with mashed potatoes, dipping sauce, and a yummy new salad I came up with that I'll be sharing in another post!
    I also found a great, really short video on how to butterfly a chicken from Bon Appetit on YouTube.  (I'm not sure how we learned to do stuff before YouTube.)

    So there you go!  Have a great Monday!  The countdown to the weekend begins now! 

    The Day the Bulls Came to Town

    While most people would not consider Cape Breton to be a raging metropolis, it certainly was full of activities.  There's always something to look forward to, something going on.  Whether it's Celtic Colours in the Autumn or Rock the Dock in the Summer, just when you start to feel bored, an event comes along.  And so, one of the biggest adjustments for me when we moved to Kitimat, a smaller, more remote area, was the lack of social buzz.

    I will admit that as I get to know Kitimat, this is actually quite an active town with a fair bit going on.  There is a concert series, an active theater group, hockey games, and more.  Coming up we have Canada Day, which is celebrated in a big way, the Dragon Boat Regatta, and The Dave Saunders Memorial Hill climb.  These are all stand-out events.  But one event, though fairly new, has reached dizzying heights of popularity.  This event is Bull-o-Rama, and it took place last Saturday.

    Bull-o-Rama is a bull riding event where riders attempt to stay on a bucking bull for 8 seconds for an award of $10,000, a silver buckle, and a set of prize spurs.  And last years' inaugural event was a sell-out.  The whole town was there!  I attended with a friend, and we were amazed at the line winding around the arena, the pool, and towards the Overwaitea grocery store.  I know that if you aren't familiar with our town, it's hard to get perspective, but trust me, this was a LONG line.  Everyone had a wonderful time, and everyone was thrilled to hear that the event was returning in 2010. 

    It seems that the whole town was at Bull-o-Rama 2010, also, although I missed the line since a few of us decided to have dinner beforehand.  This worked to our advantage since it had been raining intermittently throughout the day.  We got some great seats in the Beer Garden, and settled in for a night at the rodeo!  We had a great time.  Everyone wore their Western best, including me (although my duds were quite subdued compared to some of the fancy outfits being modelled).  Spirits were high, and spirits were also for sale, and the beer garden proved to be quite popular, making it a great place for people watching.

    During the "half-time" there was a performance by the Coppertown Clown and his pack of trained rescue dogs, The Muttley Crew.  I cheered very enthusiastically for them, as I am a fan of all dogs, and rescues in particular.  

    After the rodeo there was a dance featuring the music of country singer Rick Stavely, and we had a great time.  It's been forever since I went out dancing and it was so much fun; the band, and the DJ in between acts, played tons of country western favorites.  I can't remember the last time I danced to "Boot Scootin' Boogie;" it was long enough that I no longer remembered the line dancing moves (insert sigh of relief "here").  By the time the band played "Achy Breaky Heart" my feet were tired from dancing and my face was sore from laughing.  It was a night out I didn't even realize I needed, and I don't think I was the only one who felt that way.  Since Saturday, so many people have remarked what a great time they had, and how much they wished we had more events like it.  

    I hope you have as much fun this weekend as I did last Saturday!!  Have a great weekend, and I'll see you on Monday. 

    I Want to Ride My Bike!

    As you know, Nesty is about pursuing a honeyed life through simplified living.  Sometimes, the things I can do to make my home's life simply sweet are obvious; cook healthy, delicious meals, practice a "greener" lifestyle, and  embrace time-tested crafts like sewing and knitting.  Other times, however, the simple pleasures of life take me by surprise.

    Such was the case today, when, for the first time in well over a decade, I rode a bike.

    I was getting ready for a walk, just tying on my sneakers when my husband mentioned that his bike was back from the shop if I'd like to use it.  I stopped.  In all the time this bike has lived in our home, it never occurred to me to ride it.  It was his bike.  Now, in retrospect, I realize how silly that was; he'd never said I couldn't ride it, it was just one of those things. I made a decision.

    He helped me get it outside, and after a rather embarrassing moment when I attempted to ride it with the handle bars turned around 360 degrees ("Why are the brakes on the wrong side?" I asked as I careened out of control) I did a practice run on the street in front of our house.  Soon, I was ready to hit the road (or the paths, as the case may be).  With my husband's advice to stick close to home on my first run, I headed out.

