Tuesday, November 29, 2016

My Homemade Bread Failures

My latest project has been homemade bread. In September, we made a few dozen jars of apple butter (click here to view my tutorial), and store bought bread simply does not do the apple butter justice.

Last month, Mr. Handsome and I made a few batches of bread using different recipes, and they didn't turn out well at all. One of the loaves was so dense that it sounded like someone was knocking at the door when we whacked it on the side of the counter. Yikes.

This afternoon, I tried a new recipe. It turned out much better than the others, but it's still not as light and fluffy as I would like it to be. The loaf rose up to the rim of the pan, but then it flattened just before I put it in the oven to bake.

Do you have any recipes or tips to share? We prefer bread that is at least half whole wheat, so that makes the job quite a bit more difficult.

I'm also curious where you put your dough to rise. Previously, I was putting it in the oven on the "Warm" setting, but I think that was too hot. (Our "Warm" setting could probably roast marshmallows.) This time, I left the oven door open, and that seemed to work better, although that's not ideal.

Any advice would be much appreciated! 

Monday, November 28, 2016

New Orleans, Day 1

How many of y'all have spent time in New Orleans, Louisiana? We visited a few weeks ago for the first time, and we really enjoyed the uniqueness of the crescent city.

We spent the first day doing a self-guided walking tour, rather than pay for a tour guide. (I also brought snacks from home to save on restaurant bills. LOL.) Our hotel, which we got a really good deal on, was located several blocks west of the French Quarter.

One of my favorite stops was the St. Louis Cathedral. What a gorgeous building, both inside and outside.

We also toured the Old Ursuline Convent, built in 1752. The sanctuary was beautiful, and we were able to walk past a staircase from the original building, which was completed in the 1720s. The steps were lopsided from nearly three hundred years of wear and tear. 

We spent a few hours just walking the streets of the French Quarter and admiring all the diverse architecture.

Built between 1722 and 1732, this structure was formerly a blacksmith shop. It is now used as a restaurant, so we were able to peek inside.

We have a few dozen pictures of buildings, but I'll spare you the boredom and just post a few. 

That evening, we took a quick stroll down Bourbon Street, just to see what it was like. Even though it was a Thursday night, there were tons of people out, and there were some pretty strange things going on. It was quite the experience.

We ended up eating at the Gumbo Shop, a restaurant located in a quieter part of the French Quarter. Formerly a private residence, it was also built in the 1700s.

 I ordered a tasty chicken dish and a nonalcoholic honeydew daiquiri. Both were delicious!

We also stopped at Cafe Du Monde for a $3 plate of beignet donuts. We got powdered sugar all over ourselves, but they were fabulous.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Thanksgiving Table Set for 25

Did y'all have a nice Thanksgiving? We celebrated with a big lunchtime feast with both our immediate families, as well as Mr. Handsome's grandparents and cousins.

Our table set for 25 looks very similar to last year's table, but I promise it's a new picture. If you look close enough, you'll see my two-year-old niece's head in the left corner.

We had most of the traditional Thanksgiving dishes, including turkey (smoked overnight in my in-laws' smoker), sweet potatoes, stuffing (not cooked in the turkey, so I suppose it's just dressing), kale salad (okay, so that's not super traditional), homemade rolls, mashed potatoes, and pie.

We realized halfway into the meal that we forgot to make green beans. Oops. Do you think we forgot any other Thanksgiving staples?

Before we ate, my father-in-law read a Bible passage on thankfulness. After lunch, we spent the afternoon chatting and playing Bananagrams and various card games (euchre, up and down the river, and presidents).

  My mom made a festive vegetable plate. Isn't it adorable?

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving!

I want to wish all my American readers a very Happy Thanksgiving! May we take time to thank God for the many blessings we have been given.

Growing up, Thanksgiving was a very low key holiday for my parents and brother and me, as we didn't live near any extended family. We always shared a meal with close friends. One particular year, our neighbors' house was destroyed by a pipe that burst, so we had them over for dinner.

The following year, the same friends had us over while our house was undergoing a big DIY renovation project. (It took almost two years because we did all the work ourselves and paid for supplies as we had the money.)

Now that I'm married to a guy who has tons of relatives, our Thanksgivings have suddenly become much busier.

For those of you who live in the United States, what are your favorite Thanksgiving memories, and what are you doing to celebrate this week? If you live in Canada, what did you do this year on Canadian Thanksgiving?

To all my loyal international readers, I would love for you to share about the holidays that are unique to your country.

Looking forward to hearing from y'all. The photo on the left is of last year's Thanksgiving table. I'm planning to post new photos tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

International Travels


Good afternoon, blog readers! I apologize for my slowness in moderating and responding to comments over the past ten days. We were blessed to have some vacation time, and our access to internet was limited.

