Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year's Eve 2013

It is hard for me to reflect upon the past year.  It all seems like such a blur really.  I started the year with spring semester with school, then continued in the summer and fall.  Between school and work, and the other things I managed to squeeze in between, it sort of all ran together.  I will definitely say the 2nd half of the year was better than the first.

I have a lot of things to look forward to in the new year and I have set some personal goals.  I will be starting school again in just a couple weeks and I am sure my schedule will fill up just as fast as it did last year.  I added more responsibilities to my plate for the coming school year so organization will remain very important.  I also had the privilege of meeting the fantastic ladies of Alpha Sigma Alpha Tidewater Alumnae and hope to join them this spring.  I will be submitting paperwork for a bid sometime soon.

This evening I am going to a party at a friend's house.  I hope whatever your plans are you have fun and stay safe.  2014 could be our best year yet!

Ready for your midnight kiss?
xoxo Gwen

Monday, December 30, 2013

Ribbon Recycling

I got this ribbon off a set of holiday bowls I bought over the holidays.
It's very long and can be reused, but have some wrinkles.
I have decided to use it around a few books I gifted during Christmas.
Time to get the wrinkles out.
Heated up my hair straightener.
Slid the ribbon through on a medium setting.
Perfectly straight ribbon.
I forgot to take a picture of the finished ribbon around the books but it was fabulous - promise.

xoxo Gwen

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Product Review: Breakfast Sandwich Maker by Hamilton Beach

Hamilton Beach Breakfast Sandwich Maker
For the first round we decided to use some leftover Christmas ham and make a classic egg, ham and cheese breakfast sandwich.  After removing the compact sandwich maker from the box the only set up is cleaning the removable part and the top and bottom plate of the sandwich maker.  In addition, we rubbed some olive oil over the whole inside.

How to use:
Plug in the cord and wait for the ready light to light up, indicating the unit is preheated.

**Always use an oven mitt to protect hands when opening the covers.  The entire unit gets hot and the steam can burn**

Once the ready light is lit up you can start assembling your sandwich.  It really is easy.

The bottom layer is your bread (we used an English muffin) your meat, cheese and veggies (we used ham & cheese.  He used sliced American and I used a shredded blend).  In the 2nd compartment we cracked a whole egg (breaking the yolk) and topped with the other half of our English muffin.  Close the lid, set the timer for 5 minutes and patiently wait.

Add your base layer ingredients
Put on bottom plate
Add a fresh egg, yolk broken
Top with English muffin
After the 5 minutes **REMEMBER TO USE YOUR OVEN MITTS** slide the middle cooking plate out and lift the lid revealing your hot and toasty breakfast sandwich.

5 minute breakfast sandwich complete
The sandwich came out crispy and everything was hot and melted.  The egg was entirely cooked to perfection.
Nice and toasty
The down sides are having to use a timer that you already have on hand, which is not a huge deal because most people have one, and the entire unit getting hot instead of just the inside.  But for a 5 minute breakfast sandwich it’s great.

4 out of 5 stars

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Potluck Perfection

It’s not often I have to come up with a dish for a potluck, but when I do I try to think of something a little bit different or at least something ordinary with a twist.  Enter the Mac & Cheese Muffin.  Around the holidays especially, we can lose sight of portion control and eat more than we planned.  That’s why this recipe is perfect.  They are individual portions that can be enjoyed alone, as an entrée or as the perfect side dish.  In my case, I made them for my fiancé to take to his work potluck this holiday season.  I heard they were a hit and disappeared quickly.  I am glad I made a few extras to keep at home.

I used whole wheat pasta and skim milk to add a healthy kick to them.  You could never tell with the great cheese I used.  * I choose sharp white cheddar and Gruyere but you can choose 2 of your favorites and experiment *

Mac & Cheese Muffins

4 cups cooked whole wheat macaroni
1TBSP butter
1TBSP flour
1 cup skim milk
1 garlic clove, minced
3 oz. shredded sharp cheddar cheese
3 oz. shredded Gruyere cheese
1 egg
1 egg white
1 (10oz.) package of frozen spinach {defrosted, drained and patted dry}

Cook macaroni, measure and set aside.
Defrost, drain and pat dry your frozen spinach.
Shred the cheese.
Mince the garlic.
Separate one yolk from one of the eggs (you need one whole egg and an additional 1 egg white).

