Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Easy Crème Brûlée

On Valentine's Day, I asked Mr. Handsome what he wanted for dessert, and he replied, "I'm always up for crème brûlée, but I've heard it's hard to make." I loved the idea but had also heard the same thing.

Hoping to prove them wrong, I Googled "easy crème brûlée recipes" and found a few that used instant pudding mix...yuck. After spending a little more time on the internet, I discovered that the ingredients in crème brûlée are very simple, and although the process requires the chef's full attention, it doesn't actually take that much time. I didn't have a kitchen torch, but I learned that I could use my oven's broiler setting.

Now I usually don't copy other bloggers' recipes, but I found the perfect, easy crème brûlée recipe. I have made it twice and have received rave reviews from Mr. Handsome and several guests, so rather than reinvent the wheel, I'll just share the link. There's a video, but I honestly didn't watch it. The written recipe has plenty of detail.

I will say that in step seven, when you're using your broiler setting to create a caramelized crust, turn the oven light on, and position the baking dish in the middle of the oven so you can keep an eye on your dessert through the window. Don't just setting the timer for 3 minutes and walking away. Sit there and watch it the entire time.

The first time I made it, my crème brûlée burned after only 2 minutes (it was sitting on the second-from-the-top rack, which I don't recommend). If that happens to you, just grab a fork and lightly lift the top layer off each crème brûlée, and voila...good as new! Then you can repeat the sugaring step and try again. Mine only took 1-2 minutes.

Also, I don't recommend looking at the nutrition facts below the recipe. Crème brûlée is by no means healthy, but a little treat now and then never hurt anybody.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

My Favorite Things Part 3

A couple years ago, I posted some get to know you questions, and I enjoyed reading your responses in the comments section. Below are a few more fun questions for you to answer. I'm curious to hear your replies!

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I started off wanting to be an actress, as many kids do. When I discovered my love for writing, I dreamed of being a well-known author. Then in high school, I started participating in home design workshops and set my sights on architecture. I visited a few universities that offered architecture, but after taking calculus, I realized that I really disliked math. I settled on journalism in my senior year of high school. A friend (who also happened to be an architecture student) loved the university she attended because she lived in a house with three dozen other Christian girls. After applying and being accepted into the house, I heard the school had a solid journalism school, so that's what I studied!

If you could eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Whole wheat rotini noodles (the curly ones) with spaghetti sauce and cottage cheese....and a spinach salad with homemade balsamic vinaigrette. It's certainly not my favorite meal, but I always enjoy it, and I don't see myself ever growing tired of it. You're probably wondering where the cottage cheese comes from. Growing up, my dad, brother, and I always put cottage cheese on our spaghetti. It's actually quite good...sort of like a makeshift lasagna.

What are your favorite and least favorite household chores?
I have always loved organizing. As a child, I would willingly spend hours cleaning and organizing my room, the kitchen, the basement, and any other room my mother would allow me to. I just find it so relaxing, and having a well organized home makes life a lot easier.

My least favorite is probably loading and emptying the dishwasher because it's such a constant thing. One minute you have a cabinet full of clean dishes, and the next minute they're all in the sink and needing to be loaded into the dishwasher, and then you have to put them back in the cabinet...and then the cycle repeats the next day. But the one bright spot is how beautiful glassware looks when you take it out of the dishwasher immediately after the dry cycle ends. I just love how it sparkles!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Winter Olympics 2018

The 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics will come to a close in just a few days. I'm curious to hear if you've been watching, and what your favorite events have been.

Mr. Handsome and I don't have TV service, and our antenna transmits every news channel but NBC, so a friend graciously gave us their login to watch online. We have enjoyed tuning in to the games for a couple hours most evenings.

All the events are impressive, and some are quite frightening. I've always been especially freaked out by the luge, bobsleigh, and skeleton. Can you imagine traveling down an icy track at speeds up to 125 miles per hour (200 kilometers per hour) with nothing but a helmet to protect yourself? And to think that competitors in the skeleton ride head first, with their faces only inches away from the ice. I just couldn't. I think I would pass out from sheer terror.

Skiing with my brother, 2013
Out of all the events, I have most enjoyed watching anything that involves downhill skiing. It brings back memories, as my dad, brother, and I went skiing several times each winter while I was growing up.

There's nothing like soaring down a steep slope, knees bent into a squat position and head down, at speeds as fast as your skis will carry you.

