25 Days of Christmas Photo Challenge

Our dear friend Goldie, from https://dailyflabbergast.wordpress.com/ threw out a challenge for doing a blog post representing the 25 days of Christmas https://dailyflabbergast.wordpress.com/2020/12/01/25daysofchristmas/. Goldie also had a post about pictures with Santa https://dailyflabbergast.wordpress.com/2020/11/30/nrop-in-santas-lap/. I am going to do my best to meet the challenge. Here is my first picture, capturing both ideas.

Santa and the Kids

Back in the days when we used to volunteer for the Colorado Saint Bernard Rescue, we used to have annual pictures with Santa as a fundraiser for the group. This picture was a few years ago. It was Vinnie’s first Christmas with us. He was still just a young pup at this time.

They’re Growing Up So Fast

Amidst all the Thanksgiving festivities were a couple of birthday celebrations for our nieces, Nahila and Tehvia. Nahila turned 10 and Tehvia recently turned 8. We don’t get to see that that much any more, so we couldn’t do a big to-do for them like we usually do. Instead, we just had a quiet little celebration for the two of them and the family, here at the house. Nahila said she wanted a blue #10 cake. And that is exactly what she got too.

For the most part, both Tehvia and Nahila are vegan, so I made sure I baked a vegan cake for them. Cooking vegan is not a challenge at all, but baking vegan is a totally different story. Usually I pride myself on making things from scratch, but when I am doing vegan baking, I don’t even attempt it any more. The last time I tried to make a vegan/gluten free bread from scratch, it turned out like a brick that tasted like cardboard. Needless to say, it was quickly thrown into the trash. Some people have mastered vegan baking. I am not one of them, nor do I really have much interest in perfecting that skill, because I am not and never will be vegan. So I admit, this cake was made from a box, using vegan egg substitutes and vegan butter and cream for the frosting.

I started off by making a sheet cake. Once it cooled, I stuck it into the freezer to make it easier to frost. “Easier” is a misnomer though, because it was still very crumbly and difficult to work with.

I cut the numbers from the sheet cake.

Then I made the vegan buttercream frosting. It is the same method as making a normal buttercream frosting, only using vegan ingredients instead. At first, the frosting came out fine, but after a few minutes, it started separating, which again made it challenging to work with.

Vegan Buttercream Frosting

1/2 cup vegan butter at room temperature

2 cups sifted powdered sugar

1 1/2 tsp vanilla

2 TBSP non-dairy milk or vegan milk

food coloring, optional

Mix all the ingredients together in a mixer or by using a hand held mixer and start spreading it over your cake using a cake spatula or cake spreader.

Have you ever wondered why I don’t do a lot of cake decorating? It’s NOT one of my specialties. Some people are gifted artists. I am not one of them. But, I always use the most important ingredient when decorating, and that is LOVE. So they may not be the prettiest cakes you’d ever see, but they are made with love, and that is all that really matters.

After we enjoyed our cake, we all had bright blue tongues too for awhile, which gave us all a case of the giggles . 🙂

Happy Birthday to both Nahila, our new 10-year old and Tehvia, our new 8-year old. We love you lots. Love always, Aunt Jeanne and Uncle Larry.

Stay safe and stay well Everyone. And Stay forever young. ‘Til next time.

Nature Walks – In the Trees

I have said many times I just never know what I am going to see on my walks. Today, it was yet another absolutely gorgeous day and it was a perfect day for a good walk. The lakes were very still, other than the geese and a few ducks. Today, everything was happening up in the trees. I saw a lot of birds and things you would expect to find in the trees, as well as a few things I wouldn’t expect to find in the trees. But that’s what makes it fun. You just never know. Sometimes, you just need to look up.

Let’s start with some unusual things. A turkey of a different feather.

Some fishing bobs.

a moose.

and some hats.

I think Santa has been partying a bit too hard and left this behind. He might need this.

I expect to find leaves in the trees, but usually I expect to see the leaves of those particular trees.

And now for things I expect to see in trees, like pine cones

bird houses,

and birds. These were pretty far away, and I really had to zoom in on them. I think they are Clay-Colored Sparrows.

I think this is a red winged black bird, but it is kind of hard to tell.

A Robin looking in to say hi.

This is an Eurasion Collared Dove.