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.  Lightly mist 12 cup muffin tin with cooking spray.
Melt the butter over medium heat, adding the flour to thicken.  
Stir in the milk and garlic and raise the temperature to just under a boil.
Whisk in the shredded cheeses to form a cheese sauce.
Remove the cheese sauce from heat and mix in the egg and the egg white until combined.
Then in a large bowl combine the pasta, spinach, cheese sauce and mix together.
Spoon the mixture evenly into the muffin cups of the prepared muffin tin.
Bake for 10-15 minutes until the tops are slightly brown. 
Let cool for 5 minutes before removing the muffins.

Just out of the oven
Since I was making them as part of a brunch potluck I made the mixture the night before.  I added the mixture to the muffin tins and refrigerated them.  In the morning I woke up, popped them in the oven to finish them off.
xoxo Gwen

Friday, December 27, 2013

Real Simple | Life Made Easier

Last Christmas I received a subscription to the magazine, Real Simple.  I had an entire glorious year of organizing tips, recipes, fashion advice,  lists by the numbers, quotes/thoughts and life lessons.  My subscription continues this year and I couldn't be more excited than with their January 2014 issue.  This issue titled, How to Live the Balanced Life is a great eye opener on how to create a sense of balance in your life from diet, to wardrobe, to spending time with family and friends.
Real Simple magazine - January 2014 issue
Kristin Van Ogtrop begins her editor's note, "Do you ever have one of those mornings when you feel like you're going to tip over before you ever get out of bed?  That was my day yesterday. (No, this is not a drinking story.)  I woke up and immediately felt as if I were balancing precariously on a tightrope between two shark tanks, one containing work pressures and the other filled with home-life demands.  One wrong move and I would be sunk".  (January 2014 | Real Simple pg 17)

I can definitely relate to this feeling.  In fact, I get so worked up over everything going on sometimes that I often miss the real fun of the occasion.  I am making a personal promise to myself (rather than a declared New Year's Resolution) to stop and smell the roses more, to speak more kindly to people when I am stressed, to enjoy the moment and create some balance in my life.  This issue definitely got me thinking and provided me with some great ideas to start creating that balance.

xoxo Gwen

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Cooking with Herbs

As most people begin their holiday cooking for Christmas, I am celebrating my fiance's birthday.  We do not have an all out bash, just because that's not his style.  He is a less is more sort of guy.  With that being said we do plan on a lunch or dinner out to his favorite restaurant and I did pick him up a Boston Cream cupcake which he knows nothing about yet.....

As you begin preparing your holiday dishes keep herbs in mind.  Adding fresh herbs to your favorite recipes is an easy way to add depth and flavor to an otherwise ordinary dish.

Tarragon can be used with fish and rice dishes.  It can also be used to compliment salads.

Chives are a favorite, which can be used in almost any savory dish to add a mild onion flavor.

Sage is an excellent paring with pork.  It can also be added to your stuffing recipes.

Bay Leaves are for soups and chili.

Oregano is a common flavor in Italian-inspired dishes.

Dill adds a light texture and flavor to salmon and other fish dishes.

Rosemary with its strong aroma and taste is best paired with beef dishes.

Thyme works wonders with chicken.

Cilantro is great for rice and garnishes.  It adds a wonderful lemon flavor.

xoxo Gwen

Monday, December 23, 2013

DIY Hair Clip

If you're anything like me you're drawn to pretty things.  I saw this stretchy butterfly ring last year around this time of year and loved the color, the stones, the size, just about everything about it...except it was a stretchy ring.  I thought I could make it work.  Needless to say it has been sitting in my jewelry box for an entire year with just one appearance for about maybe 2 hours.  I had to save it and turn it into something I would wear or use.