    It is true what they say; it really did just all come back.  Not just the skill, but the elation that comes with soaring effortlessly along asphalt, the wheels making that wonderful buzzing sound.  I veered slightly further from home than I probably should have,  but it was just so wonderful.  I took turns experimentally, and made a game out of finding my way home.  When one path led to a street instead of another path, I looked both ways and then, tentatively, made a turn in the street and headed back the other way.  Success!

    I cruised around for a little while longer, and then made my way home.  As I turned up our street, I felt muscles I hadn't heard from in a while.  I'm sure I'll be a little achy tomorrow.  But it was so worth it, and I can't wait to do it again.  In fact, I'm thinking about checking out bikes when we go to Terrace tomorrow, so we can enjoy biking together.

    Thanks for stopping by!  See you on Friday!!!!

    Rainy Day People

    Well, friends, the weeks of beautiful, sunny weather have come to an end, and yesterday the gray and rain came back with gusto.  It's funny; back home in Cape Breton my family and friends have been bemoaning the cold, rainy weather weather they've been enjoying having, while out here we've been loving the bright sun and warm temperatures.  And now this weekend, the East Coast has the sun and we are back to being the "Wet Coast."

    Of course, this weather is more typical for our area, and it reminds me so much of our first few weeks in Kitimat.  Fog and low lying clouds hide the mountains from view, and the drizzle lasts for days, intercepted at times by downpours. The neighborhood is quiet now, there are no children playing outside or dogs barking as their owners walk them by, the lawn mowers are silent and the birds are laying low.

    And yet, it's not unpleasant.  I'm enjoying a true lazy Saturday in my jammies, with a jumbo cup of coffee at my side. The dogs are flopped in sleepy piles, and the washer and dryer are providing the perfect "white noise."  I had a lovely Friday evening too.  Our television is in the basement family room, and since it's been staying light out until 11:00, I've felt guilty going downstairs to watch telly while it was still light outside.  Silly, I know, but I feel like it's not right to watch TV until the sun goes down (unless you're sick, of course).  Well, last night the sun was nowhere to be found, and so after a lovely soak I took my mani/pedi supplies downstairs, set myself up with some snacks, a glass of sweet tea (my new favorite thing!) and my Yorkie and enjoyed several hours of PVR'd Sex and the City.  Then, we came upstairs and read the flyers (I'm a wild one, I know!).  Molly joined us and I was quite content snuggled up with my pups, perusing summer sales while the rain poured down.

    And don't you have the best sleeps when it rains?  It's like having an organic "Sounds of Nature" machine!!  I had a wonderful sleep, and my husband is having a great post back-shift sleep in as well.  All is cozy and sleepy in our home on this Saturday afternoon.  And while I do hope the sun returns soon, in the meantime I will enjoy the special warmth that that comes with cold, rainy days.

    I was quite honored to be asked to do a guest post for my cousin's blog, Pattycake Manners.  You can read my post here. She's got a really neat blog, so while you're over there, have a look around!

    Have a wonderful week!  See you on Wednesday!

    The Nesty Girl's Cloud of Inspiration - Puppy Dog Ears!

    A few weeks ago I shared with you My Cloud of Inspiration.  I had such a great time composing my cloud that I have decided to occasionally post about some of the people, places, and things that inspire me.  The form these posts will take will vary from time to time depending on the item; some times there may be a story, a series of pictures, or some links.  Basically, whatever form I think will best demonstrate why I think the subject is so wonderful!

    Today, I'm sharing with you my love of puppy dog ears.  Specifically, the ears belonging to my two puppy dogs.  When we first brought Molly home, she was a scrawny little scrap of a pup with a a head that was too big for her body and the scraggliest little tail you ever did see.  She did, however, have the loveliest silky, floppy ears.  As she grew up she became an absolutely gorgeous doggie, but when I rub her little ears I always remember, fondly, the strange, silly little pup that we brought home on a gray November day.  Molly inspires me because she is the dog that made me become a dog person. For years, I was terrified of dogs; after I met my husband, he, his family, and their dogs taught me not to be afraid of dogs.  But Molly, she taught me to love dogs. 

    Here is a recent picture of my girl, who is going to be four in August:
    Miss Molly
    What a doll, eh?  And how about those floppy ears!

    And then there's Tinky Wink, a fine fellow with spectacular ears!  When we met him at the shelter, we had no idea that he was a Yorkie.  In his upset state, his ears were pinned back on his head.  However, while we waited for the shelter staff to finish our paperwork, safe in the arms of his new dad, Tinky's giant ears popped up.  It was as if he knew that his shelter days were over and it was safe to let his guard down, and his ears up, again.  Tinky inspires me because he is such a survivor.  Despite being abandoned and left at a shelter, he bounced back and has been such a joy. 