Our trip started in New Orleans, and then we embarked on a five-day Carnival cruise to Mexico, paid for by my husband's boss in place of Christmas bonuses for the employees. On our way home, we made a three-day pit stop for an early Thanksgiving meal with extended family.

Would y'all like to see some more pictures of our journey?

Friday, November 18, 2016

Update on My WWII Book

In September, I announced that I was in the early stages of writing a book based on my grandmother's WWII story. She was an ethnic German who grew up in Ukraine under ruthless Communist dictator Joseph Stalin. (Click here to read more details in my September 8th post.)

My grandmother passed away when I was in middle school, but she left behind a memoir. I admit that I've been brought to tears while reading how deeply her family suffered, especially her account of the day she was forced to say goodbye to her father. When she was just eight years old, he was banished to a death camp in Siberia and never heard from again.

Throughout this process, I have been able to reconnect with my great uncle (my grandmother's brother) who lives in Germany. He doesn't speak a word of English, but with help from my mom, I have been able to email with him and his wife. His side of the story is also very sobering, as he and his mother (my great grandmother) were also deported to Siberia and were separated from my grandmother for thirty years.

Despite the hardships that my relatives lived through, they were somehow able to push forward and maintain a strong faith. Their ability to overcome their trials will be the theme of my book.

This project has required a lot of research, and the actual writing part has proven to be more challenging that I imagined, but I look forward to sharing the finished product with you all!

The photo above is of my grandmother and my 16-month-old self. :)

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Shop 'til You Drop

In today's world, it can be difficult to find appropriate outfits for a decent price. A number of readers have asked me where I buy my clothes, so I compiled a list of my favorite stores. I'm still a work in progress and would love it if you would add your suggestions to the comments section. Even if you live internationally and have different stores, I would love to hear from you.

My strategy is to visit these stores several times throughout the year and then again on Black Friday. If I see a cute top for a good price, I'll buy it, even if I'm not in desperate need of shirts. That way, I can take advantage of sales as they come and not feel pressured into buying full priced items.

During the Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend, I'll often order a bunch of clothing items (usually formal and summer dresses, as those can be hard to find) from websites that allow you to return to the store (Kohl's, JCPenney, etc). That way, I can have my own fashion show in the comfort of my own home, choose a few items that fit, and take back what I don't like.

I love browsing secondhand stores (Goodwill, Salvation Army, and local consignment boutiques), but I also shop at other stores that are known for having good clearance and sale racks, including...

   Good 'ole Kohl's! Their clearance racks are overwhelming, but finding those treasures makes it worth your time.

   Small store, so it's easy to take a quick glance at the clearance/sale racks.

Dress Barn
    Plenty of their stuff is overpriced, but once in a while, they have great deals on dresses and tops.

   Similar to Kohl's

LOFT/Ann Taylor LOFT 
   Some items are pricey, but during end-of-the-season closeouts, I often find blouses and sweaters for under $8.00.

   I shop at Dillard's for dresses. Their racks are loaded, and you have to be willing to do a lot of trying on, but they have great sales.

   Their clothing section is limited, but when they have something I like, it's almost always a reasonable price. They also sell men's, women's, and children's socks and undergarments for great prices.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Camping Out

We recently went on a camping trip with friends from our Bible study. Rather than pay for space at a public camping ground, we found a secluded spot on the hilly, 200-acre property owned by the parents of one of our friends. The photo above shows the family's log cabin off in the distance.

Growing up, my family didn't do a whole lot of camping. When I was 14, my dad and I took a 6,000-mile road trip through western Canada and the United States and pitched a tent at a few campgrounds along the way, including Yellowstone National Park. Other then that, the only camping we did was when my friends and I slept in my family's suburban backyard.

I am by no means a seasoned camper, but thankfully there were a few individuals in our group who were, so we had a great time. We cooked burgers over an open fire and then sat around singing songs and chatting until 11pm. The only downside was that the overnight low was 44 degrees. Here's a video I made at 6am...

Saturday, November 12, 2016

A Very Special Wedding Gift

I posted pictures from the adventure-themed wedding shower we threw for my brother and his fiance, as well as snapshots from their Oregon coast wedding, but did I show you the wedding present we gave them?

It's a painting by Mr. Handsome, and it shows a view of the ocean from a place called Road's End, which is near the wedding venue. He also added a wedding chapel in the foreground. What do you think?

I've been away from the computer quite a bit this week and might not be able to moderate comments immediately, but don't let that stop you from submitting them. I love to hear from y'all, and I'll get to the comments ASAP. :)

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Our Friend Mo Pitney

We live in Nashville, Tennessee, known across the globe as Music City. While we don't attend concerts every weekend, we have quite a few friends who are part of the professional country/bluegrass music scene, and we enjoy supporting their endeavors.