Stretchy Ring to Hair Clip 

Stretchy ring and plain hair clip

Cut the stretchy part


Charm (from ring), scrap ribbon, plain hair clip

Hot glue ribbon onto clip and add charm

Add clear polish to the ends of the ribbon to prevent fraying

Wear :)

Store with other hair clips
The great thing about this DIY project is I can buy all the stretchy rings I want now, because I know what to do with them.  I can also disassemble easily and use the pretty charm for something else when I get tired of it.

Happy Crafting! 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Martha Stewart Obsession

When I think of perfection I don't conjure images of movie stars or social media guru's.  I think of Martha Stewart.  Martha Stewart is the business magnate, writer, and television personality known for her "Good Things".  She is the founder of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.  She gained her success through a variety of business ventures including: publishing, broadcasting and merchandising.  She has written several bestsellers and is the publisher of the Martha Stewart Living magazine.  Her syndicated talk show, Martha, is broadcast internationally.

I have been following Martha and reading her magazine since I was in my early 20's.  I used to have an autographed picture of her and copies 1 and 2 of her Everyday Food magazine. Those have been lost along my travels sadly, but she remains my lifestyle guru.  She is perfection to me. 

Almost any recipe you can think of she has her own version, and more times than not she has several recipes for a particular dish.  She is my go-to for holiday recipes, decor, and Good Things in general.  She has a great team, a great eye, and a very busy life.

I wanted to share some of my favorites from her No. 240 December 2013 issue.  It was hard to pick just a few because the magazine is literally packed with all things festive & bright this holiday season.

No. 240 December 2013

(Pg 146)Citrus Salad with Pomegranate Seeds

(Pg 126) Good Living :  How they Live

(Pg 179) The Greenery Glossary

(pg 174) The best place setting: A Touch of Shimmer

(Pg 181) A twist on the classic laurel wreath

(Pg 202) Perilous Plants
This issue is jammed pack with gift guides, decorating ideas, recipes and of course Good Things.  I want to say a huge thank you to Martha Stewart for continuing to inspire me. Also a great big thank you to the editor in chief, Eric Pike, and the entire staff for a great issue this month and in the months to follow.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Grace & Choice

Around the holidays people can get a little bit crazy.  Maybe it's all the decorating, cooking/baking, shopping, parties, traveling, and all the other things associated with the holidays.  I heard a story from another teacher at work yesterday that really made me stop and think about the pressures during this time of the year. 

The story:  It was the day of their Christmas parade.  The student's practiced all month a collection of songs to sing to their parents.  They get to sit in Santa's lap and have their picture taken and there are extra goodies waiting for them in the classroom when they return from singing.  It's also a great way for parents to meet and mingle with one another. Back in the classroom (the singing was over and the photos were being developed) and the students were all sitting around eating their holiday munchies.  The parents were doing their mingling and music was playing in the classroom. Everything was going so. much. better. than the Halloween parade. And then it happened...  A student got sick, and yes he threw up.  Disgusting I know, but what do you expect after all the morning excitement and then him shoveling holiday treats down his throat at 10 a.m.  Plus for all we knew he was sick prior to all the morning excitement.  
Here is where it got crazy.  The teachers of course sprang into action and took care of the cleaning, the changing, the rearranging, the apologizes, EVERYTHING.  Most of the parents were helpful and understood.  However one parent completely lost it. She apparently has never seen a child throw up, has a weak stomach, was trying to put on a show of her own, or some other random weird thing.  She basically scooped up her child and started screaming, "What are you going to do about all this mess"?!!  Of course the teachers were already handling it.  The crazy lady's child had to use the restroom and since the child that got sick had to be changed in the bathroom she refused to let her son use the same bathroom.  Now keep in mind at this point the bathroom has already been cleaned and disinfected..... 
I guess she assumed that no one has EVER thrown up in the classroom before, because she expected the entire class to be moved to another classroom for the day.  I doubt she realized that as a fully functioning school we don't just have open classrooms.  So needless to say she was the only one that lost her mind that day.  She immediately left with her kid in tow after she realized that the mess had been cleaned and the party was going to continue as normal.  
The other parents were completely stunned and the teachers just continued as normal.  No over-stressed, crazy parent was getting them down!