The weather didn't always cooperate (on the coldest day, it was a balmy -16F/-26C when we hit the slopes in the morning), but we covered everything but the tips of our noses (see photo to the right) and always managed to have fun.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Working Hard or Hardly Working?

fixer upper construction work
Several months ago, my brother-in-law purchased a fixer-upper house in the Nashville area. My father-in-law loves house projects, so he has spent quite a few weekends helping with flooring, painting, and landscaping. The two of them have done the bulk of the work, but the rest of us have chipped in, as well. (Last fall, I spent hours in the yard pulling out many years worth of weeds and overgrown vines.)

This weekend was especially exciting because we laid the last of the flooring. Before my father-in-law took all his power tools home, Mr. Handsome used them to build me a bookshelf.

As many of you know, I've been spending my free time refinishing our furniture (Mr. Handsome jokes that nothing in our home is safe from my dark walnut stain). I have been searching for a used, solid wood bookshelf to replace the junky one we currently have, but I haven't had any success, so my talented husband decided to make me one for Valentine's Day.

It was quite the project and took many more hours than either of us had predicted, but it looks spectacular. (I'll post a photo after I finish staining it.)

Between cutting boards for the bookshelf and cutting flooring pieces, we produced an impressive amount of sawdust, but when it came time to clean up, everyone pitched in, and we were able to leave my brother-in-law with a clean house.

making a bookshelf

DIY bookshelf

homemade bookshelf


Friday, February 16, 2018

Valentine's Day Date

Valentine's Day On Wednesday, Mr. Handsome and I celebrated our fifth Valentine's Day as a couple. (We started our relationship in April, so we're just two months short of having spent six Valentine's Days together.)

For our first Valentine's Day as a married couple, Mr. Handsome planned a fun-filled weekend trip to Chattanooga, Tennessee. We drove to the top of Lookout Mountain, visited Ruby Falls, walked through the Tennessee Aquarium, and stayed in an old Pullman railroad car at the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel.

Last year and this year, Valentine's Day fell on a weekday, so we celebrated at home. This year, Mr. Handsome randomly had the day off (his work schedule can be a bit wonky), so we were able to spend the entire day together.

After stopping by a lumber yard to pick up wood for a bookshelf that he is going to make for me, we went for a short drive through the beautiful, rolling, Tennessee hills. Then we came home for lunch, and he did a painting, while I started refinishing our kitchen table.

At dinnertime, he gave me roses, we exchanged valentines, and we enjoyed a delicious meal of oven-barbecued ribs with one of my homemade BBQ sauces. Our dessert was very last minute. I finally got around to asking Mr. Handsome for some ideas around 4pm, and he suggested crème brûlée. Having heard from many people how complicated it is to make, I happily accepted the challenge and headed over to the grocery store to pick up a few ingredients.

You know what I discovered? Making delicious, rich, and creamy crème brûlée is actually quite simple! Rather than purchase a kitchen torch, I used the broiler setting on my oven, and it worked well. (I still might invest in a torch at some point, just to make myself feel official.) Mr. Handsome said it was on par with the crème brûlée he had at a fancy restaurant a while back, which made me feel like a real pro.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Homeopathic Cough and Flu Remedies

all-natural homeopathic cough and flu products

This year's flu has been a doozy. We have a number of friends who are nurses, nurse practitioners, and medical doctors (in one of the Bible studies we are part of, more than half the attendees are in healthcare), and they have all told us that the hospitals and clinics where they work are overcrowded with flu patients, to the point where some are having to place beds in the hallways. Tragically, a devastating number of folks of all ages have passed away.

A few days after New Year's, I came down with what was likely "the flu." My temperature peaked to 103 degrees Fahrenheit, and I had a terrible cough. Thankfully, I was able to bring my temperature down with Tylenol.

I tried a couple different types of cough syrup (even one with guaifenesin), as well as a prescription cough tablet, and nothing seemed to help. (Surprisingly, many studies have found that the vast majority of conventional cough syrups don't actually work.)

Well, Mr. Handsome was talking to a nurse practitioner friend (one who has been treating flu patients left and right), and he recommended black elderberry. We immediately headed over to the vitamin store and picked up the three products pictured above. They turned out to be game changers.