    Today was bath day for Tinky, and he was so cute and fluffy afterward that I just had to snap a few pictures of him to share with you.  Here he is!

    Tinky Wink

    His fur was extra blond after his bath; perhaps from the glorious sun we've been enjoying?  And there's his ears!  With ears that big, he doesn't miss a trick!

    Thanks for letting me share my beautiful babies!  As you can tell, I'm pretty proud of them!

    Have a wonderful weekend!  See you on Monday!!!

    Summertime, A Sip At A Time

    It's June, and the first day of Summer is just around the corner.  Summer livin' is everywhere, from backyard barbecues and campfires at the river, to long evenings on the patio and long weekends at the lake! Everyone is ready to enjoy Summer!  Like any other season, Summer brings with it it's own special menu, including a variety of icy summer beverages.
    From left, Sweet Tea, Lemonade, and an Iced Mocha
    Summer beverages are everywhere!  On television, in magazines, and on blogs, it seems that everywhere I look, there's another great recipe for a delicious frosty drink! And of course, the more I see of a food, the more I want to get into the kitchen and start creating!  I was particularly inspired after reading the most recent issue of Everyday With Rachel Ray, in which she discusses how much cheaper it is to make your own summer drinks, such as lemonade and iced tea.  Intrigued, I decided to research a few recipes and give them a try.

    I've always been a big iced tea fan, and a large tin of lemon iced tea crystals is a summertime staple in my kitchen.  However, as I become more and more conscious of processed food, my powdered drink mix is becoming less and less appealing!  And so, I decided to try my hand at iced tea.  I've heard a lot about Southern style sweet tea, so I decided to give it a try since it would be something different than what we're used to; in Canada, iced tea is generally flavoured with lemon.  I found this recipe and tried it with great results, although upon closer inspection I realize that the cook is actually from Canada!  However, it is very similar to many of the recipes I looked at from the Southern US; this recipe worked well for me because Tetley is "my" brand of tea.  Many of the recipes I looked up called for "family size" tea bags, which is something I'm not familar with.  I didn't use six tea bags; I believe I only used four and I liked the flavour a lot.  It was very, very sweet tea, but I really liked it.  If you don't like sweet drinks, then you may want to pass on this drink and try a lemon tea recipe instead.

    Next up, lemonade!  I've made homemade lemonade in the past, usually following the recipe on the bottle or just adding lemon and sugar to my glass until the ratio was right. A little online research revealed that the combination of 1 cup of lemon juice, 1 cup of sugar, and 6 cups of water is quite popular.  However, I found this recipe a little sweet (I like my lemonade a bit tart) and so I reduced the sugar to 3/4 of a cup.  Perfect!  This recipe has been a hit in our house, and my husband and I are drinking quite a bit of it. No scurvy for us!!  We decided to pick up a 3.78 liter jug of lemon juice at the wholesalers this week; when I was hemming and hawing over the 10.00 price tag, my husband pointed out that we'd probably spent that on bottled beverages this week alone.  The jug went in the cart!

    Another summer beverage we've been spending a bit of change (okay, bills) on is frozen coffee drinks.  As I was sipping on a less than inspired version from a fast food joint on the way home from a shopping trip to nearby Terrace, I thought, I can do better than this!  When I purchased my Magic Bullet blender, the recipe book that came with it had several recipes for frozen coffee drinks, so I decided to make these my project for this evening.  As luck would have it, my husband and our neighbor were chatting at the kitchen table while I was creating, so I had test subjects!

    Homemade Chocolate Syrup!
    The tastiest of all coffee drinks, I believe, are ones that are chocolaty, so I chose a recipe for Iced Mochas.  My testers and I decided that more chocolate was required, so I added an additional 2 tablespoons of syrup.  Yum!  You need quite a few ice cubes to get the really great frozen texture, and I found that the recipe pretty much filled the cup with liquid, leaving little room for ice.  I made the second batch using half the amounts listed so I could fit more ice in the cup.  However, if you want an "iced coffee" kind of drink (thinner, with the consistency of chocolate milk) use less ice.  We really enjoyed these; I even made them with soy milk and they were great!

    For a special treat, I made a homemade chocolate sauce to use in the mochas. (The things I do in the name of research!)  You can find the recipe I used here; it is dairy free, which I love!