That parent definitely made the choice to leave with her son.  I just wish she would have done it with a bit of grace.
Grace & Choice are two things that I believe everyone should keep in mind as the new year approaches.

Try to relax and have fun with the holidays.  At the very least don't let your crazy show like that in public. Save that type of behavior for home or something (like I do).

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Holiday Blog Tag 2013

1.  What is your favorite thing about Christmas?
~Decorating, buying the perfect gift for someone, spending time with family & friends, parties, lights, the food, time off of work & school

2.  When you were a kid, what did you leave for Santa on Christmas Eve?
~Milk & Cookies

3.  Do you and/or your family have any Christmas traditions?
~Growing up my sister and I got to open one present on Christmas Eve & saved the rest for Christmas morning.  Now my fiance’s birthday is Dec 24th and we save everything Christmas for the 25th.

4.  When decorating, do you go all out or just do a small amount of decorating?
~I would like to say I go all out, but living in an apt I do not have much storage space so for now a small amount.

5.  What is your favorite Christmas dinner food?

6.  What is your favorite Christmas movie?
~I don’t know if I have a favorite.  I have the Hallmark channel on before Thanksgiving and on into the New Year.  I like The Christmas Story, etc., but I do not think I have ever seen Miracle on 34th Street.

7.  What is your favorite Christmas song?
~So many good ones to choose just one!

8.  What was your favorite gift you ever received?
~My open heart necklace from Kay’s jeweler’s.  It was the 1st Christmas with my fiance.

9.  What is your favorite Christmas memory?
~Singing Happy Birthday to Jesus with my sister on Christmas morning.

10.  Does it snow where you live?
~It can, but hardly lasts more than a day or two if it does.

11.  Do you own an “ugly holiday sweater”?

12.  How chocolate or eggnog?

13.  Have you ever been kissed under a mistletoe?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Irish Cream

Over the weekend I had the Cookies & Cocktails party and decided to make a batch of home-made Irish Cream.  It turned out delicious.  I got the recipe from my fiance's mother a couple Christmas's ago.  This was my first attempt and I consider it a success.

Irish Cream

1-2 cups of whiskey (I used 2 cups of Bushmill's Irish whiskey)
1 (14oz) can Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk
4 eggs
2 cups whipping or light cream
2 TBSP instant coffee (I used Maxwell House original)
1 tsp vanilla
2 TBSP chocolate syrup (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a blender (I used my Magic Bullet) except cream and mix well.
Then slowly add the cream with the blender running.
Pour into carafe with lid (or another container).
Refrigerate - shake well before serving.



**Irish Cream can be kept for a max of 3-4 weeks**

Monday, December 16, 2013

Weekend Wrap-Up

This weekend completely flew by.  Thursday night I completed the Fall 2013 semester by taking my American Sign Language IV final.  It went SO much better than the midterm.  Everyone was quite pleased with the final's layout.  Plus, it was so much easier signing one-on-one with the professor than video recording ourselves on the spot.

Friday I picked up a few last minute things for Christmas at the store, wrapped my fiance's presents (both birthday and Christmas), went through all my school paperwork, organized it and filed it away & saved all the papers I wrote over the semester to disc so I could delete them off my computer.

Saturday I picked up a rather odd, yet festive looking doll for Toys for Tots.  I also whipped up a batch of Irish Cream.  Saturday night I went to a Cookies & Cocktails party.  It was my first official holiday party of the season, and I had a lot of fun!  I did not know anyone at this party before going but, I made some new friends (and hopefully they will be my sisters one day)!

Sunday was my fiance's work holiday party.  This year it was a cruise on The Spirit of Norfolk, with buffet dinner, dessert, and dancing.  2nd holiday party of the season, done!  I wrapped up the weekend by a late night girls chat, which I really needed.

Toys for Tots

Cookies & Cocktails party

One of the cutest trees at the party

Proud to be American

Spirit of Norfolk cruise

Norfolk skyline

Caramel Apple Martini

Today I will be prepping Mac & Cheese Muffins for the potluck tomorrow and cleaning my much neglected apartment.  Hope everyone else is enjoying their holiday parties as much as I am.