If you're sick, I highly recommend these all-natural cough and flu products. And if you're around sick people frequently and want to protect yourself, you can do as our NP friend does and take a low dose, specified on the back of the middle box, for prevention. If you can't find these specific products at your local vitamin or health food store, just ask the clerk if they have any other black elderberry cough and flu combatants.

Out of curiosity, are the countries represented by my loyal international readers suffering from the flu as much as we are?

Friday, February 9, 2018

Chicken Parmesan Recipe

As I've mentioned in the past, I'm always trying to work more chicken dishes into my recipe repertoire. Chicken Parmesan is one that I've made several times, and I've finally perfected it enough to share it with you all. It's one of my favorites!

Chicken Parmesan

Chicken Parmesan2 large, boneless skinless chicken breasts
3/4 cup bread crumbs (I use Panko bread crumbs)
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese (powdered or freshly grated)
3/4 teaspoon basil (dried or fresh)
3/4 teaspoon parsley (dried or fresh)
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika (I use smoked paprika)
1 egg

Spaghetti sauce (about 1/2 a jar)
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese (powdered or freshly grated)

Grab two bowls. In the first: mix the bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, basil, parsley, garlic powder, and paprika. In the second, beat the egg.

Chicken Parmesan

Prepare the baking dish by coating it with oil.

Cut the chicken breasts in half so you have four thin, even fillets.

Chicken Parmesan

Coat each chicken breast with egg, and then coat it with the bread crumb mixture.

Chicken Parmesan

Place chicken breasts in baking dish, and bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 12 minutes per side.

Using a spoon, cover chicken breasts with spaghetti sauce, mozzarella cheese, and Parmesan cheese.

Bake an additional 10 minutes, or until chicken is fully cooked (time will depend on thickness of chicken breasts--I usually cut into one of the chicken breasts to make sure the inside is no longer pink).

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Win an Amazon Alexa

 Amazon Echo Dot Alexa

Have you heard of the Amazon Echo Dot (also known as the Alexa)? It's that little, black, circular device that responds to voice commands. If you watched the Super Bowl, you would have seen it featured in multiple commercials. It's a bit of a bizarre product, but since it's gaining popularity (and because I love my readers so much!) I thought I would give one away on my blog.

Follow the instructions on the Rafflecopter widget below to enter to win.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, February 5, 2018

Oh the English Language!

The other day, I came across a phrase that reminded me how confusing and completely illogical the English language is. (I'm sure I'm not the only one who has thought that!) My mind started working, and I came up with a few more examples on the spot.

Then I thought, "How entertaining would it be to share these with my readers?" So I complied several more and wrote a fun post for you. Feel free to add your own in the comments section. If English is your second language, I'm curious to hear what you think of all this, as well as if there are any similar words/phrases in your native language.

Here goes...
The word desert (abandon) sounds like dessert (a meal of sweets), but it's spelled like desert (a sandy place.)

Women is the plural of woman. The second syllables are spelled differently but typically pronounced the same ("min"). The first syllables are spelled the same but pronounced slightly different.

A feather is light. When I enter a dark room, I turn on a light. And when I want to start a fire, I light a match.

A toothbrush really should be a teethbrush, unless you have a separate toothbrush for each of your teeth.

Through doesn't rhyme with though, tough, enough, cough, or dough, but the endings are all the same. Go figure...

If someone tells you that you're "barking up the wrong tree," they're probably trying to say that you aren't pursuing the right course of action. Perhaps that saying has something to do with the fact that a tree is covered in bark and that when a dog chases a squirrel up a tree, it often stands at the bottom and barks. Still quite confusing, though.

The following few sentences might make your head spin, but they would make complete sense when spoken by a child during school: "I really dislike math. I just don't understand why my teacher would subject me to such a terrible subject. I would rather be in art class. I'm hoping to be the subject of my friend's painting, but that decision will be subject to my teacher's approval."

When you ask someone, "What's up?" the answer should be "the sky" or "the ceiling," but the response you'll likely receive is "Not too much."

Asking someone to give you the low down (give me the details) is pretty much the opposite of asking them to keep something on the down low (keep it a secret).

You smell with your nose and run with your feet, but your nose also runs, and your feet also smell.

Now, let's talk about food...
Pineapple does not contain pine or apples. (But the rest of the world seems to understand that, as the word pineapple is "ananas" in most other languages.)

There's no egg in eggplant, nor do eggs grow on plants.