    Do you have a favorite recipe for iced tea, lemonade, or iced coffee?  If so, please share in the comments!  Have a wonderful day and I'll see you on Friday!

    The Perfect Girl's Night Crop!

    To me, scrap-booking is almost meditative in nature.  Alone in my craft room, with a warm cup of tea or glass of wine (in a travel cup) by my side, surrounded by beautiful papers and ribbons, I can take my time and leaf through pictures.  As I visualize how I will arrange the photographs, I reminisce about the event that featured in the picture and quietly smile, shed a tear, or laugh out loud.  However, sometimes I take too much time, and my projects pile up and don't get finished.  I don't stress about it; scrap-booking is something I do for fun and if the muse goes away for a bit, that's okay.

    I've gotten back into making cards the last few months (inspired after receiving several gorgeous greetings from my cousin Ainsley of Pattycake Manners, and after receiving a wonderful kit of Stampin' Up goodies from my mother for Christmas.)  Also, I made a few mini-albums for Christmas gifts, as well as embellished containers for my holiday gifts.  So I haven't abandoned scrapping.  But I have been "working" on two projects very dear to me for over a year, and despite wonderful pictures to work with and some great materials, they just weren't coming together for me.  Clearly, I needed something to put me in a scrapping frame of mind!  And so, I decided to invite two of my fellow scrappers over for a "crop night."

    Of course, because I'm me and I can't help myself, I had to jazz it up a bit and have some fun preparing.  And so I decided to share my plan for the Perfect Girl's Night Crop!

    What could be more fun than cupcakes!  To me, they are the picture perfect girl's night snack!  Pretty and delicious, they also avoid the need to put out plates, forks, and serving utensils.  Anytime you can avoid doing dishes,embrace the opportunity, I say!  Cupcakes can also be easy and super quick to make!  Now, you all know that I love to bake, and "from scratch" baking is near and dear to my heart.  However, there's a time and a place for mixes, and in my humble opinion, Crop Night is the time and place!

    I picked up two mixes and two tubs of pre-made frosting.  I chose Cherry Chip and Butter Pecan; my theory is if you're going to use mixes, go for flavors you probably wouldn't engineer yourself.  I got a little happy when I saw Cherry Chip; there's just something so in-your-face cake-mix-y about it!  For the frosting, I chose of tub of "white" and another of "cream cheese." I added a dab of Wilton Icing Colour Concentrated Gel in Rose to the tub of cream cheese frosting and mixed it up well.  I placed a large tip into a disposable decorating bag and filled the bag with the pink frosting.  I used a large caterers tip with a plain open end to make "ice-cream" type swirls, and alternated between generous swirls and smaller rosettes (Since some people like a lot of frosting and some people don't!). A dusting of multi-colour sprinkles was the perfect finishing touch!

     Here is a tutorial from Wilton on making 1M Swirls on cupcakes using their 1M tip which fits into a coupler.  A coupler is a small tube with screw threads that fits into a decorating bag; once the coupler is in place you can change out tips on the same bag.  This is especially useful when you want to use the same colour for different techniques.  It also holds the tip in place; with the industrial ones I used you need to make sure that the tip doesn't "sink"into the bag of frosting.  The 1M swirl looks so perfect that I think I will pick up that tip for future cupcake projects.

    The tip I used for the Butter Pecan cupcakes was similar to the 1M.  For these, I added some Butter Pecan flavouring essence to the tub of white frosting and stirred it well, then followed the same process for decorating the cupcakes.  To finish these, I added a sprinkle of pecan pieces.

    Here are the finished cupcakes, all ready for the girls to enjoy!

    And for inspiration, a Cabernet Savignon!

    So, did the inspiration work?  Well, I got some perspective on my projects and definitely know where I'm going with them, but I didn't actually commit to gluing anything together. But that's okay, because when I was cleaning up afterward, I came up with another wonderful use for plastic clam-shell containers!

    Some of you may remember this project from a few weeks ago:

    Well, since I came up with this, I've been saving all my clam-shell containers and tea canisters.  The clam-shells come in a variety of sizes for different kinds of produce (spinach, cherry tomatoes, and strawberries ).  I haven't gotten around to decorating them all yet, and as I was carrying my stash back to my craft room, I saw them sitting there and got an idea.

    My current projects (the ones I'm struggling to finish) are both "mini" albums.  One is a chip-board accordion album, and the other is a mini-binder with chipboard pages and brown paper envelopes for ephemera.  Add to these two pieces the paper, pictures, and add-ons and it adds up to a lot of stuff that I always seem to be rummaging for whenever I want to work on a project.