And another beautiful Northern Flicker.

Hope you all enjoy your day. Make it great. Everyday is a beautiful day.

Pumpkin Chiffon Pie

Pumpkins are some of the oldest American foods around. It doesn’t get much more American than pumpkin. They were grown and cultivated in Central America as far back as 5500 B.C. Pumpkins were some of the first foods the early explorers brought from the New World back to Europe. In 16th century Europe, pumpkins were know as pumpions in England and pompons in France.

Pumpkin pie is an American Thanksgiving tradition that dates back almost as long as America itself. Though it is doubtful that pumpkin pie was actually served at the first Thanksgiving meal because there was no butter, wheat or ovens to cook them when the Pilgrims first arrived to the New World, it is most likely that pumpkin in some form was served. Both the Native Americans and the Pilgrims were very familiar with pumpkins. There are recipes for pumpkin pie dating back to the mid 17th century, but pumpkin pie as we know it today, did not really become popular until the early 18th century, and really rose to fame and popularity after the Civil War.

Today, as with anything, there are many variations of pumpkin pie. Sometimes I make it in the traditional style, and sometimes I don’t. This time I chose to make it a little differently. This year, I made a pumpkin chiffon pie. It is a lighter version of pumpkin pie, and is not as heavy.

Pumpkin Chiffon Pie

Graham Cracker Crust

Preheat oven to 350* F or 180* C

1 cup walnuts or pecans

1 cup graham crackers

1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

5-6 TBSP melted butter

Place the graham crackers, nuts and brown sugar in the food processor and blend until it resembles sand.

Add the melted butter and pulse again to blend everything together.

Firmly press the mixture into a pie or tart pan and bake for about 15-20 minutes or until it is lightly browned.

Once the crust is done, remove it from the oven and let it cool completely before adding the filling.

The Filling

1/4 cup milk

2 tsp vanilla

1 TBSP cream of tartar

2/3 cup tightly packed brown sugar

4 eggs

1 cup pumpkin puree

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp allspice

1/2 tsp salt

1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream

In a saucepan, combine the milk, cream of tartar and vanilla and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly.

Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking constantly.

Whisk in the pumpkin and spices and continue to cook for an additional 7-10 minutes or until the sauce becomes thick and smooth. DO NOT allow the custard to come to a boil or you will scramble the eggs.

Pour the custard mixture into a glass bowl, cover and allow to come to room temperature.

Once the custard temperature has been lowered to room temperature, whip the whipping cream to form stiff peaks. You can also use prepared whipped cream as well. Fold the whipped cream into the custard mixture.

Spoon the pumpkin and cream mixture onto the pie shell and spread evenly.

Decorate the pie and place in the freezer to set for at least two hours to set.

Once the pie is set, transfer the pie to the refrigerator and keep there until ready to serve . Serve the pie cold. This pie was a huge hit, even for those who are not big pumpkin pie fans. This pie is a very tasty alternative to a traditional pumpkin pie, and is good at any time.

Stay safe and stay well Everyone. ‘Til next time.

1/4 cup mlk

1 TBSP cream of tartar

2 tsp vanilla

Pecans, Orange and Spicy

I love nuts of all kinds, but pecans are amongst my favorites. I often grab a handful of nuts as a quick pick-me-up while I am out and about and on the go. And holidays are just not complete without some kind of nuts to go around. Nuts bring good luck and good tidings for the holidays.

The holiday nut tradition has been around since the 12th century when French nuns, inspired by the legend of St Nicholas – who gave gold to the poor – began leaving stockings full of fruit, including tangerines, and nuts at the houses of poor people. Many people from European countries will tell you that it’s because Saint Nicholas brings nuts and oranges and other small treats on his feast day on December 5th or 6th. In some countries, like the Netherlands, the treats are left in good children’s shoes that are left out to be filled that night. In other countries Saint Nicholas arrives at a party carrying a large sack and strews the nuts and other goodies on the floor for children to scramble after. “Scrambling for nuts” was a popular game played by rough-housing boys in Elizabethan England. But the practice of strewing nuts goes back much further than the celebration of Christmas! Whether it’s pagan or Christian, the idea of nuts bringing good luck at Christmastime appears to have stuck. In German folklore, the tradition of giving a wooden nutcracker in the form of a soldier or some other fierce authority figure was a way of keeping loved ones safe from harm. The nutcracker represented the power and strength to guard the family from evil spirits. It served the double role of plaything for children and decorative but utilitarian accompaniment to the custom of finishing dinner with pleasant conversation while passing around the nut bowl.