Polish sausage is delicious, but shoe polish isn't edible.

There's no ham in a hamburger. Ham comes from a pig, while a hamburger is made of ground beef, so the two aren't even from the same animal.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Refinishing Furniture: Coffee Table

how to refinish furniture

Last summer, my sister-in-law (the one who married Mr. Handsome's youngest brother one year ago) found an amazing deal at Goodwill: a large, solid wood coffee table for $8. It was an ugly, faded red color and was quite beat up, but the price was right, so she bought it with plans to refinish it.

how to refinish furniture

A few days later, they were preparing to host four guests in their tiny, one-bedroom apartment, so my brother-in-law dropped the table off at our house. He said it was temporary, but I think he secretly hoped it would never make its way back to their place. (He's a bit of a minimalist.)

Fast-forward to last week. It had been seven months, and the coffee table was still with us. (It lived under our covered back porch because it was just too ugly for me to allow it inside.) I looked at it one day and decided that it had been at our home long enough that it was officially ours. We didn't have a coffee table, so I set to work fixing it up.

I'll admit that this was my first furniture refinishing project. Before getting started, I read articles online, spoke with a woodworker friend, and talked to the friendly folks at The Home Depot. The project took about 10 hours and a lot of elbow grease, but the finished product turned out better than I could have imagined. I also didn't have to go to the gym for a week because sanding and applying stain and polyurethane was enough of a workout, so that was a plus!

My first step was sanding the entire table with #80 sandpaper and then wiping all the sawdust away with a damp cloth. After the old finish was removed, I followed with #220 sandpaper and then wiped it down again. Below is what the table looked like when I was done. I was tempted to skip the stain and go right to the polyurethane, but I knew the light color wouldn't match our decor.

how to refinish furniture

When the table was completely dry, I applied Minwax Water Based Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner, according to the instructions on the can. The next step was the Minwax Wood Finish Penetrating Oil Based Stain (Dark Walnut 2716). I applied 2 coats, also according to the instructions on the can. The first was fairly thick because I wanted a nice, dark color, so I allowed it to dry for 24 hours. The second was thinner, so it only needed to dry for 6 hours.

The last step was the Minwax Fast-Drying Polyurethane (Clear Satin), according to the instructions on the can. I applied 3 coats using foam brushes and waiting about 4 hours between each coat.

I was so pleased with the results that I went out and bought an inexpensive random orbital sander and started another refinishing project.

how to refinish furniture

In addition to the above-mentioned sandpaper, conditioner, stain, and polyurethane, I used plastic drop cloths, a mask and gloves specifically for strong chemicals, eye protection, a paint can opener, a paint stir stick, and several foam brushes in different sizes (for best results, use a new one for every step). You'll also want to wear old clothes that you don't care about.

supplies to refinish furniture

Thursday, February 1, 2018

TV Show Review: 'Murder She Baked'

Murder she baked

At the end of a long day, Mr. Handsome and I enjoy cuddling up on the couch and watching a wholesome, entertaining TV show or movie. We're always on the lookout for new recommendations.

A couple years ago, I told you about the TV series Monk. You're going to laugh when I tell you that we watched the first episode the evening of Mr. Handsome's first day at his first job (just one day after flying in from our honeymoon), and we watched the last episode two years later (almost to the day), the evening before his last day at that job. It was a fitting way to close that chapter of our lives.

Back in early December, I was trying to come up with Christmas gifts for Mr. Handsome's two youngest siblings, Mae and Lena, who are teenagers. (My husband is the oldest of seven, and it makes me so proud to see what a great role model, leader, and encourager he is for his two brothers and four sisters.)

Mae and Lena love the Hallmark series When Calls The Heart, as do we, so I decided to let them try out a new Hallmark series, Murder, She Baked. Based on a New York Times bestselling book series by Joanne Fluke, it takes place in the quaint town of Eden Lake, Minnesota. The main character, Hannah Swensen, owns a bakery, but she also becomes involved in solving murders when one takes place outside her shop.

I purchased the first two Murder, She Baked DVDs, and Mr. Handsome and I watched them before giving them to the girls, just to make sure they were appropriate. Not only were they appropriate, but they were also entertaining and lighthearted. We recommend them for teenagers and adults, as most younger children would not understand the plot.

Be sure to watch A Chocolate Chip Cookie Mystery first--that's the pilot episode.