    Scrap-bookers have been using large pizza boxes to organize their traditional 12x12 projects for years, but they are kind of big for mini-projects.  Well, now mini-albums have a home to call their own!

    I was able to fit all of my project materials into the strawberry container.  I placed a sheet of the Martha Stewart Crafts matting paper (in a fun travel theme) that I am using for these projects on top so it shows through the lid and now all my materials are organized, easily identified, and ready to grab when inspiration strikes!

    This would be a great way to gift-wrap scrap-booking supplies as well, since it would also give the recipient a nifty green project organizer as well.  If I were doing this, I would make a one sided card or tag and attach it to the top of the container so it would be decorative in the recipient's craft room!  Here is an example I made using a variety of Colorbok "Friendly Forest" papers, journaling cards, and embellishments:
    Ready to Give!

    Here are the materials I am using for my projects:
    • Chipboard Accordion Album (unknown)
    • Chipboard Mini-Binder with inserts (unknown)
    • Canson # 505 Red cardstock, and other unknown assorted cardstocks
    • Colorbok "Friendly Forest" Journaling Cards, mat papers, and embellishments
    • Martha Stewart Crafts Travel Mat Pad
    One final tip: I like to use mini-pictures that I get from the photo kiosk at Walmart. To keep these from getting lost (some aren't much bigger than a postage stamp) I place them all in an envelope, label the envelope with the name of the project I'm working on, and place it in the container with the rest of my materials.  No more lost pictures!

    Have a wonderful and creative week!

    PS - I'm sorry for the late post today; I was one of the bloggers effected by the Blogger isolated access issues going on Sunday and Monday!  Rest assured I was up late desperately trying to get this post to you on time!

    A Post (Not) About Campfires

    Gentle Readers,

    This was supposed to be a post about camp fires. We've been having a lot of them lately, and I thought you'd enjoy hearing about them.  That was my plan, and we had planned to go to the river last night and have another fire, and I charged my camera up and everything, just for you!  But then it rained. And then I felt a little bit "rainy day-ish."  So much so that when my husband came home for lunch, he suggested that it was the perfect day to forget about housework, turn on the "fireplace" and curl up on the sofa with a warm highland blanket, a cup of coffee, and the new Everyday With Rachel Ray.  I decided he was right, and as soon as he left I gathered my stuff, switched on the electric fireplace, and snuggled in.  When he called to check in a little while later, he mentioned that this would be a great night to cook the homemade lasagna I had stashed in the deep freezer.  I also agreed with this; nothing is easier than having something cooked and ready to pop in the oven, especially on days when you are feeling less than inspired.

    I spent the first little while reading blogs.  It was nice.  The rain was falling gently, the dogs were snoring softly in front of the "fire," and I was warm and happy.  Time for a second cup of coffee and my magazine!  As I crossed the room to the kitchen, I checked the clock and noticed that it was 4:00, the perfect time to pop a frozen lasagna in the oven to eat around 6:00.  I jogged down the stairs to the freezer and breezily reached down to pick up the lasagna.  I stopped.  I felt my eyes widen, blink, squint, and then go really wide.  No.

    The entire contents of my deep freezer had thawed.

    I gasped.  I felt faint, then sick, then faint again.  I grabbed the phone and called my husband and squeaked out something about "Freezer....meat....thawed....ackkkkk...wah...no!"

    There are many times when I am particularly grateful that my husband is a law enforcement officer.  Often those times are because he is trained to STAY CALM whereas I AM NOT!!!!  Through my wheezes and squeaks, I heard him tell me to "STAY CALM, I'll be home soon, everything will be fine.  Just go check the meat."

    Check the meat, check the meat!  As some of you will recall, this winter we purchased a quarter of a cow.  And although we have eaten a lot of it, there was still quite a lot left in the freezer.  Including most of my better cuts, which I had been saving for the grill.  I took a deep breath, and went back to the freezer.

    You know it's good when your butcher draws a smiley on it!

    I started unloading, and relief flooded through me.  Ice!  There was ice between everything!!  The phone rang again; it was my husband checking in.  Upon the news that the remainder of our cow was OK, he was happy too.  We had a quick conference, and decided that the best thing to do was start cooking.  He would be home shortly to run and buy ingredients and storage materials.