According to the ancient Romans, a good nut harvest was associated with the birth of more children than usual the following year so nuts became a good luck charm for fertility. They were scattered on the ground at weddings and during the winter holiday of Saturnalia and many other holidays throughout the year. Later, when the pagan holidays were folded into Christmas it was said that the three parts of the nut—the shell, skin, and kernel—represented the holy trinity or the bones, skin, and soul of the Saviour himself.

I love all the traditions, folklore and history behind the serving of nuts for the holidays, but I also just simply love nuts too. So whatever the reasons, there are always plenty of nuts to go around at my house, both the edible kinds and the non-edible kinds, at any time of year, but especially during the holidays. This time I made some spiced orange nuts to serve as nibblies before sitting down for our Thanksgiving feast. Our Thanksgiving Feast. I have plenty left over and am still munching on them, and most likely will be for quite awhile yet to come too, and though I doubt very seriously they will still be around, if stored properly, these nuts can last for up to six months.

Spiced Orange Pecans

Preheat the oven to 225* F and line a baking pan with parchment paper.

4 cups raw pecan halves

2 TBSP orange juice

1 egg white

1 TBSP orange zest

1/2 cup sugar

1 1/2 tsp salt

1 1/2 tsp chili powder

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp chocolate chili powder, optional

1/4 tsp black pepper

Mix the orange juice, egg white and pecans together and toss thoroughly.

Add the remaining ingredients and thoroughly toss everything together again.

Evenly spread the nut mixture onto the parchment paper and bake for about 1-1 1/2 hours, or until the nuts are dry. Toss the nuts frequently as they are cooking.

You can munch on these nuts by the handful, or mix them into other dishes or use them as a topping. No matter how you serve them, they will most definitely be enjoyed by all. And even though, theoretically they can last up to six months, I think they will disappear much sooner than that. I know they will in my house.

Stay safe and stay well Everyone. ‘Til next time.

Stuffing Mediterranean Style

Is it stuffing or is it dressing? Well, that can be a complicated answer. It is actually called both. Sometimes it is a regional difference, at least here in the United States. If you live in the South, you probably call it dressing. Northerners refer to it as stuffing and it is fair game for everyone in between. But it is also called stuffing or dressing depending on whether you cook it in the bird (or other meat) or if you cook it separately. I prefer to cook the dressing outside of the bird, but then it really depends on what I am cooking too. For Thanksgiving, I cook the dressing (although I usually call it stuffing) separately. When I make stuffed chicken or pork chops, I usually cook it in the meat. I think it is because the cooking times are much shorter, so everything cooks more evenly. A turkey takes a lot longer to cook, and if you cook the stuffing inside the turkey, often times, either the stuffing or the turkey do not cook evenly, which causes a whole host of other problems, including health risks.

What is stuffing or dressing? It is a starch based dish most often made with bread as the main ingredient, and anything and everything you would like to include as minor ingredients. Most stuffings are bread based, although you can also make them with potatoes, rice or other grains too. I make many different kinds of stuffings. Just like with everything else I make, it just kind of depends on my mood at the time. This time, for part of our Thanksgiving feast I decided to make a Mediterranean style stuffing, using artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes and fresh basil. Our Thanksgiving Feast

I apologize, I didn’t take nearly as many pictures as I usually do. I had a lot on my plate, both literally and figuratively. 🙂

Mediterranean Style Stuffing with Artichoke Hearts and Sundried Tomatoes

I lb or about 10 cups of day-old or dried bread, cubed

1 large red onion, diced fine

2 TBSP garlic

1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil

1 10-oz can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped

1/2 cup fresh basil, chiffonade or cut into very thin strips

1/2 cup shredded Parmigiano cheese

salt & pepper to taste

1/4-1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, or to taste

2 eggs, beaten

1/2 cup dry white wine

2 cups chicken or turkey broth

olive oil for cooking

Preheat the oven to 350* F or 170* C.

Spray a 9×13 baking dish with cooking spray.