One of those folks, Mo Pitney, recently hosted his CD release part at The Station Inn. (Mo and his wife are in our Bible study.) We enjoyed chatting with other friends while listening to Mo perform songs off his new album, "Behind This Guitar." He is in his mid-twenties, but if you heard him sing without seeing a picture, you could easily mistake him for 65. His voice certainly has an "old country" feel to it.

Below is the music video of "Boy & A Girl Thing," my favorite song by Mo. ("Everywhere" and Mo's rendition of "Give Me Jesus" are two of my other favorites.) If you're interested in learning more about him or purchasing his album, visit mopitney.com.

Photo/video courtesy Mo Pitney

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Another Engagement!

Guess what, y'all? Another one of Mr. Handsome's six siblings is engaged! As of now, he and Anne are the only two who are married. Their brother, Joseph, proposed to his girlfriend in May, and we are looking forward to their East Coast wedding next month.

In fall 2014, Mr. Handsome's second oldest sister, Catherine, met a guy, and the two started dating exactly one year later. Exactly one year after that, they got engaged. Pretty cute, isn't it? It looks like their wedding will be in late spring or early summer 2017 (after her college graduation). We are still waiting for them to choose a final date. 

Catherine's fiancĂ© proposed at a local park, and then the two came back to my in-laws' house for a party with both sides of the family. 

Mr. Handsome and I managed to pull off a three-month engagement, but his siblings think we're crazy for planning a wedding in such a short time. LOL. We both agree that three months was plenty long enough.

Hope you enjoy these photos from Catherine's engagement party. I apologize for the low lighting.

These are the chalkboard signs that lined the driveway as the newly engaged couple drove up for the party. They say "Forever and Always," "To Have and to Hold," "Love," "Laughter," and "Happy Engagement."

Monday, November 7, 2016

Jalapeno Poppers Recipe

Mr. Handsome has a thing for jalapeno poppers. He has only eaten them a couple times, but every once in a while he will randomly say, "You should learn how to make jalapeno poppers." Well, Aldi had jalapeno peppers on sale for 99 cents, so I figured I might as well take a stab at making poppers.

The recipes I found online didn't sound all that great to me, so I made my own up, and it was a hit! The prep time was only five minutes.

I recommend using rubber gloves to make these tasty morsels. (I didn't, and my skin was burning by the end.)

Jalapeno Poppers
Jalapeno peppers
Cream cheese
Feta cheese (optional)
Panko bread crumbs
Garlic powder
Uncooked bacon

Step 1: While wearing gloves, wash jalapeno peppers, and remove stems and seeds. Slice in half lengthwise.

Step 2: Using a knife, fill each jalapeno half with as much cream cheese as desired. I used about 2 teaspoons per jalapeno half. Sprinkle a few crumbles of feta cheese on each pepper, as well as bread crumbs (1/4-1/2 teaspoon per jalapeno half).

Step 3: Sprinkle peppers with as much paprika and garlic powder as desired.

Step 4: Cover each pepper half with a piece of uncooked bacon. You'll only need once slice of bacon per two or three pepper halves.

Step 5: Place a metal cookie cooling rack on top of a cookie sheet, and place peppers on top of rack. Bake 25-30 minutes (until golden brown) at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Step 6: Allow poppers to cool for a few minutes before serving. Enjoy, and be sure to wash your hands well when you're finished eating to prevent your skin from burning.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Our Nephew's Nursery

Many of you know that Mr. Handsome is the oldest of seven children. So far, he and his sister Anne are the only ones who are married, although Joseph is engaged and will be tying the knot next month.

Anne has a two-year-old daughter named Ana, and she just gave birth to a son! She had the nursery ready before the baby was born and was pleasantly surprised to find out that decorating a boy's room was just as much fun as a girl's room.

What do you think of the finished product? Anne and her husband moved Ana to a toddler bed so they wouldn't have to buy a new crib, and the other items are either gifts or thrift store finds. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Fall-Themed Bridal Shower Pics

Earlier this week, I shared two of the games we played at the wedding shower we threw for my future sister-in-law (purse raid and the shoe game). About twenty ladies attended, and we enjoyed chatting and laughing together.

The theme of the shower was "fall in love." (It was fall themed, which I'm sure you figured out.) Scroll down to see pictures:

Order of events chalkboard

The "We Do Forever" sign we had left over from my DIY outdoor wedding reception--letters are attached to the board using nails

 A closeup of the pumpkin (49 Days Until She Says 'I Do')

Bridal shower word search

 Guess how many chocolate kisses (winner takes them all home...there were 69)

 Random cute chalkboard

Snack table (cobbler bar with your choice of toppings...blueberries sauce, baked cinnamon apple slices, and chocolate sauce) and other munchies

We also held a pumpkin decorating contest. We split up into groups of three or four and decorated a pumpkin to look like a bride. The groom-to-be chose his favorite (the one on the left). My group's is two from the right, but our face isn't the greatest. LOL.