    Crisis (somewhat) averted, I loaded a basket with meat and hauled it up the stairs.  I went back and grabbed the lasagna.  I walked it upstairs.  And then I stood there for a few minutes, trying to figure out how, exactly, to start cooking an eighth of a cow.  I stared at the brown paper wrapped packages.  I sighed.  I grabbed my Betty Crocker Cookbook, with all it's wonderful cooking charts, put it on the table, and stared at it.  Then I turned around, turned on the oven, and put the lasagna in.  Right about then, my husband came in the door.  I may have been flapping my arms.  At the sight of me floundering around my sea of meat, he took over and we headed back to the basement to clean.

    Not for the first time I was happy we decided to buy an upright freezer because I don't know how one would clean up after this kind of mess in a chest freezer. Working together, we got it cleaned up very quickly, and then we headed back upstairs to make our plan of attack.

    I had had the presence of mind to sort the meat.  We had:
    • 10 packages of ground beef
    • 2 packages of stew beef
    • 6 soup bones
    • 2 T-Bone steaks
    • 2 Sirloin Steaks
    • 2 Tenderloins
    • 1 Large package of short ribs
    • 4 Cross Rib Steak 
    • 1 Sirloin Tip Roast
    • 1 Round Roast
    • 2 Standing Rib Roasts (aka Prime Rib)
    • 1 HUGE Standing Rib Steak
    I think that was everything.  I think that's actually more like a 16th of a cow.  My mind was whirling, trying to think of the most efficient ways to prepare everything so it could go back in the freezer.  I sat down with my cookbook and a notebook, and quickly devised a plan.  I jotted out a shopping list for my husband and he took off for the grocery store while I fired up the George Foreman Grill.  By the time he got back, the sirloins and the T-Bones were cooked and ready to be slipped into labeled freezer bags. We unpacked the grocery bags and assembled everything for the real power cooking.
    Ladies, start your Crock Pots!

    It was like our own version of "Kitchen Stadium."  "Battle: Thawed Beef," I thought to myself as I simmered, stewed, roasted and braised.  I mixed, stirred, chopped, and patted.  I chopped many, many onions.  The house started to smell like The Keg.  The dogs were thrilled, especially when we sent them out into the yard with my soup bones.  The neighbors dogs got a few, too, and soon the night air was full of the sound of dogs ecstatically snacking.  At one point I heard my husband laughing hysterically and, when I went to see what was going on, he pointed out our diminutive Yorkie trotting across the back yard, holding aloft a beef joint that had to weight as much as he did. And throughout the evening, any time I sat down, one of the bigger dogs would come over and lick my arm. Apparently, I tasted delicious.
    Fat & Happy Dogs

    Yup, it was a wacky night.  I was reminded of Wednesday's post, where I noted how virtuous I was feeling about making a plan to eat well, and how great I've been feeling since eating a lot of vegetarian dishes.  Well, this should serve as a cautionary tale to anyone who gets a little too big feeling on their blog.  The silver lining, aside from the fact that we caught it in time, was the fact that I do love to cook and this was as big a cooking challenge as I've faced in awhile.  At the end of the evening, I had prepared the following:
    • Five meat loaves
    • A pot of stewed beef chunks
    • 2 batches of Italian seasoned ground beef (for pasta dishes)
    • A large batch of pasty filling
    • A batch of Molasses Mustard saucy ribs
    • A roast beef
    • A pot roast
    • 2 grilled T-Bones
    • 2 grilled sirloin steaks
    • 2 roasted beef tenderloins
    • 4 braised cross rib steaks
    • Beef and onion broth (from the braising) that will become French Onion Soup
    Meat loaves, ready for the (now running) freezer.

    By midnight it was all done.  I had used my Foreman Grill, my Crockpot, 3 roasting pans, 5 loaf pans, and all 3 of my dutch ovens, twice.  All that was left to cook were the three Prime Ribs.  We had recruited our neighbors to come for supper the following night to help us eat them; I had shed a tear as I cooked my T-Bones on the indoor grill, there was no way I was cooking and freezing Prime Rib.  I actually think there are laws against that, at least there are in my world.  Then again, my world has talking salt & pepper shakers in it, so the laws are shaky.

    My sweetie was a wonderful sous chef.  He ran up and down the stairs more times than I can count, took garbage out to the barn, corralled the dogs when they got too enthusiastic about Meat-Fest, and even ran to the store to keep me in sugary snacks and fizzy drinks until the job was done.  He cleaned the freezer, did laundry, and tidied the rec room.  He cheered me on when I got tired and waxed enthusiastic at everything I pulled out of the oven and ladled  into freezer bags and plastic tubs.  