Mix the bread, Parmigiano cheese, basil, red pepper flakes and salt and pepper together and set aside.

Cook the onions for about 5 minutes first, in the olive oil, then add the garlic and cook for about 1-2 more minutes.

Then add the artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomatoes and continue to cook for an additional 2-3 minutes. Combine everything together with the bread mixture and toss everything together well.

Lightly beat the eggs and mix in with the wine. Pour them into the bread mixture, along with about 1/2 of the stock and mix well. Evenly spread the mixture into the prepared baking dish. Firmly press the mixture into the pan. Pour the rest of the stock on top of the dressing and press again, making sure everything has been saturated with the stock.

Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake for about an hour or until the stuffing is hot throughout. If you like a little bit of a crust to your stuffing, uncover for the last 15-20 minutes of cooking time.

You can serve this with just about anything. Stuffing is always a great side dish, no matter what you choose to serve it with. It will always be a well-loved dish for any occasion.

Stay safe and stay well Everyone. ‘Til next time.

Our Thanksgiving Feast

I hope everyone who celebrates Thanksgiving had a a good one. We sure did. I have been busy cooking and cleaning for the past two days, pretty much non-stop, making sure the house was clean and all our guests had a delicious food and a great time. As usual, it was a major success. After our big meal, we all played a couple of rounds of Apples to Apples before our guests left. Then it was time for Larry and I to clean everything up.

The tables are set and ready for our guests to arrive.

Before the main dishes came out, we munched on some appetizers and starters. I prepared some spiced nuts and a relish tray. I knew my friend Marianne was bringing appetizers, so I kept it light. What I didn’t realize though, was that she was going to bring so many appetizers. But everything was very good. Needless to say, we hardly made a dent on the appetizers before starting on the main meal.

I cooked all the traditional Thanksgiving dishes. Larry smoked a turkey, as well as some ribs and a pork shoulder. His turkey was good, but maybe I am just a traditionalist. I prefer it roasted in the oven. The smoked turkey just wasn’t as juicy as it is when in I roast it in the oven.

I made an artichoke and sundried tomato stuffing or dressing. The main difference between a dressing and a stuffing is that the dressing is cooked separately and the stuffing is cooked inside the bird. It is usually healthier to cook them separately; less likely for cross contaminating the foods and it ensures everything cooks properly and completely.

Of course, there were mashed potatoes, a steamed medley of winter vegetables, rolls and cranberry relish too. My friend Suzanne brought some roasted sweet potatoes. I didn’t get any pictures of any of these dishes, but trust me, our table was full. I guarantee, none of us left the table hungry. Our tummies were very full and very satisfied.

Thanksgiving just wouldn’t be complete without desserts. Instead of a traditional pumpkin pie I made a pumpkin chiffon pie this year. It was a big hit.

I also made a rustic apple and almond tart that was just perfect with ice cream. This too was very popular.

I don’t have to cook anything for pretty much most of the week now. The recipes for my dishes will be coming later.

We continued the tradition of visiting InVINtions for Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. This year though, instead of going in our pajamas, they had a wine monopoly game or wineopoly, which was a lot of fun. Because of the restrictions in place, not as many people could enjoy the indoor festivities at the same time. So they had separate tables of wineopoly games set up around and tables set up outside where we could enjoy our favorite libations and nibblies after the game. We took some of our leftover nibblies from last night to munch on. They went perfectly with a glass of wine.

I hope you all had an enjoyable and safe holiday. Thanksgiving is always my favorite holiday because it is all about family, spending time with loved ones and being thankful for what we have. I know I most definitely have a lot to be thankful for too.

Stay safe and stay well Everyone. ‘Til next time.

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving, which occurs on the fourth Thursday in November, is based on the colonial Pilgrims’ 1621 harvest meal. The holiday continues to be a day for Americans to gather for a day of feasting, football and family, with the emphasis on FAMILY. In Today’s chaos and craziness, it is important to remember FAMILY and giving thanks for what we have are the reasons why we celebrate.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone. Stay healthy and stay safe.

Nature Walks – Walking in a Winter Wonderland

When we went to bed last night, there was no snow. When we woke up this morning, we were blanketed in about 5-6 inches of thick white snow. It’s so beautiful. It truly is a winter wonderland. I was going to be adventurous and do my normal walk, trudging through the snow the whole way. But after walking around just one lake, I had had enough adventure for the day. I did get some great shots though, which made it all worth while.

Look at all the birds high up in the tree. I think they are common sparrows.

This is my house and my view.

All the shovelers and snow plows are out, trying to clear the roads and walkways. It was much more fun to trudge through the snow without them being cleared though.

I am definitely enjoying it while I can for tomorrow, it could all be gone. That’s usually how it works here in Colorado; here today, gone tomorrow.

Happy early Thanksgiving. Stay safe and stay well Everyone.

I’ll Have Some Peas Please

I know I am a very strange person, some would argue in many ways too. Right now though, I am only talking about my love of peas. There is not nearly enough time to discuss all my other strange ways. 🙂

I have always LOVED peas. I could easily eat a pound of cooked peas with butter and salt and be a very happy camper. I remember one time my parents and I had gone out to a fancy restaurant when I was just a little thing, and all I wanted was a big bowl of buttered peas. The waiter looked at me in total surprise and shock. I just can’t understand why so many people have such an aversion to them and hate them so much.

The pea is most commonly the small spherical seed or the seed-pod of the pod fruit Pisum sativum. Each pod contains several peas, which can be green or yellow. Botanically, pea pods are fruit, since they contain seeds and develop from the ovary of a flower. Peas are members of the legume family and are very healthy and nutritious. One cup of boiled green peas has 46% of your RDA of vitamin K-1, known for maintaining bone health and helping blood to clot to prevent bleeding. Peas are high in fiber and low in fat and contain no cholesterol. Plus, they’re a good source of vegetable protein. A type of legume, peas grow inside long, plump pods. As is the case with all types of legume, their sugars start to turn to starch as shortly after they’re picked, so they are best eaten just-picked. Frozen peas are put on ice very soon after being picked (within three hours) and the flavor can be superior to that of fresh peas harvested a couple of days previously. Peas are best when they are fresh, but most of us pea lovers who live in urban areas eat frozen peas, which we can get year round. But if buying them fresh, pea season is from May-November.

Peas and Pea Pods

There are three common types of peas, the English peas, also known as shelling peas, where the edible peas are found on the inside of the pods and the pods are inedible; snow peas, which are flat pods with smaller peas inside and you eat the whole thing, pod and all; and snap peas that are a combination of both the English peas and snap peas. Their pods are tender and edible and the peas inside the pod are larger, full sized peas. My favorites are the English peas, (maybe that is just the Aussie in me) although I love them all.

We hadn’t had any fish for awhile, and I took some cod out of the freezer. Larry said he wanted fish & chips, which I am always up for. Well peas and fish & chips just go together beautifully, and we haven’t had any peas in quite awhile either. So I knew peas were going to be served up alongside the fish & chips, though I wanted something a little different than just plain peas. As I was looking through my library collection of cookbooks, I was really surprised to see that in all my vegetarian/vegan cookbooks, there were NO recipes for peas. WHAT????? Do vegetarians and vegans NOT eat peas? I was shocked at this, considering how healthy they are. Finally though, I did find a really good recipe that actually was already paired up with cod. It was just meant to be.

I made an herbed pea relish. The recipe called for fresh oregano, but maybe because it is Thanksgiving, I could not find fresh oregano anywhere. That’s OK. That is exactly why I always have a wide array of dried herbs in my pantry. Dried herbs work just as well as fresh herbs.

Herbed Pea Relish

2 cups frozen green peas

1 1/2 TBSP fresh oregano, chopped or about 1 TBSP of dried oregano

1 large shallot, minced

2 TBPS capers

2 TBSP lime juice

2 TBSP olive oil

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

salt and pepper to taste

Mix everything together, except the peas. The cook it all in a hot skillet for about 7-10 minutes, or until the peas are completely cooked.

As the peas are cooking, in a separate skillet, in hot oil, cook your battered fish and cook your chips. We cook our chips in a deep fryer.

When everything is cooked, it is time to serve it up. Spoon the pea relish over the fried cod and sit down to a proper British meal. I served it with a dry viognier on the side to complete the meal. Cheers and Bon Appetit!

Stay safe and stay well Everyone. ‘Til next time.