    After a hot shower to wash away the beef smell that had seared and steamed itself into my pores, I finally collapsed into bed with my magazine.  However, Everyday only made it as far as my bedside table.  Eight hours of non-stop cooking caught up with me, and I needed to sleep. But tonight, tonight is looking good...

    Oh, what's that?  What happened to the freezer?  The switch on our power bar mysteriously flicked off.  We're blaming the cats.  That's our story and we're sticking to it.  They're pretty strong and good with their paws.  They could do it!  Especially if the dogs helped!  It certainly wasn't one of us!  After all, they made off like bandits from all this; they ate better than most people did last night!  All joking aside, we've decided that it doesn't really matter how the switch got flicked; we caught it in time, it won't happen again, and all's well that ends well.  As my honey pointed out to someone who wanted to know who's fault it was, no one wins when you play the blame game.

    Now, how many of you are going to go check your freezers RIGHT NOW?  I know I'd have to!  Have a great weekend!

    Today I'm linking to Fabulous Nest Friday and Trendy Treehouse Follow Me Friday.


    Food for Thought...

    A few months ago, I was reading an issue of MacLean's magazine and came across an article about Kerri Leonard and Christopher Greenslate's book On a Dollar a Day: One Couple's Unlikely Adventures in Eating in AmericaIn September of 2008, the couple decided to challenge themselves to eat for a dollar a day each, just as many people across the world have to out of necessity, and they chronicled their experiences on a blog.

    I Heart Pulses!

    Since the couple is vegan, they used a lot of grains and pulses in their recipes, and so  I was reminded of their project a few weeks ago as I perused Indian, vegetarian, and rice recipes while preparing for a healthy eating kick. Every few months I'll do this; make a bunch of  veggie and bean dishes that are high  protein, low fat, filling, and nutritious.  We'll eat these for lunches (and often supper) and before long my rings are looser and my energy is up! We still have meat and some treats within reason; I find that simply adding the healthier dishes makes a difference.  That being said, I also occasionally put us on a week or two of "clean" eating where we cut out all white sugar, white flour, and bad fats.

    In addition to being healthy, these dishes can also be really cheap if you do your homework.  Even though it may seem expensive initially, the groceries you purchase will last a long time.  For example, the bag of dry bulk chick peas we bought cost $8.00, which seems like a lot for a bag of boring beige beans.  However, so far I've made a big pot of Italian Chickpea Soup, Chana Masala, and four batches of roasted chick peas.  And there's still almost half a bag left!  In addition to the chick peas, we also bought big bags of bulk green and red lentils.  With the lentils I've made two different daals and you can't even tell that I've dipped into the bags.  Daal and Chana Masala are East Indian vegetable stews made with tons of delicious spices.  I made a pot of garlic rice pilaf to serve the stews with, and I made a very happy discovery at one of our local grocery stores: authentic Indian naan bread sold by the dozen for $5.49!  Yum yum yum!

    As I was preparing for this post, and reveling in how cost effective these dishes are, I realized that I hadn't done a post on eating economically in a while.  I enjoy reading blogs and articles on how people are dealing with rising food costs in difficult economic times.  In particular I like when people look at how much "fat" you can cut from your grocery order.  It got me looking at how I shop for, prepare, and utilize the food we eat.  As well, reading over the "On a Dollar a Day" posts really made me realize how much food we have access too, and that for most of us, the fact that we can make a decision to reduce our food intake, whether for diet or budgeting purposes, is a luxury when you consider how many people have to do this out of necessity.

    Now, as many of you have realized by now, cooking is something of a passion for me.  I LOVE to cook, food and cooking are my hobbies and I adore shopping for groceries.  What this sometimes means is that, despite a well planned grocery order, I might get inspired to make, say, a traditional Mexican meal and off we'll go to the grocery store.  Even something as simple as "let's get some sandwich stuff" gets pricey when a foodie like me is involved.  It didn't take long to figure out why our grocery budget was going off the rails.  Multiple trips to the grocery store to pick up ingredients adds up quickly.  Sometimes, it was for non-glamorous items like bread, or an everyday ingredient (like onions) that I had run out of and needed for a dish I was preparing.

    And so, armed with a full grocery order tucked away into cupboards, fridge, and freezer, I challenged myself to use what I had.  No trips to the store because I was out of onions!  I could've avoided the shops completely, except that we had an unusually high number of social activities this week that required me to pick up a few items that I hadn't planned for originally.  However, I stuck to the plan as much as possible.  Today, for example, I was inspired to make Chana Masala after reading the "On a Dollar a Day" blog, but I was out of onions.  Where before I would either have abandoned the recipe or made a quick call to my husband to drop by the grocery store on his way home, today I decided to plow ahead and make do with what I had.  A quick peek in the crisper revealed green onions and celery, so I used those items instead.  I was following the recipe on the "On a Dollar a Day" blog, which is adapted from a recipe by Madhur Jaffrey.  They list the original ingredients and then their adaptations in italics.  Since I am not aiming to eat on a dollar a day, for the most part I used the ingredients and yields from the original recipe, but found their adaptations helpful for items I didn't have on hand, like fresh green chilis and amchoor powder.  

    While I'm happy that "Grocery Day!" is approaching, I am pleased with my little challenge and what it taught me:
    •  So often we find ourselves groaning "there's nothing to eat" when what we really mean is "there nothing easy to eat."  Preparing the chick peas for stews and snacks required me to soak them overnight and then simmer them for three hours before I could cook with them.  It is possible to eat well economically, but it requires more work than purchasing prepared foods.
    • Snacking becomes a habit when food is too easy to access. This ends up costing us in both money and our health.  By limiting my shopping this week, I though twice before popping bread in the toaster or making a latte; was I legitimately hungry and in need of nourishment, or was I bored or simply "liking" the idea of having a snack.
    • I use more of certain items than others.  Well, no kidding Kim!  Yet, why is it that we seem to always run out of the same items?  And, when we are putting away our fresh groceries, we seem to throw away the same spoiled items week after week?  By not running out to the store when I ran out of, say, soy milk, I got a better idea of how much I actually need to buy on my grocery order. This grocery cycle alone I identified that I need to buy more onions, soy milk, and coffee.  
    • Portion control.  Have you ever written down what you eat?  I sometimes do this when I am trying to get my diet "back on track" and it's revealing.  By agreeing not to replace items until our next order, we had to be aware of our consumption so that we didn't run out of items.  This cut down on taking un-necessary seconds, as well as casual snacking.
    • Planning Helps Remember those social gatherings?  Some of those I knew about but didn't consider when I shopped for groceries.  Others came up suddenly and had to be accommodated.  As well, we had several camp fire weiner roasts over the last two weeks which sent us to the local grocery store a few times.  So, going forward this summer, I'm going to make sure I have the ingredients on hand for impromptu potlucks, and we are going to visit the wholesale warehouse for better buys on hotdogs and marshmallows.
    • Wants versus Needs I love this phrase, a friend said it to me once and it's a great mantra for staying focused on budgeting.  Again, do I really need a latte (ie - I'm hungry and a big mug of soy milk will fill me) or do I want a latte because it's a rainy day and I'm curling up with a new magazine (in which case a cup of tea would serve the same purpose).  I'm not saying to never indulge, but if I notice I've burned through two litres of soy milk in less than a week, it's time to curb the lattes!
    • Make sure you use what you make Have you ever made a big batch of something only to get invited out a few times and it doesn't get eaten?  Or, you eat a lot of it but get tired of it and end up throwing out the last serving or two?  If you can't possibly eat all of what you've made, try freezing it.  I've decided to pick up some freezer safe plastic containers so that I can pack up those last few servings of a dish and freeze it in individual servings.  Voila, instant lunches for my husband!!
    • Creativity Saves Money  As I was picking up some fizzy fruit beverages to take to the river with us the other night, I got to thinking about the cookouts of my youth.  We never took along individual prepackaged drinks.  Mom had a big thermos jug that she would fill with lemonade or Kool-Aid that she made at home and took with us.  Why don't people do that anymore? 
    This was a great exercise to do at the beginning of summer, since this season seems to lend itself to impulsive activities and get-togethers. I remember a few years ago, after a week of many, many barbecues, we remarked that we had probably eaten our weight in ground beef that week.  I'm going to take some time to plan for summer so that we can have a lot of fun without spending a fortune and gaining a ton!  We've already started planning some alternative fireside eats like potatoes and corn, and I'm definitely going to be looking for a Thermos jug! 

    There's just something about "auditing" your diet, both in terms of money and nutrition, that feels so wonderfully virtuous, isn't there?!  If you have a tip or observation to share, I'd love to hear it!  Have a wonderful week, and I'll see you on Friday!